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Position-by-position analysis

by Tom Murphy | September 17, 2022 at 1:58 a.m.

Offense

Quarterbacks

MISSOURI STATE Jason Shelley (37-54-0, 563 yards, 6 TDs, 68.5%) comes loaded with credentials, weapons and talent in the Bobby Petrino QB mode. The 5-11, 200-pounder was the Missouri Valley offense player of the year in 2021 and is a first-team FCS preseason All-America. He is third in FCS pass efficiency (192.8). Shelley has 3,910 passing yards at MSU.

ARKANSAS KJ Jefferson (36-47-0, 385 yards, 4 TDs, 76.6%) is off to a phenomenal start with 37 carries for 129 yards and 2 rush TDs. Jefferson ranks third in the SEC and 19th nationally with a 173.5 pass efficiency. He had three incomplete throws last week, one of them a drop. Sophomore Malik Hornsby has gotten action in both games as an edge attacker and might see more play this week.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Running backs

MISSOURI STATE Jacardia Wright (36-158, 0 TD, 4.4 ypc) is a 6-0, 220-pound transfer from Kansas State who had 195 rushing yards for the Wildcats in 3 years. Wright has a combination of wiggle and power in his game and a receiving TD. Celdon Manning (7-44, 0, 6.3) is a 187-pound sophomore from Allen, Texas. No one else other than that pair and Jason Shelley (20-36, 1) has more than 5 rushing yards.

ARKANSAS Raheim Sanders (44-273, 2, 6.2) leads the SEC and is fourth in the FBS with 136.5 yards per game. Complementary backs AJ Green (12-61, 1, 5.1) and Rashod Dubinion (10-31, 1, 3.1) have shown good flashes. Big back Dominique Johnson (97-575, 7, 5.9 in 2021) is close to a return from knee surgery. The receiving corps has gotten involved in the run game.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Receivers/tight ends

MISSOURI STATE Ty Scott (16-256, 3 TDs), a 6-3 transfer from Central Michigan, is easily Shelley’s top target. He’s had two monster games (8-160) and (8-96, 3) last week. The corps runs deep, with Jahod Booker (8-128), Kevon Latulas (2-28) and Hunter Wood (2-16, 1) of Springdale contributing. Former UA signee Jordan Jones (2-12), who has dangerous speed, is expected to play coming off concussion protocol.

ARKANSAS Jadon Haselwood (8-72, 1), Matt Landers (7-80), Warren Thompson (5-58, 1) and Ketron Jackson Jr. (1-7) have emerged as the top targets for KJ Jefferson. TE Trey Knox (7-80, 2) is questionable with an ankle injury, so Nathan Bax and Hudson Henry are likely to get more run. The TE/WR groups have done a strong job of perimeter blocking, with a couple of holding calls thrown in.

ADVANTAGE None

Line

MISSOURI STATE LT Landon Bebee, a co-captain and preseason All-MVC choice, and RT Ian Fitzgerald are both third-year starters with 26 and 25 starts, respectively. That pair, who weigh 298 and 299, have started both games at the same spot along with RG Sean Fitzgerald, who started all 12 games at Coastal Carolina in 2-21. Ryan Suliafu (6-2, 330) moved from RG to C for game 2. RS freshman Mark Hutchinson is listed at LG.

ARKANSAS The Razorbacks will likely start the same quintet of LT Luke Jones, LG Brady Latham, C Ricky Stromberg, RG Beaux Limmer and RT Dalton Wagner for the third straight game. Wagner, a team captain, leads the team with 30 starts, followed by Latham (25), Stromberg (23) and Limmer (19). Ty’Kieast Crawford got work at RT last week. The other top reserves: G Jalen St. John and C Marcus Henderson.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Defense

Line

MISSOURI STATE The Bears base from a 4-3 with no 300-pounders on the front. DE Kevin Ellis (13, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 PBU) is the team tackle leader. DE Devin Goree (8, 2, 1) has a team-high 2 hurries. The team sack leader is senior DT Anthony Payne (6, 2.5, 2), while Ikenna Ahumibe (6), Tico Brown (5, 0.5 sacks) and Allen Love (3) are 290-pound plus upper classmen who contribute.

ARKANSAS The Razorbacks Have blended 3-man and 4-man looks and rotated well, thus no huge stats for the starting group of DEs Zach Williams (3, 1.5, 0.5) and Jashaud Stewart (3, 0.5 sacks) and DTs Isaiah Nichols (3) and Eric Gregory (1, 2 hurries). Backups Terry Hampton (5, 1 TFL), Landon Jackson (5, 0.5 sacks), Cam Ball (4) and Jordan Domineck (3, 2 sacks) have comparable stats.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Linebackers

MISSOURI STATE Starters Ferrin Manuleleau (12, 1 TFL), Von Young (8, 1 PBU) and Tahj Chambers (7, 1 sacks, 1 INT) are listed at less than 220 pounds, so they’re giving up pounds to UA top rushers Jefferson and Sanders. The senior Manuleleau has 19 starts, the others, both sophomores, are first-year starters. Steven Ward (2) is the only backup with a significant snap count.

ARKANSAS Drew Sanders (16, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FF, 1 PBU, 1 hurry) is coming off a massive game for which he earned national player of the week awards and a co-SEC player of the week nod. Bumper Pool (20, 2, 1, 1 PBU, 1 hurry), sixth in UA career tackles (369), can reach fourth with 4 stops tonight. Chris Paul (10, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR) and Jordan Crook (2) have been the top reserves.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Secondary

MISSIURI STATE The group is coached by former UA safety Tramain Thomas. CB Montrae Braswell (12, 1 PBU) is second on team in tackles, and CB Caleb Blake (10, 1 PBU) also sticks his nose in. Safety Dillon Thomas (9, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU) is filling up the stat sheet. Kyriq McDonald (8, 1 TFL) starts at the other slot. Lemonade Joe (3) and C.J. Crump (1) have earned reps as backup CBs.

ARKANSAS Top CBs Dwight McGlothern (8, 2 INT, 1 PBU) and Hudson Clark (6, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) have hung in vs. many verticals in man. The unit is down a few players with Jalen Catalon (8) and LaDarrius Bishop (2) out, and NB Myles Slusher (3, 1 TFL) questionable. Simeon Blair (12, 1 TFL), Latavious Brini (9, 1 hurry, 1 FF), Khari Johnson (3, 1 TFL) and NB Jayden Johnson (5, 1 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 FF) played a lot last week.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Special teams

MISSOURI STATE KOR Montrae Braswell (55.0) already has a 98-yard TD return. PK Jose Pizano is a preseason All-American who has made 16 of his past 17 FGs. He’s 2 for 3 this year with the miss from 43 yards. P Grant Burkett (40.3) is on the FCS punter of the year watch list after averaging a school-record 46.2 yards per punt in 2021. Pizano has just one touchback in 12 kickoffs, but Bears are allowing just 19.8 yard KOR average.

ARKANSAS The Razorbacks largely out-played kicking game aces South Carolina last week. Punt returner Bryce Stephens (8.0) and KOR AJ Green (16) haven’t had much opportunity but could today. PK Cam Little is 10 for 10 on PATs, 1 for 2 on FGs, the miss from 50 yards. P Max Fletcher (37.6) was better last week, but the Hogs are 123rd of 131 in net punting (31.22). Jake Bates has 10 touchbacks on 13 kickoffs (77%).

ADVANTAGE Missouri State

Intangibles

MISSOURI STATE The Bears got a taste of this atmosphere last year at Oklahoma State, but they are likely to play in front of the largest crowd in school history. Also, this game is different because of the return of Coach Bobby Petrino, who will not be flustered by the noise and will have schemed well. The Bears could give the Razorbacks trouble, but they haven’t faced a team this big and bruising.

ARKANSAS A selection of Arkansas fans are sure to heckle and jeer Petrino in his return to Razorback Stadium, but it’s likely a far greater percentage of fans will give him a warm reception. And hopefully the antics will remain tasteful. The Razorbacks have a bigger, harder-hitting team than the Bears will face all season and that level of physicality, plus the hearty night rowdiness heavily favors the Hogs.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

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