Mississippi State presents opportunity for Feleipe Franks, Arkansas offense to take off
If you’re betting on the Arkansas-Mississippi State game Saturday, you might want to take the over.
The No. 16 Bulldogs started the Mike Leach era exactly the way you’d expect this past weekend: with a lot of points. KJ Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards and 5 touchdowns as they upset LSU in a 44-34 shootout. Meanwhile, the Arkansas offense was stymied by a tough Georgia defense. But the potential is there in Kendal Briles’ up-tempo attack.
It seems a given Mississippi State will put up points, no matter what the Hogs throw at them defensively. The Leach-led Washington State Cougars scored 37.8 points per game last season, 11th in FBS. If Arkansas is to have any chance of staying in this game, it has to keep up offensively.
That typically hasn’t been a problem for Briles’ offenses. His teams have finished among the top 25 in points per game in 4 of his 5 seasons as an offensive coordinator. But they clearly struggled in their opener, albeit against arguably the best defense in America.
Star running back Rakeem Boyd was held to 21 yards on 11 carries. Trey Knox, expected to be one of the team’s top receivers this year, had 1 catch. Arkansas finished with only 10 points and threw 3 interceptions.
None of this was particularly surprising. The Razorbacks are implementing a new system and the offseason chatter was whether this was Kirby Smart’s best defense ever. But it was certainly frustrating to watch from an Arkansas perspective.
Coach Sam Pittman said in his weekly press conference it was the result of sloppy play that his team has to clean up this week.
“I don’t think any of us were happy with the rhythm of the offense,” Pittman said. “It was just too many missed assignments. It slows everything down because the quarterback is having to get everybody adjusted. We didn’t have that problem in practice, but we did the other night. The quarterback was getting everyone lined up instead of looking at the defense and seeing how we could attack that. We gotta calm the quarterback down so he can make plays. The only way we do that is if everyone hits their assignments.”
It sounds like the Razorbacks were having trouble keeping up with the pace of their own offense. That should change as they grow more comfortable with it, and an up-tempo style could work in their favor in this type of contest.
Arkansas showed it was willing to take shots against Georgia. It tried having Treylon Burks throw a pass late in the 3rd quarter, but it ended up getting intercepted. Still, it was nice to see that Pittman and Briles aren’t afraid to mix it up.
Don’t look for Arkansas to change against Mississippi State.
“I don’t think we need to slow down,” Pittman said. “This is what we do. I think we need to do what we do more effectively. Obviously, they have some very talented defensive linemen. Their defense kind of goes through (Erroll) Thompson, he’s been their leader. We didn’t protect bad against Georgia. It’s a concern because they move all over the place.”
Boyd should also have an easier going against Mississippi State. If he can string together some nice runs, that will open things up for Feleipe Franks in the passing game. Likewise, look for Franks to spread the ball around and try to open up the field for Boyd to run through.
Pittman was praised for his coordinator hires this offseason. Briles is looked at as a sort of offensive guru in the game, and it was expected Arkansas would make a huge jump on that side of the ball. The weapons are certainly there and Saturday against Mississippi State has all the makings of an offensive showcase.
It’s Briles and company’s time to shine.