Steady No. 22 MSU faces explosive No. 13 Arkansas
Mississippi State's six-game winning streak vaulted the team into the national rankings for the first time since 2001. And during those good times, the Bulldogs thrived off a grinding approach that preached consistency on offense and defense - with few big plays on both sides of the ball.
Then came Alabama, and that plan was shredded - along with the winning streak.
The Tide beat MSU 30-10, hitting the Bulldogs with multiple big plays. Now No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) will be trying to get back to its old ways against No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) on Saturday at Scott Field.
It won't be easy against the Razorbacks, which have the league's most productive quarterback in Ryan Mallett and thrive off big plays downfield.
''That's not our style of football,'' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ''(Arkansas) is a team that has the ability to make those big plays. But we've played a lot of teams that have big-play potential, and we've done a nice job of containing them. We just have to be more consistent.''
Mallett, who came into the fall with Heisman Trophy hype, has put together a stellar season. He's thrown for 2,967 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions as the Razorbacks enter the game on a four-game winning streak. Arkansas is averaging nearly 38 points, which ranks second in the conference.
Though known for their passing game, Arkansas has also been effective running the ball. Knile Davis is fifth in the league in rushing, with 844 total yards and 7.2 yards per carry.
''They've got playmakers all across the field,'' MSU linebacker Chris White said. ''They have like an NFL offense. They've got a quarterback, they've got receivers. They've got a tight end. They've got an offensive line. They've got running backs.''
By comparison, Mississippi State's offense is a little bland, but up until the Alabama game had been quite effective.
The Bulldogs stick mostly to the ground, with quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard doing most of the damage in a spread option scheme.
''They're good on offense,'' Petrino said. ''They really understand what it is they want to get done. The make it difficult on you with the option game, with the quarterback runs and they do a nice job of it. We've got to be very disciplined with our eyes. We've got to play fast, and we're gonna have to tackle well.''
Though certainly run-centered, Mullen said the Bulldogs have to be able to complete a few big passes downfield or everything bogs down. He pointed to the Alabama game as a perfect example.
Relf threw for only 70 yards, and since the Tide didn't fear the passing game they clamped down on the run. Mullen said the most disappointing part of Relf's day is there were open plays that the Bulldogs simply didn't execute.
''You look at Chris and he was 8 of 16 passing,'' Mullen said. ''But there were four drops, two open receivers that he missed, and so there were a lot of opportunities. In our winning games, we've made those plays. And your not going to win against great teams when you don't.''
The Bulldogs are also hoping to get Ballard back in his early season groove. The junior college transfer was one of the SEC's biggest surprises in the first-half of the season, rushing for 11 touchdowns in the first seven games. But he's found the end zone only once in the past three games - though he did lead the team with 281 rushing yards over the span.
Mullen said seeing Ballard cross the goal line on Saturday would be nice, but he's not going to be picky.
''I want to get anybody in the end zone. That's our conscious thought,'' Mullen said. ''Whoever can get in end zone, let's get him in there and score some points.''
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this story.