For the first time in 20 years, Ole Miss will make the trip to Little Rock to take on the University of Arkansas (3-4). When an Arkansas home game comes to the city, it is known as “The Mardi Gras of Saline County”. While an earlier trip to New Orleans, the traditional home of Mardi Gras, was a good one for Hugh Freeze’s club, this one might not come as easy. After a 1-4 start, head coach John L. Smith has seemingly righted the ship after winning two consecutive games over conference opponents.
Looks can be deceiving though, as Arkansas’s two victories came against Auburn and Kentucky, a pair of teams who are a combined 2-13, including 0-10 in conference play. The previous two conference games for the Razorbacks saw them get outscored by a combined total of 110-10. It is hard to make out what the past two victories mean about this team. Is it finally finding an offensive rhythm, or is it fortunate scheduling? That is something that will be solved in Little Rock on Saturday.
It is no secret that Arkansas relies heavily on the pass. Despite having a former AP All-SEC running back in Knile Davis, they have struggled mightily in the run game. They are last in the SEC and 104th in the country in rushing offense, averaging just 115.71 YPG and 3.8 YPC. The Rebels average 3.81 YPC allowed, drawing a virtual stalemate with the Razorbacks. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s team is coming off an impressive performance against the run, allowing just 101 yards and 2.5 YPC in a 41-20 win over Auburn. Even though Ole Miss is statistically better against the pass than the run, do not look for much on the ground from Arkansas on Saturday.
Davis shares his carries with Dennis Johnson who Freeze described as a “Jeff Scott type”. Johnson will see his carries in the middle of the field as he is used to get into space. If Arkansas gets into the red zone, it will likely be Davis getting the carries. It will not be an easy task for Smith’s team as Ole Miss ranks 21st nationally in red zone defense while Arkansas is 99th in red zone offense.
Despite missing some time due to injury, quarterback Tyler Wilson has lived up to his billing as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Ranked 2nd in the SEC in passing, Wilson has thrown for 14 touchdowns to go along with five interceptions.The steady constant for Smith, Wilson continually gives the Razorbacks a chance to win ball games, depending on the cooperation from the defense.
It certainly does not hurt to have a large target like Cobi Hamilton to throw to. Hamilton has 754 yards receiving and four touchdowns, both team highs. Charles Sawyer is the largest corner on the roster, so he will likely have the job of guarding the 6’3 Hamilton. After Hamilton, there is not much of consistent threat at receiver. No other Razorback receiver averages more than 40 yards per game. MeKale McCay and Brandon Mitchell each have big play capabilities, but neither have been a consistent threat. If either is to break out, it would the freshman McKay. A 6’6 product, McKay has a major height advantage over Ole Miss secondary who will not play a corner that reaches 6’0.
With undersized corners, Ole Miss will have to rely on the large safeties to keep big plays at bay. Brishen Mathews will split his time between huskie and safety, part of a large rotation between the safeties and the huskie. Involved in that rotation will be Mathews, Frank Crawford, Mike Hilton, Dehendret Collins, Trae Elston, Cody Prewitt, and Chief Brown. Each one of the safeties is a solid tackler and can jar the ball loose when they get over in time. Letting Denzel Nkemdiche and Mike Marry play up on the run and the dump-downs will allow the safeties to provide more help against the deep pass.
Getting pressure on Wilson up the middle will decide this side of the ball for Ole Miss. The undersized Issac Gross has an elite first step, making him ideal in rushing the passer. If Uriah Grant can free up some space for Nkemdiche, Marry, and CJ Johnson, Wilson will have an uncomfortable time back there. Wommack will likely utilize a lot of linebacker blitzes to gain pressure, but fewer secondary blitzes to limit easy outlets. If Wilson has time, he will carve up any defense. Hitting him early and often would go a big way towards a successful day for the Rebels.
Ole Miss has been victorious in their last two visits to Little Rock and own the all-time city series 7-6-1. The Rebels have not won a road game since a victory over Vanderbilt three years ago. A win here would provide a big boost to the program and move them within one game of bowl eligibility. The rest of the schedule after Arkansas has a combined conference record of 12-5, including road trips to #10 Georgia and #6 LSU.
Tags: Arkansas Football Brandon Mitchell Brishen Mathews Charles Sawyer Chief Brown Cj Johnson Cobi Hamilton Cody Prewitt Dave Wommack Dehendret Collins Dennis Johnson Denzel Nkemdiche Frank Crawford Hugh Freeze Issac Gross John L Smith Knile Davis Little Rock Mekale Mckay Mike Hilton Mike Marry Ole Miss Football Trae Elston Tyler Wilson Uriah Grant