Arkansas eyes first perfect home mark since 1999
Bobby Petrino likes to talk about the process of winning championships.
The first step to that process for the Arkansas coach has always been winning at home, something the No. 6 Razorbacks (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) have nearly perfected this season.
Arkansas can take that first step toward a championship by completing its first undefeated season at home since 1999 when it hosts Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5) in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
''That's what makes this a big game for us,'' Petrino said. ''It's something that's been a goal of ours since we got here, is to win all our home games. That's when you get started to be a difficult team to play against.''
Whether the championships will follow this season for the Razorbacks is yet to be determined. What is for certain is they believe both an SEC and national championship are in play - and aren't looking past the Bulldogs and ahead to a regular-season ending clash with No. 1 LSU next week in Baton Rouge, La.
Arkansas has won six straight since a 38-14 loss at Alabama on Sept. 24. Several of the wins have been of the comeback variety (Texas A&M, Mississippi, Vanderbilt), but the Razorbacks appear to have hit their stride the last two weeks.
They've beaten South Carolina and Tennessee by a combined 93-35, and a win over Mississippi St. would give the program its first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988-89.
Just don't expect Arkansas to look that far ahead.
''That's if we win on Saturday,'' Razorbacks defensive end Jake Bequette said. ''That's the key. We can't count our chickens before they hatch.''
As the wins have piled up this season, Arkansas' confidence has grown as well. Still, the Razorbacks remember all-too-well how the Bulldogs took them to double overtime last season before falling.
Mississippi St. stayed close in a 24-7 loss to the Crimson Tide last week, just as it's stayed close this season in its other four losses - all to teams currently ranked in the BCS. The Razorbacks will be the sixth such opponent for the Bulldogs, who need one more win to become bowl eligible and have only the Egg Bowl matchup with rival Mississippi remaining after this week.
''Obviously, it's important for us to find a way to get six wins because, as you develop a program, those extra bowl practices are a huge advantage,'' Mississippi St. coach Dan Mullen said.
The Bulldogs are 2-11 against the SEC West since 2009, with both wins coming against Mississippi. One of those losses was last year's 38-31 loss to Arkansas, a game in which running back Vick Ballard rushed for 150 yards as Mississippi St. dominated time of possession.
Ballard will be counted on once again on Saturday against a Razorbacks' offense that leads the SEC in scoring (38.8) and total offense (455.7).
''Overall, we're trying to get some first downs, and when we haven't, we're trying to control the tempo of the game, control the field position of the game and score when we have the opportunity to score,'' Mullen said. ''That philosophy for us really doesn't change.
''We're going to have to score points against these guys.''
Points haven't been a problem lately for Arkansas and quarterback Tyler Wilson, who has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes this season and thrown for 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Wilson struggled to stay upright early in the season behind an offensive line that replaced three starters from last season, but he's been sacked only two times in the last two games.
Also, the Razorbacks have run the ball as many times as they've thrown it (65) the last two games and gained 254 yards in last week's win over the Volunteers.
All in all, they are peaking at the right time - and are hopeful that a win this week sets the stage for a game with national implications against the Tigers next week.
''In the last two games I think you've seen really good play out of our offensive line and I think we're coming together at the right time of the year,'' Wilson said. ''Hopefully we can get a few more wins.''