Upset in Oxford? Hogs’ Magic Eight Ball says check again later

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) passes with blocking from offensive lineman Brady Latham (62) against Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

I’m not a betting man, but if I were making the call on an over/under for Saturday’s Ole Miss-Arkansas football game, I’d be tempted to set it at 90 or more points.

The Razorback-Rebel rivalry has experienced its share of wild happenings since the turn of the century, and it would be off to think anything different will happen at 6:30 p.m. Saturday when the programs square off at Vaughn-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., in what should be another exciting affair.

The last time the two tussled in Oxford, the Rebels posted a 52-51 victory over the Hogs in a game that all but ended on a failed two-point conversion by the Razorbacks.

Currently, the two programs seem to be going in different directions with Lane Kiffin’s Rebels boasting a 4-1 overall record, a 1-1 SEC mark, and a No. 16 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25, while Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks fell to 2-3 and 0-2 in the SEC after losing their third consecutive game to Texas A&M last week.

The Rebels opened the week as a 10.5-point favorite, but that number inched up to 11.5 on Thursday afternoon.

The questions remain are the Razorbacks as bad as they played in their 34-22 loss to Texas A&M, which was more lopsided than the score indicated, and are the Rebels as powerful as they looked in their 55-49 victory last week over the LSU Tigers?

I don’t know if that question can be answered until both squads take the field Saturday evening.

It would be hard to imagine Arkansas’ offense playing much worse than it did last Saturday against the Aggies. Arkansas’ offensive line just could not establish a foothold for more than a spot play here or there against the Aggies front seven.

Playing with the lead, A&M assaulted Arkansas K.J. Jefferson, who hails from Sardis, Miss., and roughed him up, sacking him eight times.

While it might seem a desperate move at this point in the season, Arkansas shook up its offensive line his week, moving Patrick Kutas from tackle to center, Brady Latham from guard to tackle, and Beaux Limmer from center to guard. Pittman said the Hogs couldn’t just stand pat after getting manhandled by the Aggies.

The question, though, is will those moves create cohesion or confusion for the Razorbacks with just a week of work together?

Will there be enough stability there for the Razorbacks to score with the prolific Rebels, which rang up pinball-like numbers with 700 yards of offense against what was thought to be a talented LSU defense?

We will see.

If Arkansas’ retooled offensive line can give Jefferson enough time to work, he can be an effective passer, but the question is can Arkansas’ receiving corps, made of lower level transfers, get open against a vastly improved Rebel secondary?

Offensively, the Rebels are led by quarterback Jackson Dart, who is playing much better in Kiffin’s offense in his second year with Ole Miss, just like Matt Corral did for the Rebels in his second year in 2021. Dart has already thrown for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns this season with 2 interceptions.

Dart’s backfield mate Quinshon Judkins got back on track after an injury, rushing for 177 yards and 2 TDs on 33 carries last week against LSU.

The Razorbacks need to quash their three-game losing streak with a victory over Ole Miss or that streak could quickly balloon to five with the Razorbacks’ traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala. next week to face the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas has not beaten Alabama since 2006, and has not won in Tuscaloosa since 2003.

Should the Hogs fall to Ole Miss and Alabama, the Razorbacks would need to win all five of their remaining games just to become bowl eligible.

With Missouri being undefeated and Auburn rising up to challenge No. 1 Georgia last week, it gets hard to find enough victories to make this season salvageable for the Hogs, if they continue to perform as poorly as they did last week against A&M.

The Razorbacks could really use a bounce-back performance against the Rebels to at least keep this season interesting and to give fans hope for the back half of the schedule.

While the Hogs’ defense has by no means been dominating, it has been opportunistic in forcing turnovers. The Hogs could use two or three of them this week against the Rebels in hopes of slowing down Ole Miss’ juggernaut offensive assault.

The best thing the Hogs do is kick field goals behind the leg of junior specialist Cam Little, but to keep up with the Rebels, Arkansas must score touchdowns this week.

When I started writing this piece I was actually optimistic about Arkansas challenging the Rebels, but the deeper I look into the game, the less I like the Hogs’ chances, so I’m stopping here.

There will be enough time to splash in the mud and wallow in the pain after Saturday if the Hogs don’t pull off an upset in Oxford.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Overall: 2-3   SEC: 0-2   Streak: L3

Sept. 2 – Arkansas 56, Western Carolina 13
Sept. 9 – Arkansas 28, Kent State 6
Sept. 16 – BYU 38, Arkansas 31
Sept. 23 – LSU 34, Arkansas 31
Sept. 30 – Texas A&M 34, Arkansas 22
Oct. 7 – at Ole Miss (6:30 p.m. SEC Network)
Oct. 14 – at Alabama (11 a.m. ESPN)
Oct. 21 – Mississippi State (TBA)
Nov. 4 – at Florida (TBA)
Nov. 11 – Auburn (TBA)
Nov. 18 – Florida International (TBA)
Nov. 24 – Missouri – (3 p.m. CBS)