Arkansas seeks 1st SEC win, faces struggling Mississippi St.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Whether Chad Morris meant it as a prediction or bulletin-board material or a shot of confidence for his players, there was no mistaking the Arkansas coach measuring his words in the week leading up to Saturday’s game with Mississippi State.
“First of all, we’re going to win this football game this week,” the second-year coach said.
Perhaps the confidence comes from the fact that Mississippi State is just one game ahead of the Razorbacks (2-6, 0-5 SEC), who are in last place in the SEC West. Still, Morris carries a 4-18 overall record and is winless in the conference during his year-plus in Fayetteville.
Morris has used three quarterbacks this year while seeking consistency, a word Morris repeated multiple times this week. Not incidental to Arkansas’ struggles, Morris used three different quarterbacks last year, with similar results.
Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel and John David Jones have not done enough in 2019 to give Arkansas its first SEC victory in the Morris era. As a nod to the group’s ineffectiveness, Morris did not name a starter for Saturday during his weekly media session.
“Whoever we feel like is the best opportunity to win that game is first and foremost who we’re going with,” he said. “I don’t know that right now at this point, but I do know that all options are on the table. We would love to have an opportunity to get some more of our younger guys in at times.
“But we’re going to win a football game,” he said. “That’s our approach.”
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead and the Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4) are struggling, too. After four straight losses, questions have arisen about Moorhead’s future.
“You can’t control what other people say,” he said. “That’s the least of my worries. My worry is to make sure this football team continues to get better every day.”
THE HOT SEAT
Moorhead and Morris are both in their second year at their respective programs. And both are believed to be on the hot seat. Moorhead had earlier been tabbed as a possible candidate for a job at Rutgers, were it to come open. That was in early October, when the Bulldogs were 3-1. They haven’t won since.
FIND A QUARTERBACK
Morris’s remark about winning the game was provoked by a question about who he plans to start at quarterback and whether freshman K.J. Jefferson could have his redshirt burned to try and get production out of the position. Starkel, Hicks and Jones have combined to complete only 53% of their passes and have thrown 11 interceptions against 10 touchdowns.
STOP THE RUN
Both offenses are best when they stick to the ground. Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (88) and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill is third (99). Bulldogs quarterback Garrett Shrader adds another 70 a game on average, ranking 10th in the league.
“We’ve got to prepare,” Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “Obviously, with the things they do, their running game is important to them. It’s every week in the SEC. You’ve got to be able to stop the run, and that’s what we’ve got to do this week.”
Mississippi State offers Arkansas its best chance to get a conference victory. The Razorbacks finish the season with a trip to top-ranked LSU and at home, in Little Rock, against Missouri. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a chance to finish the season at .500. If Mississippi State beats Arkansas, and nonconference foe Abilene Christian, Moorhead’s team would only need to secure an Egg Bowl win against Ole Miss to finish roughly where they were predicted to at the beginning of the year.
THEY DESERVE EACH OTHER
Even independent of their 2019 results, Arkansas and Mississippi State have been on about the same plane and projection since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in early 1990s. Arkansas is 14-12-1 against Mississippi State since then, dominating the 2000s and the first couple years of the 2010s. The Bulldogs have won six of the last seven meetings. Since 2000, Arkansas has been to 12 bowl games and Mississippi State has been to 11.