Mississippi State justified its status as the top-ranked team in the nation, and that historical position doesn’t seem to be in much danger in the near future.
Coach Dan Mullen isn’t concerned with any of that.
The No. 1 Bulldogs look to remain undefeated behind one of the SEC’s top running games Saturday night against last-place Arkansas.
Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0) moved atop the AP poll for the first time after beating then-second-ranked Auburn 38-23 on Oct. 11. The Bulldogs maintained that status with last weekend’s 45-31 win at Kentucky, and their upcoming schedule should be favorable enough for them to stay there.
After facing the Razorbacks (4-4, 0-4), Mississippi State will host Tennessee-Martin of the FCS.
The Bulldogs also joined No. 2 Florida State, fourth-ranked Auburn and No. 7 Mississippi as the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week.
Mullen doesn’t want to discuss any rankings despite Mississippi State being the only unbeaten in the SEC.
“Hopefully, we can get all this ranking stuff behind us,” Mullen said. “I don’t know where we’ll rank. You can drop us if you want or you can raise us, I don’t really care (about) any of that now.”
Mullen is more concerned with keeping his running game going after it totaled a season-high 326 yards against the Wildcats.
Josh Robinson accounted for a career-high 198 of those with two touchdowns on 23 carries, while quarterback Dak Prescott added a pair of rushing scores of his own while finishing with 88 yards on 18 attempts.
Prescott has also tossed 15 touchdowns with five interceptions after totaling 14 TDs in his first two seasons.
“When the running back is putting up big numbers and hitting explosive plays he draws a lot of attention,” Mullen said. “That takes a lot of the pressure and attention off of Prescott, which will allow him to make bigger plays.”
Robinson may only be 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, but he’s drawing a great deal of attention nationally, leading the conference with 887 yards with an average of 7.3 per carry. His 10 rushing touchdowns are tied for the most in the SEC with Prescott and Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams.
“I mean, you can call me a human bowling ball if you want,” Robinson said. “You guys gave me that name, so I try to live up to it and fit it the best way I can.”
Mostly due to Robinson and Prescott’s elusiveness, the Bulldogs are second in the conference with 273.1 yards per game on the ground.
The Razorbacks are giving up an average of 178.0 rushing yards in four conference games compared to 97.8 versus non-league foes. They again had no trouble at all outside of SEC play last weekend, scoring the first 38 points in a 45-17 romp of UAB.
“Just sweeping the non-conference was huge for us, and we have a great opportunity this week to knock off No. 1,” linebacker Martrell Spaight said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
It hasn’t gone well for awhile against ranked teams.
Each of Arkansas’ losses this season have come against teams in the Top 25, and they’ve dropped 13 such matchups in a row by an average of 21.0 points. Additionally, coach Bret Bielema is 0-12 in SEC play since arriving at Arkansas last year.
Brandon Allen is looking to avoid another loss and build on his performance from last weekend. The much-maligned quarterback completed 15 of 24 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns against the Blazers after completing 57.1 of his attempts for 741 yards with five scores and three picks during a three-game slide.
“We really got things going like we had been,” Allen said. “We finally completed a deep ball; I needed that one. We did a lot of things we wanted to get done offensively, and the scoreboard showed it.”
Getting a career-high 153 yards and a score on 18 carries from Williams certainly helped, too. The junior running back’s 830 yards are third behind Robinson in the league, but he’s compiled 510 with seven rushing TDs against non-conference opponents.
He’ll be tested by Mississippi State, which is tied for 23rd in rushing defense in the FBS with an average of 118.0 yards allowed.
The Bulldogs are 4-15 in their past 19 meetings with the Razorbacks, but they’ve won the last two, including a 45-14 home victory Nov. 17, 2012.