Hogs need to leave a cold impression on Rebels in key home showdown

(UA Athletics)

It’s still November and Thanksgiving is more than a week away, but it’s feeling a whole lot like Christmas in Northwest Arkansas with chilly temperatures and two light snows in less than a week.

Temperatures for the kickoff of the Ole Miss-Arkansas game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium are expected to be in the 30s with clear skies. Forecasts show that there could be some snow on Friday for those driving up for the game, but Saturday is supposed to be clear.

Arkansas Media Relations’ notes package for this week’s game pointed out that it is likely to be the coldest temperature for a game in Razorback Stadium since a miserable 1991 contest against Baylor that happened to be the Hogs’ last Southwest Conference game in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks leaped into the SEC for the 1992 season and that jump was an underlying plot line all season long. ESPN brought temporary lights in for the game since it was going to end after dark. Back then, the bulk of the Hogs’ games weren’t televised, and the lights in Fayetteville were for practices not televised games after dark.

It was a frigid game with spitting snow and temperatures in the 20s. The Razorbacks were driving for a possible lead over the Bears when gutsy redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Allen blew out his anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee on an option run in the third quarter. Baylor walked away with an odd 9-5 victory.

Arkansas had to finish their final season in the SWC with a scout-team, walk-on at QB, Wade Hill. Gary “Peanut” Adams did move from the secondary back to offense for the Texas A&M game to run the triple option to no avail. The Hogs finished 6-5 in the regular season and said goodbye to the SWC with a 20-0 win over Rice in Little Rock. However, the Hogs finished a firmly mediocre 6-6 after a 24-15 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Ole Miss
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Remaining Schedule

Nov. 25 – at Missouri

Back to that Baylor game, the weather conditions made it a struggle to move the ball. With a swirling wind that was often present in those days when the south end zone was virtually open, passing wasn’t much of an option for either squad.

The wind doesn’t affect play quite as much or in the same way it did then since the stadium renovations in 2001 and 2017, but weather will be a factor Saturday against the Rebels just like it was last week against LSU in the Razorbacks’ 13-10 loss to the Tigers.

Taking nothing away from Arkansas’ fine defensive performance last week, LSU coach Brian Kelly wasn’t going to try anything remotely risky offensively while his Tigers had the lead and Arkansas’ offense was anemic without difference-making quarterback K.J. Jefferson.

The threat of Jefferson running the ball opens the entire offense up for the Hogs. He makes things easier for his offensive line and the running backs. It’s not a coincidence that Rocket Sanders’ numbers have been down since Jefferson’s injury. That’s just some of the trouble his hard-nosed running creates.

Kelly put the game in the hands of his defense and phenomenal freshman linebacker Harold “Wrecking Ball” Perkins Jr. who feasted on pork all afternoon.

This Saturday’s game with the Rebels is stacking up to be a slobber-knocker, and Pittman said Monday the colder the better.

Jefferson is the engine that makes Arkansas’ offense go with his ability to shed defenders and break tackles whether he is running or passing — if he is healthy.

Pittman said it is Arkansas’ intention to start Jefferson with the caveat that things can change during the week. However, the real question remains is how effective can Jefferson be? That won’t be answered until Saturday.

Jefferson is tough. We’ve seen his toughness throughout his time with the Hogs. It’s unquestioned.

But, with his clavicle injured, he’s likely having pain when he rears back to throw and again when he releases on his follow through. That’s why his accuracy was off against Liberty and why he chose to throw where he did.

If Jefferson is healthy enough to be effective, the Hogs, who are 2.5-point underdogs, have a chance against the Rebels.

Defensively, the Razorbacks have played solid to outstanding football over the last six quarters even with mitigating factors. The Hogs will have to play even better this week against the Rebels.

Ole Miss isn’t a finesse team this year as they have been labeled in the past under Lane Kiffin. There’s no doubt Kiffin can scheme up an exciting game plan as well or better than any coach in the SEC, but the Rebels will ground and pound you into submission this year with freshman sensation Quinshon Judkins (1,171 yards, 15 TDs on 205 carries) leading the way. Zach Evans (692 yards, 7 TDs on 114 carries) is a tough runner, too, as is quarterback Jaxson Dart (508 yards on 96 carries).

Dart is effective in moving the team as well, throwing for 2,123 yards and 15 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Jonathan Mingo (723 yards, 5 TDs on 37 receptions) is an all-SEC-type talent, along with Malik Heath (614 yards, 3 TDs, 38 rec.) and Jordan Watkins (335 yards, 1 TD, 24 rec.)

It was good to see a healthier Razorback defense execute last week against LSU, even without starting safety Myles Slusher. Pittman said Slusher would practice with the varsity this week after his suspension last week, and that he would announce a decision on his availability to play on Wednesday.

A healthier Hog defense the past two weeks has led to improved play on all levels. Freshman Quincey MacAdoo and Malik Chavis are making plays and preventing them at cornerback like Dwight McGlothern has all season. Hudson Clark has proved to be a better center fielder at safety than he was at corner, and Simeon Blair seems more comfortable playing closer to the line of scrimmage than back deep.

With the secondary doing their job better, the Hogs’ front seven was much more effective against LSU than they had been, really, since the first couple of games of the season.

It’s going to be cold Saturday night, on the field and in the stands, but the Razorbacks need all the support they can muster.

This is a huge game for Arkansas’ program. It’s a chance to become bowl eligible for the second year in a row, an opportunity to whip a nationally ranked rival, and the last chance to watch seniors like Bumper Pool play for the Hogs in Razorback Stadium.

Former Alabama quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Greg McElory have both credited Hog fans at Razorback Stadium with creating the loudest roar they’ve ever experienced at a game.

Razorback fans need to extend the same “courtesy” to Dart, Kiffin and the rest of the Rebels this Saturday night.

This Week’s Games (Nov. 19)

11 a.m. — Austin Peay at No. 9 Alabama (ESPN+ )
11 a.m. — ETSU at Miss. State (ESPN+)
11 a.m. — UMass at Texas A&M (ESPN+)
11 a.m. — Florida at Vanderbilt (SEC Network)
2:30 p.m. — No. 1 Georgia at Kentucky (CBS)
3 p.m. — Western Kentucky at Auburn (SEC Network)
6 p.m. — No. 5 Tennessee at South Carolina (ESPN)
6:30 p.m. — No. 11 Ole Miss at Arkansas (SEC Network)
6:30 p.m. — New Mexico Stat at Missouri (ESPNU)
8 p.m. — UAB at No. 7 LSU (ESPN2)

SEC West Standings

Ole Miss8-24-2
Miss. St.6-43-4
Texas A&M3-71-6

SEC East Standings

S. Carolina6-43-4