Mississippi St.-Arkansas Preview
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Don't look now, but Bret Bielema might just be up to his old November tricks again.
At least, the Arkansas coach hopes so when the surging Razorbacks (6-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) host Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday night.
After a disappointing start to the season, including a shocking loss to Toledo, Arkansas enters this week having won four straight games - including back-to-back road wins over ranked opponents Mississippi and LSU.
Those last two wins came this month, a time of the year Bielema thrived at during his seven seasons at Wisconsin before taking over a dysfunctional Arkansas program in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal and eventual firing.
Bielema was 19-5 in November with the Badgers, and this year's late success - including last week's convincing 31-14 win over the No. 17 Tigers - has helped Arkansas regain some of its swagger after an early three-game losing streak.
''We wear you down, and we do it in a way that hopefully it has an effect late in the game; it has an effect on our opponents late in the year,'' Bielema said. ''... We've just got to get the front end of our calendar to match the back end, and we'll be on our way.''
The Razorbacks also won a pair of November games over ranked opponents last year on the way to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons.
However, one of their losses that month was a 17-10 setback against the then-No. 1 Bulldogs - who were led by quarterback Dak Prescott's 331 yards passing.
Mississippi State hasn't quite lived up to last year's remarkable start to the season this year, but it had won four games in a row before last week's 31-6 loss against No. 3 Alabama.
For the Bulldogs to win out and reach double-digit wins for a second year in a row, they'll have to rebound this week against an Arkansas offense that's second in the SEC with an average of 469.3 total yards per game.
''Honestly, they're just playing with more confidence,'' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said of the Razorbacks. ''...They're one of the hotter teams, I think, in the SEC and maybe in the nation.''
Some things to watch as Arkansas looks to win its fifth in a row and third straight in November:
PASSING FANCY: Arkansas has had little trouble slowing opposing running attacks this season, but its pass defense is another story - with the Razorbacks 113th in the country while allowing 282.3 yards passing per game. Mississippi State, led by Prescott, is 21st in the nation with an average of 297.1 yards through the air per game and hopes to exploit those secondary concerns.
PROTECTING PRESCOTT: Prescott was sacked nine times in the Bulldogs' 31-6 loss to Alabama last week. It was the most sacks for the Tide in a game since 1998. Mississippi State's offensive line has struggled off and on for much of the season, but Saturday was by far the unit's worst performance. If Prescott has time to throw, he's been very effective with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season.
RECEIVING CLEARLY: Arkansas entered the season with questions at wide receiver, and that was before injuries cost the school its top three wideouts for much of the season. Juniors Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed have emerged as top playmakers in their absence, combining for 15 touchdown catches - with Reed having scored in six straight games.
STOPPING BIG PLAYS: Mississippi State played good defense at times in last week's loss to Alabama, but there was one serious problem: A tendency to give up big plays. The Tide scored four touchdowns against the Bulldogs - one on a punt return - and all four came from at least 60 yards out.
CAPTIVATING COLLINS: As good as Arkansas' passing game has been this season, running back Alex Collins has been equally impressive. The junior has taken the role of lead back after Jonathan Williams was injured in the preseason and topped 100 yards rushing eight times this season - two away from matching Darren McFadden's school best of 10 games in 2007.
AP College Football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Starkville, Miss., contributed to this report.