Prediction contest: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss

Update: The final score was Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 27. Nobody guessed Ole Miss would win, so there is no prediction contest winner this week.

The bye week has come and gone, and for Arkansas, it a) couldn’t have come at a better time and b) couldn’t have come at a worse time. After trouncing Kentucky 49-7 (in just 2.75 quarters), the Hogs were really starting to gel offensively and, dare I say it, defensively. So on one hand, the bye week could serve as a pit stop to Arkansas hitting their stride. On the other hand, the extra week off has allowed tight end Chris Gragg to get healthy and rejoin the team along with the other injuries several players were nursing.

This Saturday the Hogs return to Little Rock to face the Ole Miss Bears Ackbars Rebels. This is the Razorbacks’ first game in Little Rock since their overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe and the players are certainly looking forward to getting back on the winning track in the Rock.

From what it sounds like, getting a win here could be a tough task. First-year head coach Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss picking up the pieces that Houston Nutt left behind (sound familiar?). But, Freeze’s Rebels are so far 4-3 (1-2 SEC) and, most recently, ended their 16-game SEC losing streak by beating Auburn 41-20. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard Freeze’s name before, it could be that he was the head coach of Arkansas State just last season where the Red Wolves went 10-2 and won the bowl (note: Freeze left the team for Ole Miss before the bowl victory).

Freeze was a fairly hot commodity last season and Ole Miss was lucky enough to snag him. But, this is just Freeze’s fourth season as a head coach and second in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). So how good could Ole Miss really be? Their three losses were to currently, or previously, ranked teams — Texas beat them 66-31, Alabama beat them 33-14 and Texas A&M won 30-27. But, let’s look closer at their four wins (rankings based on 124 total teams in the FBS):

  • Defeated Central Arkansas 49-27 (Division 1 school)
  • Defeated UTEP 28-10 (98th in total offense, 97th in total defense)
  • Defeated Tulane (124th in total offense, 112th in total defense)
  • Defeated Auburn (122nd in total offense, 77th in total defense)

Nothing too Earth-shattering there — much like Arkansas, the Rebels are beating up on the weak. But as a good offense should, Ole Miss is moving the ball with a nice and balanced offense. Freeze has installed a spread offense at Ole Miss and the Rebels will often find themselves getting into a groove and then hopping into the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle offense (which Razorback fans might remember running when Gus Malzahn was at Arkansas). So far this season, the Rebels are averaging 229 passing yards and 211 rushing yards per game — talk about balance.

Defensively, the Rebels are led by another familiar name to Razorback fans, Dave Wommack (former Defensive Coordinator at Arkansas in the early 2000s). Ole Miss is currently ranked 40th in total defense this season where they’re allowing 210 yards passing, 145 yards rushing and 26 points per game. When you look at their defensive play during their three losses, they rank 87th overall while allowing 232 yards passing and 255 yards rushing per game. Another stat of note, Ole Miss gets through the line of scrimmage where they currently average 7+ tackles for loss per game (2.7 sacks per game is included in that number).

With both teams playing for their postseason and when taking a look at a bevy of other stats (time of possession, red zone % and third down conversions), this has the makings of another Little Rock loss for the Razorbacks. I fully expect the Rebels to give Arkansas a tough game on Saturday, and if the Hogs don’t come ready to play every down, they might find themselves on the outside looking in for a bowl game.

Offensively: Arkansas has to get quarterback Tyler Wilson the protection and time he needs to move the ball. Ole Miss’ secondary isn’t great, but they’re not horrible, either. Keeping an aggressive play-caller like Wommack on his heels with quick slants and draw plays could pay huge dividends. Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino said that we’ll likely see a few running backs touch the ball and whoever has the hot hand will get more carries. Lately, that’s been Dennis Johnson, who appears to be much quicker at making a lane decision than Knile Davis. For the Hogs to be successful on Saturday, a healthy mix of Johnson, Gragg and receivers Mekale McKay or Javontee Hearndon will be necessary. Don’t overlook the recently rediscovered wheel route and running back Jonathan Williams, either. With the way Wilson and his offense has been playing over the past two games, there aren’t too many defensive coordinators that want to face them. This could be another offensive showcase for the Razorbacks and we all know how much of a star Cobi Hamilton is in Little Rock  (7 games, 7 TDs, 100+ yards per game).

Defensively: Where do you start against a team as balanced as Ole Miss? For Arkansas, it all starts up front and stopping the run, where the Hogs currently rank 37th in rushing defense and only allowing 130 yards per game. Keeping running back Jeff Scott and quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Randall Mackey to low totals will be key. Here’s why, Wallace (the starter) has 9 passing TDs and 8 INTs on the year (all 8 coming in losses). If Arkansas can dial up enough defense to make Ole Miss a passing team, it appears that Wallace doesn’t make the best decisions. The big problem is that Wallace is a slight dual-threat quarterback who is willing to run the ball when needed — and Arkansas isn’t great against running quarterbacks. Defensive Coordinator Paul Haynes has the defense playing much better as of late, but Ole Miss will definitely make the Hogs work for the win. Don’t be surprised to see several defensive break-downs throughout the game.

Special Teams: Zach Hocker is now leading the country with his average of 65+ yards per kickoff, with 72% going for touchbacks — now if he could get off his snide for missed field goals, that would be great. He’s still 100% on PATs even though he’s made just over 50% of his FG attempts. Punter Dylan Breeding is 7th in the country by averaging 46 yards per punt. If Arkansas keeps Breeding off the field, they have a better chance of beating Ole Miss.

Fall is setting in and the high in Little Rock on Saturday will be sunny and a high around 61 degrees. That’s perfect condition for a high scoring game, Both Ole Miss and Arkansas are still fighting for postseason possibilities. Only favored by 6 points, Arkansas could have themselves another letdown in Little Rock. But I’m going to be a believer and say that the Razorbacks will outlast the Rebels. Arkansas 41, Ole Miss 35.

Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free t-shirt from Bearstate Supply.

How to enter

Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.

What you’ll win

One t-shirt of your choice (design, color, size) from the Bearstate Supply online store. (Hoodies, ringers and tri-blend AA’s not included)

The rules

  • You only may enter this specific contest once.
  • Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
  • The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
  • You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
  • Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.

Good luck!

Arkansas vs Ole Miss

Date: Saturday, Oct. 27
Time: 11:21 a.m. Central
Location: War Memorial Stadium – Little Rock, Arkansas
Broadcast: SEC Network, ESPN3

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