There are very few teams nationally playing as well as the Arkansas Razorbacks at this point in the season. Much like their late surge at the end of last season that pushed them into their first bowl game under Brett Bielema, Arkansas is hitting their stride once again at the right time.
The Razorbacks host No. 25 Mississippi State at 6 p.m. today on ESPN in a game that has a lot on the line for both teams. While neither will be going to Atlanta this season for the SEC Championship, both teams want to prove that their programs are moving up.
MSU is looking to push towards 10 wins this season and can't do so without a win. The Razorbacks are looking for their fifth-straight win overall and a 5-2 conference mark to get them to No. 2 in the SEC West.
Either way, the Bulldogs' head coach Dan Mullen expects one of the toughest games of the year in Fayetville.
"They're a well-coached, sound football team. They play hard," Mullen said. "They have a lot of talented players out there on the field at different positions. They have a senior quarterback who is an excellent player. He gets the ball to their different playmakers. They have one of the top, if not best, tight ends in America. We know what he can do to create mismatches. They also have the active career rushing leader in the SEC. So this week will be a huge challenge for us and our team to go out there and find a way to win."
The Arkansas offense has been one of the surprises nationally this season. The overall numbers aren't a jolt but the balance of the offense has been exceptional for a team known for running the football.
On the season, Arkansas has the SEC's second-best offense with 4,693 yards of total offense, ahead of MSU by over 300 yards. The Razorbacks are averaging 34 points per game with that offense and have been able to pass for 2,663 yards while rushing for 2,030.
Most importantly for the Razorbacks, their numbers are getting even better at this time of year. The team is averaging 50 points per game during the current four-game winning streak. It's a concern for Mullen and his defense after watching the Hogs take down Ole Miss and LSU on the road.
"Honestly, they're just playing with more confidence," Mullen said. "If you look earlier in the season, they had some tight losses. They turned that around and found a way to win those close games, including two overtime wins. So when that stuff starts happening, you just build more confidence and momentum." I don't see them really doing anything different than they were doing earlier in the year. I just see them executing and making more plays."
While the Hogs are playing at their best, MSU fans saw their team at their worst at times against Alabama last week. The Bulldog defense held its own for most of the game but big plays came back to haunt them. Dak Prescott's offense struggled to score points and he found himself on the ground more times than not.
Now that MSU's chase for the SEC Championship is over, Mullen has to find different ways to motivate them. An SEC road game in November against a good team shouldn't be a problem in motivating the team to push for a win this weekend.
As he said, his team should be ready regardless of where they're playing.
"If you prepare for the game and go play well, you're going to have an opportunity to win. If you don't play well, you aren't," Mullen said. "I don't care if you're on the road or in the parking lot. It's about execution and following the plan to win. If you do those things, you have an opportunity to win. I think that's a much larger factor than where we're playing."