Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles Complete Game Preview
There's a first time for everything. Saturday, Arkansas faces off against visiting Southern Miss in the first meeting ever between the two football programs.
The stakes aren't nearly as high as the game taking place in College Station, but nonetheless, there is still a lot to play for.
After escaping with a 31-21 win last weekend against lower-division Samford, Bret Bielema's Razorbacks look to work out some more kinks before hitting the road next week at Rutgers. The Golden Eagles on the other hand, are digging for signs of life after a 56-13 shellacking at Nebraska, extending their losing streak to 14 games.
In other words, Arkansas shouldn't have many problems moving to 3-0, all at home. On the other hand, that's why they play the game.
Time: 11:21 a.m. CT
Place: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Southern Miss IMG Sports radio network and Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network
Spread: Arkansas by 19 according to vegasinsider.com.
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Jump on Golden Eagles Early
The last thing you want to do is allow a bad team to hang around and gain confidence. It will serve the Razorbacks well to hit the gas pedal early on in the game. If the Hogs score on their first few drives, things could get ugly very quick.
Establish the Running Game
Arkansas has seen a resurgence in the ground attack with Bielema, which shouldn't surprise anyone. The duo of Jonathan Williams and true freshman Alex Collins has amassed 580 yards and three touchdowns through the first two games.
The Golden Eagles give up 179.0 yards per game on the ground, something the Razorbacks can take advantage of from the start. A solid run game will open up the receivers for Brandon Allen against a good Southern Miss secondary that has allowed just 164.0 YPG.
Contain Golden Eagles' Duo of QB Allan Bridgford and Ricky Bradley
While Southern Miss has been bad in a lot of areas, the pass-catching duo of Bridgford to Bradley has been a bright spot.
Bridgford averages 299.5 passing yards through two games, 125.0 of which go to Bradley. Bradley has 10 catches for 250 yards (25.0 yards per catch) and is a legitimate deep threat. The Arkansas secondary must keep tabs on him. Bridgford has thrown five interceptions to two touchdowns. If the Hogs' defensive line can pressure him, the Golden Eagles will have a hard time moving the ball.
Southern Miss Keys to Victory
This is obvious but critical if the Golden Eagles are to have chance at pulling off an upset. Southern Miss committed four turnovers, all interceptions, against Nebraska, something it simply cannot do if it expects to be competitive in a hostile environment. Bridgford was responsible for three of them, with backup Nick Mullens throwing another on one of his two passes.
Establish Run Game
A key for the Hogs is also a key for the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss averages an anemic 42.5 YPG on the ground. Let's makes this clear. Anything even remotely close to that number on the road against an SEC team isn't going to cut it. The team needs Kendrick Hardy to be effective to keep the defense off the field.
Get Pressure on Brandon Allen
A big reason for Southern Miss' first two losses has been their lack of pressure on the opposition signal caller. The defense has recorded just two quarterback hurries through two games. If they can't get some pressure on Arkansas quarterback Allen, he will pick apart the secondary.
They can also put more pressure on Allen if they can slow down the Hogs prolific rushing attack, but that is a big "if."
Arkansas Players to Watch
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams
The duo of Collins and Williams has been electric. Both surpassed the 100-yard mark in the first two games and could be one of the best one-two punches in the SEC. They head a ground game that currently ranks 10th in the NCAA with 312.5 YPG.
They will play a huge role Saturday for the Hogs. Expect Bielema to continue to feed the backs until someone can slow them down.
After shaky performances filling in for the injured Tyler Wilson in 2012, Allen has turned in two solid outings to start the season.
His numbers (355 yards, five touchdowns and 177.5 YPG) aren't gaudy, but the sophomore has been efficient leading the offense in his first season as the full-time starter. Look for Allen to continue his progression against the Golden Eagles before the Hogs' first road game next week at Rutgers.
A leader on the defensive line, Flowers has been a menace in the first two games.
In the game one win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Flowers recorded 4.5 total tackles, 3.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble on his way to being named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. He was out last week against Samford with an injury, so his return will give Arkansas a big boost on the D-line.
Southern Miss Players to Watch
The receiver has, by far, been the Golden Eagles top threat on the offensive side of the ball.
He averaged 19.0 YPC at Nebraska last weekend and averages 125.0 YPG. He possesses the ability to stretch defenses and will test the Arkansas secondary. Shutting him down could make for a long day for Southern Miss.
Hardy isn't the top back on the depth chart, but he has been the most efficient back for the Golden Eagles, which isn't saying much. He leads the team with 62 yards and will be counted on to try and establish some sort of fluidity on the ground.
He and the Golden Eagles' rushing attack have a tough task at hand against a very good Arkansas D-line that is giving up just 98.5 YPG rushing.
Bridgford can throw the ball, but it's a matter of throwing it to the right person. His five interceptions through two games have been a big part of the offensive woes.
He has a lively arm and averages nearly 300 YPG through the air. But, if he can't make better decisions, Southern Miss won't stand a chance on the road.
What They Are Saying
A big challenge for Southern Miss will be their inexperience, as noted by Adam Ford of wholehogsports.com:
On paper, Southern Miss looks like they have some good Xs and Os. The stats are not kind to their offense. They can move the ball through the air, but 10 turnovers (five fumbles, five interceptions) have plagued the Eagles. To add to this, just three offensive starters return: two receivers and right guard Ed Preston. Three USM offensive linemen had zero career starts before this season. QB Allan Bridgford and both running backs are new as well.
Ford also pointed out that this would be the Hogs toughest defensive test to date:
From a strategic standpoint, the defense is interesting due to the return of coordinator David Duggan. Duggan was the coordinator for Southern Miss in 2011 under Larry Fedora, when the Eagles won the C-USA and had a decent defense. He went to North Carolina with Fedora last year, but returned under Monken. The USM defense returns 9 starters from a unit that was awful last year, but all of those starters played for Duggan before. As a whole, 2013 Southern Miss defense is a return to the 2011 defense. The Eagles will toss multiple fronts at the Hogs, switching between 3-man and 4-man fronts to confuse Allen and the offensive line. They’ll be aggressive and exciting. This will be the best defense Arkansas has faced so far, though that’s not saying much.
It should also be noted that Southern Miss quarterback Allan Bridgford possibly could miss the game due to a shoulder injury according to Danny West of hawgsports.com:
Word has it that USM starter Allan Bridgford (599 yards, 2 TDs, 5 INTs) may be dealing with a shoulder injury. If he can't go, the Golden Eagles will rely on true freshman Nick Mullens.
Arkansas 38, Southern Miss 10
Simply put, Arkansas is just too good for the Golden Eagles to pull off the upset.
Collins and Williams will have big days, again, on the ground, opening up the passing game for Allen. The rushing attack is what will blow this game open. Once Collins and Williams begin to run for big chunks of yardage, Allen will take advantage of a Southern Miss secondary that will have no choice but to creep up and provide help to stop the rushing attack.
The Arkansas defense will keep the Golden Eagles running game sputtering, adding even more pressure to Bridgford, or Mullens if the starter is out. The lack of running will make it hard for them to get anything going through the air, forcing the defense to stay on the field and grow tired.
Southern Miss is still a long way off from competing against top-level competition again, so Arkansas will take a 3-0 record into their first road game next week at Rutgers.