Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Ole Miss Rebels Complete Game Preview
Heading into Game 6 of the SEC schedule, the Arkansas Razorbacks are still winless in the conference and desperately trying to pick up at least one victory in their final three games.
Before last week's 35-17 loss to Auburn, head coach Bret Bielema and the Hogs had been outscored, 134-17. As bad as that three-game stretch was, Arkansas played much more competitively against Auburn and now looks to its road trip Saturday at Ole Miss.
Under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels have had some new life breathed into their program following some very bad years before his arrival. After three straight losses, the Rebels earned a 27-24 marquee win over LSU, followed by their 59-14 trouncing of Idaho last week.
The Arkansas-Ole Miss series is usually marked by close, hard-fought games that come down to the fourth quarter.
The Rebels are looking to improve their SEC record to .500, but more importantly, become bowl eligible. The Razorbacks still have a chance to earn a bowl bid by winning their last three games, but that's not realistic.
For now, Arkansas and Bielema just want a conference win.
Here's everything you need to know about Saturday's gridiron matchup.
Place: Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
Time: 10:21 a.m. ET
TV: SEC Network, ESPN3.com
Radio: Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network and Ole Miss Football Radio Network
Spread: Ole Miss by 17.5 points, according to vegasinsider.com
For more info on the Arkansas Razorbacks, follow Bryan Heater on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Play Physical Defense
The Rebels have some talented, physical specimens on the offensive side of the ball, so Arkansas is going to have to match that by being physical itself on defense.
The Hogs have been overpowered in their losses and haven't been able to match the physicality of a power-laden SEC. Tailbacks are running straight through Arkansas' wimpy tackles and opposing wideouts are having their way with the Razorback secondary.
It will be critical that the Hogs don't let that happen against a Rebels team that is young, but full of physically gifted players. That's particularly true of Ole Miss receivers Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, who both stand at 6'3" and are 220 pounds of muscle. They have used their size and strength to beat defenders and make big plays.
The offensive line is also big, averaging 6'5", and 310 pounds per man, and has been creating big holes for Arkansas' running backs. The Hogs must step up and play physical football on defense or else the Rebels could score early and often.
Run the Ball
In all the mess that has been the Arkansas football team this season, the one unit that has been a bright spot has been the running backs. Freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams are one of the best one-two punches in the SEC, and their stats would be even better if there was a legitimate passing game to back them up.
Collins has ran for 889 yards (tied for 17th in the FBS), leading all freshmen backs. He became the first back in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard games.
Some fans might remember a guy named Darren McFadden, who is the most decorated player in the program's history. After Collins' 92 yards rushing last week against Auburn, he needs just 224 more yards to break McFadden's school rushing record of 1,113 yards by a freshman back.
Williams has also been great, rushing for 716 yards to rank 45th in the FBS, and has an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Arkansas will need quarterback Brandon Allen to play well if the Hogs want to even have a chance at the upset, but that doesn't mean they need to get fancy. The Razorbacks must to stick to their bread and butter and give the ball to the guys that have been the only consistency in 2013.
The Ole Miss rush defense is 66th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (165.1), so the Hogs have an opportunity to take advantage of that.
Pressure Bo Wallace
When opposing quarterbacks have had time to throw the ball, they have picked apart the Arkansas secondary. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has had a solid season, throwing for 1,976 yards to go with a 62.7 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
With a talented group of wideouts, Arkansas cannot afford to let Wallace have all day to chuck the ball around. The Razorbacks are 38th nationally in sacks per game (2.44) and are led by defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith. Smith has seven sacks and nine tackles for loss while Flowers has four sacks to his credit.
Arkansas must get a push up front and force Wallace into quick decisions to keep Moncrief and Treadwell from making plays. Wallace has avoided making mistakes, so the Hogs will want to do everything they can to try and get to him.
Ole Miss Keys to Victory
Run the Ball
Like Arkansas, the Rebels want to call a heavy dose of run plays the Arkansas rush defense has been reeling as of late and currently ranks 81st nationally in rushing yards allowed per game at 178.8. The Hogs have given up over 200 yards on the ground in three straight games.
The top back for Ole Miss is Jeff Scott, who has 434 yards rushing on just 53 carries for a very impressive 8.2 yards per catch. The problem is that Scott has missed the last two games because of a thigh bruise. However, the Rebels have a stable of capable backs behind him. I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have both rushed for over 300 yards each, with Walton being the team's short-yardage option, leading Ole Miss with five touchdowns.
Until the Hogs show they can stop the run, Ole Miss should continue to pound the ground.
This Arkansas team showed resiliency last weekend after falling behind by 25 points and coming back. That hasn't been the case most of the time, though.
In the majority of the Hogs' games, once they fall behind, they have no answer and are beaten soundly. If Ole Miss can put up points early on the Hogs at home, it will take the wind out of Arkansas' sails—and fast. You don't want to let teams that have nothing to lose late in the season hang around.
Contain Collins and Williams
This is huge for Ole Miss. With Arkansas posing no threat through the air all year, if the Rebels can shut down the Hogs rushing attack, they can force Allen to try and make plays with his arm.
Brandon Allen has yet to show he is capable of even completing 50 percent of his passes in a game, let alone carry the Arkansas offense. Shutting down Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams would would seemingly almost guarantee an Ole Miss victory.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Keep an eye on this whole group. The poor play led to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema making some changes in the starting lineup, moving Jarrett Lake to Austin Jones' spot and promoting Martrell Spaight into the starting lineup alongside Lake and Braylon Mitchell.
The unit has been inconsistent all year and hasn't done such fundamental things as tackling. Against a very speedy and dangerous Ole Miss team, Arkansas needs a big game from this group.
DEs Trey Flowers and Chris Smith
As mentioned earlier, the biggest threats to get to Bo Wallace are Flowers and Smith. Whether or not the two can put pressure on the Ole Miss quarterback from the outside is vital for the Hogs.
The secondary has been picked apart versus good signal-callers, so both should be big factors in this game. Even if they can't bring down Wallace, putting pressure and forcing him to make quick decisions can lead to him making a crucial mistake.
RB Alex Collins
Game in and game out, Collins has shown that he's going to be a special player. Darren McFadden's school record for rushing yards in a season by a freshman is in Collins' sights, as are freshmen All-American honors.
Collins plays like a seasoned veteran with his superior ball-carrying vision, shiftiness and patience. As simple as it may sound, patience is a hard thing to teach a back. Many players struggle well into their NFL careers with being patient and waiting for blockers to open up holes.
Arkansas has played some stout defensive units the last four games, but finally gets an Ole Miss rush defense that has been average, at best. Collins could be in for another big game.
Ole Miss Players to Watch
WR Laquon Treadwell
At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Treadwell is one of those young, highly touted freshmen from the 2013 class. He's third on the team with 385 receiving yards, but is first in receptions with 41.
Although he hasn't been much of a deep threat with 9.4 yards per catch, he is a very good route-runner and is regularly getting open. Look for the Hogs to call double coverage for much of the night on Treadwell and Donte Moncrief.
DE Robert Nkemdiche
This is the first mention of the former No.1 overall prospect in the country. Nkemdiche has been sidelined the last two games after sustaining a hamstring injury against Texas A&M, but is expected to make his return after he tweeted, "So excited to get back on the field."
He has yet to record a sack, but his sheer talent makes him a threat to get in the backfield on any given play. Watch him throughout the game to see if his hamstring bothers him at all. Nkemdiche has the ability to change the game when healthy, so the Arkansas O-line must keep tabs on him at all times.
RB Jeff Scott
Though his status for Saturday's game is in question, we're going to assume that after two games of sitting out and a bye week, Scott will suit up.
For being so small at 5'7", 167 pounds, Scott makes some big plays. Who can forget his 75-yard run against Vanderbilt with under a minute to go to steal a win in the season opener?
Scott is running for over eight yards a pop, almost two yards more than his previous career high of 6.5 YPC as a freshman. The Hogs haven't been able to stop any tailback as of late. Scott's size makes it hard to locate him and get a good hit on him. Arkansas is already struggling mightily with tackling, so the elusive Scott has an opportunity to make some big plays.
What They're Saying
Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required) spoke to Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash about Ole Miss' talented group of receivers:
(They're) very talented group of receivers. When you watch film on them, that's the thing that stands out. I've known Laquon for a while. He's out of Chicago. I recruited Chicago when I was at Wisconsin. I've known about him for several years. Very impressive player. I knew wherever he went he was going to be a force to be recon with early.
Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger noted that for the Rebels, this is a very important game because it would make them bowl eligible:
There’s a comparatively easy path to bowl eligibility in major college football, where you schedule four non-conference paycheck games and then find two conference wins. Oh sure, you may just be 2-6 in your own conference, but 6-6 means a bowl game and reaching the bare minimum of a successful season.
This is why Ole Miss’ home game on Saturday against Arkansas is so important. Not only can the Rebels pick up their sixth win and clinch a second straight bowl trip, they can improve to 3-3 in the SEC. This is significant, as Ole Miss’ SEC record from 2003-12 is 26-54 and includes as many more 1-7 or 0-8 seasons than it does winning ones.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze told the Associated Press, via Gulflive.com that despite the Hogs' record, they are a dangerous team for Ole Miss to face:
If they ever convert drives, they would be very, very dangerous because they control the time of possession. They run the football extremely well -- two of the finer running backs that we've seen. Again, just for whatever reason, they haven't finished drives the amount of times that they've had chances to. If they ever did that, it would be a very, very scary game. We sense that in this building.
The Razorbacks looked much better against Auburn than they had in the previous weeks, but it doesn't matter because the outcome was still the same.
The Arkansas rush defense has fallen to the wayside, as has its pass defense. With each game that passes, a winless SEC season becomes more of a reality for the Hogs. At this point, Arkansas still has a chance at a bowl, but is more than likely trying to play the role of spoiler.
The Rebels have been playing very good football lately, even with all of their injuries. With a solid offense and a defense talented enough to slow down an already anemic Razorbacks offense, the Rebels have the clear-cut advantage in this matchup.
However, as Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, Arkansas can ruin Ole Miss' day if the Rebels don't come to play. Collins should have a good game, but with the passing game continuing to struggle, it won't be enough.
Final score: Ole Miss 28, Arkansas 17