MSU focused on Arkansas football game

MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald fights for yards against the Arkansas defense
Staff Writer

No one is feeling sorry for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Even though the Bulldogs suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the final seconds one week ago against Alabama, there isn’t a single team out there with sympathy for MSU.
That includes Saturday’s opponent, Arkansas (4-6, 1-5), which the No. 17 Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) face at 11 a.m. in Fayetteville. MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald doesn’t expect the Razorbacks to be shedding any tears at State’s fate of last Saturday. The good news, according to Fitzgerald, is that the Bulldogs are no longer thinking about the Alabama loss either.

“You can’t really dwell or sit on one game,” Fitzgerald said. “Like I said after (the Alabama) game, it’ll stink for that night, but the next day you wake up and start moving forward and start looking at the next game.
“No one is crying. No one is sitting there like, 'woe is us.’ We know we have two more solid games left that we have to win to make sure we get into a warm bowl and that’s the only thing on our minds.”

On one hand, Arkansas might be the perfect Southeastern Conference opponent for Mississippi State to face in the wake of last week’s tough loss to the Crimson Tide. The Razorbacks have the worst scoring defense in the SEC, allowing an average of 35.8 points per game. Arkansas is 12th in the league in total defense, surrendering 421.5 yards per contest.
That should mean Fitzgerald and the rest of the MSU offense will have opportunities to score early and often.

On the other hand though, Mississippi State is all too familiar with how things can go awry in Fayetteville. The Bulldogs have won just once at Arkansas’ on-campus home, with that coming in State’s last trip in back in 2015.
The Razorbacks receive a bit of a boost this week too. Senior quarterback Austin Allen is expected to make his first start since injuring his shoulder back on Oct. 7.

MSU defensive coordinator Todd Grantham believes Allen makes the Razorbacks a better offensive football team.

“When you look, when he plays, they are really efficient on offense,” Grantham said. “When I watched him in the summer, I thought he was a dynamic player. He was a guy I had a lot of respect for as a quarterback in this league. He’s one of the top ones in the league.”

Mullen said Arkansas is a “different team” with Allen in at quarterback. Dealing with him will almost unquestionably be one of MSU’s toughest tasks today. If Allen is back to form, the Razorbacks can possibly be a better football team than their record indicates.

Yet the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs might just be the battle going on within themselves. Last week was a tough blow for MSU. Couple that with the fact that Mississippi State hosts instate rival Ole Miss for the annual Egg Bowl in just five days, and the recipe is there for MSU to perhaps be a bit unfocused Saturday in Arkansas.
Mullen says the Bulldogs can’t afford to be caught off guard. In the SEC, every game is vital. Mullen is preaching to MSU that the past is the past and good things still await the Bulldogs if they can take care of their business the rest of the way, starting Saturday.

“We have the opportunity to still have a great season ahead of us and do a lot of really good things,” Mullen said. “We have three losses to teams in the top seven, so we want to finish this season strong and hopefully put ourselves as a top 10 or top 15 program in the country.

If that focus changes, then we won’t have a special year. We won’t be considered at the level we want our team to be.”