The Arkansas Razorbacks may upset No. 19 Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in their nationally televised game on CBS, and if they do it won’t be because the Rebels overlooked them.
Some have supposed that Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1 SEC) might be ripe for an upset because the Rebels, an 11-point favorite, may be looking forward to upcoming games against their biggest rivals on Nov. 21 against No. 4 LSU and on Nov. 28 at No. 25 Mississippi State.
To Ole Miss fans, those games might seem more important than playing an unranked and underachieving Arkansas squad that has struggled to a 4-4 overall record and a 2-2 mark in SEC play. However, those matchups won’t mean nearly as much if the Rebels fail to get the job done against Bret Bielema’s Hogs.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knows his Rebels are fortunate to sit where they do today. Ole Miss’ loss to No. 15 Memphis came outside of conference play and the Rebels’ loss to No. 11 Florida of the SEC East doesn’t hold them back from a chance at winning the SEC Western Division, if they can keep winning.
At the moment, the Rebels hold their destiny in their hands. If they win their final three games, Ole Miss will be the Western Division champions, no matter what happens Saturday evening when No. 7 Alabama plays host to LSU in Tuscaloosa.
It’s got to be a heady moment for the Rebels and Freeze. With three more wins the Rebels win their first Western Division title and make their first appearance in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, where they would likely get another crack at the Gators. But a loss to Arkansas would mess all that up.
Saturday’s game with the Hogs will also give Ole Miss the chance to seek out some revenge. A year ago, the Rebels were riding high until a late-game loss to Auburn derailed what Ole Miss fans were hoping would be a dream season. Laquon Treadwell suffered a season-ending injury in the contest on a play were he fumbled near the goal line. That loss and that injury seemed to suck the soul out of the Rebels’ season.
The Razorbacks roughed up a down-in-the-mouth Rebels squad to the tune of 30-0 last year at Reynolds Razorback Stadium to record back-to-back shutouts. The week before the Hogs whipped LSU, 19-0. Ole Miss can pay lip service to the idea that that humiliating loss means nothing today, but nobody believes that.
So, in every way Saturday’s game should be personal to the Rebels. In no way, shape or form should the Hogs sneak up on Ole Miss. The Rebels should be cocked and ready to unload their best shot against the Hogs. With all that considered, it’s no wonder the odds makers have made the Razorbacks nearly a two-touchdown underdog.
For Arkansas to win, the Hogs will likely have to play their best game of the season. The Razorbacks can’t afford to shoot themselves in the foot with the penalties, and mistakes hat plagued them in their 1-3 start this season.
If the Razorbacks can play relatively mistake-free football, the Razorbacks do have an opportunity to beat Ole Miss, but the Hogs’ running game must be on point for that to happen.
The Rebels are good at stopping the run, holding opponents to 121.6 ypg, and they have one of the better defensive lines in the SEC if not the country, featuring defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. At 6-3, 293 pounds, he is a nightmare, making plays sideline to sideline and in the backfield. Nkemdiche has to be game planned for on every Arkansas offensive play.
Nkemdiche’s play elevates Ole Miss’ defense, but unlike Alabama or LSU, the Rebels aren’t thick with depth on the defensive front. When Ole Miss substitutes, there is a noticeable difference in talent on the defensive front. This could work in the Razorbacks favor.
Expect the Razorbacks to keep it between the tackles against the Rebels in an attempt to neutralize the Rebels’ lateral mobility. Razorback backs Alex Collins and Kody Walker and the Hogs offensive front will need to be in bulldozer mode to pound on the Rebels. If there ever was a game for the Hogs’ offensive line to live up to their reputation as one of the league’s best fronts, it’s this one.
Razorbacks offensive coordinator Dan Enos has to maintain his patience, as well. It could take some time to wear on the Rebels. The worst thing he could do is serve Hog quarterback Brandon Allen up on a silver platter against Ole Miss’ aggressive, blitzing defense. Ole Miss dotes on the confusion and turnovers its defense causes. The Hogs have to work a long game, similar to what it did for three quarters of its loss to Alabama.
The Razorbacks will need for quarterback Brandon Allen to make plays with his arm for them to win, but it will be better for the Razorbacks if those plays are called out of desire rather than necessity. Ole Miss safety Tony Connor is one of the best in the nation, and he is a wreaking ball playing in the box. Allen should have some looks at one-on-one coverage down the field, and the emergence of Dominique Reed and the return of Jared Cornelius from injury as deep threats could be key to the Hogs’ staging an upset.
The Razorbacks can ill-afford to play from behind against Ole Miss, so expect the Hogs to receive on the opening kickoff if it is their option as they have done most of the season. The Razorbacks need to score early to have an opportunity to establish a tempo to the game that they are comfortable with.
The Hogs really don’t want to get into a shootout with the Rebels; however, it could come down to that. Ole Miss has the most productive passing game in the SEC, averaging 346.7 yards per game behind the strong arm of Chad Kelly and his squadron of fine receivers led by Treadwell. Treadwell leads the SEC in receiving with 870 yards and 6 touchdown catches. He’s big, strong, fast and deadly.
The Hogs, on the other hand, set their defense to stop the run, and it shows. Arkansas gives up 273 yards passing a game, and has been soft in the middle of the field. Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Auburn all recorded chunk play after chunk play on the Hogs. Kelly has thrown 12 interceptions this season and turnovers did play a role in the Rebels’ losses at Memphis and Florida.
The Razorbacks should be bolstered by the return of cornerback D.J. Dean and safety Santos Ramirez, who missed the Tennessee-Martin game last week, but as big as this game is for the Hogs’ coverage men at linebacker and in the secondary, it’s just as big for Arkansas’ defensive front. The Razorbacks must find a way to pressure, frustrate or confuse Kelly, if they plan on heading back to Fayetteville with their fifth win of the season.
In some ways, I like this matchup for Arkansas. I think they will be able to move the ball on the Rebels, but the margin for error is ever so slight. They will need Kelly to be careless with the football, and if they get turnovers, the Hogs must capitalize by scoring touchdowns not field goals. I’d like to walk out on that ledge and call for a Razorback victory, but the Rebels’ offense is too potent for that to be prudent. But, heck, nobody likes a prude: Arkansas 28, Ole Miss 27.
Hoop Hogs Roll in Exhibition Game
The Arkansas Razorbacks inched a bit closer to the start of the basketball season Thursday with a 103-58 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma State in their first of two exhibition games.
Freshman guard Jimmy Whitt made his debut as a Hog, scoring 19 points with 4 assists and 2 steals, but it was senior guard Anthlon Bell that led the Razorbacks in scoring with 21 points. Senior guard Jabril Durham had a nice night setting the table, with 9 assists. Junior swingman Manny Watkins scored 10 points and also dished out 5 assists. Junior guard Dusty Hannahs contributed 14 points.
It was a tougher night for the Hogs inside with Moses Kingsley netting just 8 points on 2 of 10 shooting. The big man did gather 9 rebounds, but the Razorbacks need him to be more efficient scoring. Senior forward Keaton Miles added 10 points and 7 rebounds, while sophomore forward Trey Thompson added 13 points and 5 rebounds. Senior center Willy Kouassi led all rebounders with 10 and hit two of this three shots to score 4 points.
Arkansas started a bit slow, but the Hogs defensive effort improved as the game went along and SWOSU began to wilt under the Razorbacks’ pressure.
Little can be learned from an exhibition game, but the Razorbacks did play hard, a hallmark of Anderson’s teams, and they did share the basketball. Those are solid building blocks for a team that will have to overachieve to have a successful season.
The Razorbacks play host to Delta State at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Walton Arena for their final exhibition game before opening the season Nov. 13 with Southern University at home.