Arkansas turnovers give Bulldogs hope

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were among the early feel-good stories of the 2012 season. Projected to finish sixth in the SEC West, they responded by starting 7-0 for the first time this millennium. But since then, they have dropped three straight, all by at least 20 points. When taking a closer look at the schedule, it’s no surprise what has gone wrong in Starkville.

Mississippi State started 3-0 in the SEC, but its three opponents are a combined 0-20 in conference. The three losses have come to teams that are a combined 15-5 in conference and all are ranked in the BCS top 10. Even in the non-conference schedule, the only FBS team it played with a record above .500 was Middle Tennessee.

As a result, there is a stark contrast statistically in the first seven games and the last three games, particularly in turnover margin. Through its first seven games, Mississippi State led all FBS teams in turnover margin (+16) and had outscored opponents 69-3 off turnovers. In the last three games, Mississippi State has had six turnovers, two more than it had in its first seven games combined, and has been outscored 33-6 off turnovers.

A home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks may be just what Mississippi State needs. Arkansas is last in the SEC with a -13 turnover margin and has turned the ball over at least twice in all but one game.

Mississippi State This Season

Another area affected by the Bulldogs’ stretch of tougher competition has been their running game. Heading into the Alabama game, RB LaDarius Perkins led the SEC in rushing (103.4 YPG). Since then, Perkins has rushed for just 80 yards in two games and missed the LSU game with a quad injury.

Mississippi State has rushed for just 64.0 yards per game in the last three games. It won’t get any easier against Arkansas, which has held its last four opponents to 2.54 yards per carry.

Mississippi State’s best chance to win may be its record-breaking pass offense. The Bulldogs are sixth in the SEC in passing (238.0 YPG), but need just 257 pass yards to break the school single-season record and have already set the school record for passing touchdowns in a season (20). Against Arkansas they’ll face the seventh-worst pass defense in FBS. The Razorbacks allow 291.1 yards per game.