Air battle set for Little Rock on Saturday

Saturday’s Arkansas-Mississippi State game might not exactly be grabbing college football headlines, but there is a pretty exciting matchup to keep an eye on in Little Rock, Ark., this weekend.

Arkansas’ high-flying passing game will take on the Bulldogs’ talented secondary that ranks fifth in the SEC in pass defense (186 yards per game) and has allowed just nine passing touchdowns.

The Hogs sport four game-breaking wide receivers, while Mississippi State is equipped with a defensive backfield that is oozing NFL talent.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson is passing for 285 yards a game and has two receivers in Jarius Wright and Joe Adams who both rank in the top 10 in the league in receptions and yards.

Mississippi State features one of the most underrated players in the country in cornerback Johnthan Banks, who has intercepted five passes and has 49 tackles, including two sacks. Also, fellow corner Corey Broomfield has defended five passes and recorded 47 tackles, while safety Nickoe Whitley has four interceptions.

Basically, this one should be a lot of fun and one side won’t be able to hold on for four quarters.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said the issue with Arkansas is that there is so much depth. There isn’t just one receiver that defenses can key on and stick their best defender on for 60 minutes. When facing the Razorbacks, it truly is a collective effort to contain the passing game.

“That’s where the mismatch occurs because you don’t have to stop one guy, you have to stop all of them,” Mullen said.

“You can’t say, ‘OK our one guy is gonna shut down their one guy.’ You can’t do that against these guys. You have to have all of our guys playing well throughout the whole game.”

The good news for the Bulldogs is that this secondary has seen plenty of these Hogs in action. Last year was a back-and-forth, double-overtime slugfest, and two years ago the Bulldogs were in Little Rock, facing a younger version of the receivers they’ll be facing Saturday.

Mullen said both teams have grown and improved mightily since then, and Saturday shouldn’t bring anything new and unexpected for Mississippi State’s secondary.

“Fortunately, we have some experience back there with guys that have played some football,” he said. “Coming into this game, they’ve played in these games before.

“The matchup is going to be pretty good, but for our guys, I don’t think they’re going to be looking out on the field and be intimidated by anything that they see.”