MSU secondary preps for pass-happy Arkansas
Mississippi State's talented, veteran secondary is prepared for a rare sight in the Southeastern Conference - a true pass-happy offense.
The Bulldogs (5-5, 1-5 SEC) visit sixth-ranked Arkansas (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday with the Razorbacks averaging a league-leading 311.3 passing yards per game - more than 60 yards better than Tennessee, which is second.
Mississippi State's Corey Broomfield said stopping the Razorbacks will certainly be a challenge, but it's also a welcome change from the power running games so common in the SEC this season.
''We played Alabama this past week and they probably ran the ball about 180 times,'' Broomfield said. ''Now you get a chance to do what you like to do, you get to cover guys. You don't have to tackle big 250-pound running backs every play. It's a great opportunity.''
Broomfield and the Mississippi State secondary will have to play its best game to stop the Razorbacks. Quarterback Tyler Wilson has plenty of targets, including senior Jarius Wright, who leads the SEC with 906 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns despite missing a game. Joe Adams, Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson all have at least 20 catches, making it hard for defenses to focus on a specific part of the field.
Wilson has thrown for 2,850 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 61.7 percent of his passes.
Arkansas' receivers ''do a great job of attacking the ball,'' Broomfield said. ''On 50-50 balls, they're gonna come down with it. Hopefully we'll do a good job of battling with them and we'll have a different result.''
Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox wants to help the team's secondary by putting pressure on Wilson in the pocket. Cox and fellow defensive tackle Josh Boyd have combined for 16 1/2 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks this season.
''Arkansas, I mean, they do what they do,'' Cox said. ''They do it well. They've got a real good offense, real good receivers. Across the board, they're experienced.''
Mississippi State's secondary took a hit last weekend when safety Nickoe Whitley was lost for the season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon on his left foot. Whitley was second on the team with four interceptions in nine games.
While Broomfield might be excited about the matchup with Arkansas' offense, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was a little more reserved. The Bulldogs are giving up 185.6 yards passing per game, which ranks fifth in the SEC. Their 12 interceptions - including five by cornerback Johnthan Banks - are also tied for fifth.
''We'll see,'' Mullen said. ''Facing three big-time receivers with a quarterback that knows the system and has a lot of experience getting it downfield is not the most exciting thing in the world ... It's certainly a challenge for us, for our guys on the secondary that they need to step up, and they're going to have to make a lot of plays in this game. It's a good judge for them to see where they're at.''
The two teams are quite familiar with one another after Arkansas won an entertaining 38-31 game that went to double overtime in Starkville last season. The Razorbacks have won 11 of the past 12 games in the series, but Wright said the Razorbacks weren't taking anything for granted.
''Definitely one off the most physical teams I've faced each and every year,'' Wright said. ''We've watched a little film on them, and the guys play hard and they have athletes.''
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this report.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP