The Hogs’ 3rd D is “a big key” against the Bulldogs
FAYETTEVILLE – When the theme music from former professional wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin starts blaring through the speakers at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, a great play is moments away.
It’s a signal for the Arkansas fans to cheer loudly. But above all, that means the Razorbacks’ defense is at a standstill from going off the field and getting their opponent’s punt team out.
The numbers for the third drop will be a critical statistic on Saturday when Arkansas faces Mississippi State in their second real home game in seven weeks. It seems inevitable that a number of key parts of the game will take place once the sounds of an electric guitar, drums, and shattered glass give way to the roar of the crowd.
Third downs could determine whether or not the Razorbacks kick off the month by becoming bowl eligible.
“Yeah, that’s a big deal,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “We have to leave the field. We’ve been pretty good at it and they’ve been pretty good at it. I think that will be a big key to the game. “
Mississippi State, led by quarterback Will Rogers, will come to Fayetteville this weekend with the third third-down conversion offense in the SEC. The Bulldogs have moved the chains down at a rate of 48.2% (53 of 110) this season.
Only Alabama (69) and Missouri (55) have better success rates. Mississippi State was third in four games against SEC teams (54.2%) than its three non-conference opponents (36.8%).
And in three games played on the road or on a neutral venue, the Bulldogs are 22 of 43 (51.2%) in third place.
Arkansas have the No. 1 defense in the conference against the third down, allowing a conversion on just 28.9% of opponents’ 110 attempts. The Razorbacks held Arkansas-Pine Bluff 1 in 14 for third in their last game.
They haven’t given up more than 5 third-down conversions in a game this season, while Mississippi State has at least 7 conversions in 3 straight games and in 5 of their last 6.
In the wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the Bulldogs totaled 17 of 28 on the third down.
“I noticed the other night (Rogers) also ran the ball a few times in third place,” Pittman said. “But obviously we have to get them off the pitch. The coach (Mike Leach) is also used to going in fourth, but not like (Ole coach Miss Lane Kiffin).
“He’s going for the fourth try and we have to be aware of that as well, determining what Barry (Odom) calls for on the third try knowing there is a possibility he might try again.”
Additionally, the Leach Bulldogs lead the SEC and rank sixth nationally in average possession time – 35 minutes and 7 seconds per game. If the Razorbacks force punters, it could lead to a takeover of their running game.
Arkansas are second in the league for rushing, averaging 249 yards per game.
“The defense, if it takes them off the field, they’re not going to lead the possession time,” Pittman said. “I don’t think we’re going to slow down because of this fact. I think we’re just going to try to score some points.