Arkansas Vs Ole Miss: A Must Win for Both Teams

Donald FincherAnalyst IOctober 22, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 17: Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks signals a touchdown against the Florida Gators October 17, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)


There's been a lot made of the officiating calls in the Florida game.  The SEC took the unprecedented step of suspending the crew that called the game.  While it has given fans something to chatter about this week, the real question will be whether or not the team has been able to move past it.  This could either galvanize them or really sidetrack them.  Petrino has been relatively quiet on this front.  I guess we'll see Saturday.

Another challenge facing Arkansas in this game is that the Razorbacks under Petrino have won exactly one SEC road game.  Road games are hard to come by in this conference.  It was always an Achilles heel when Nutt was the coach too.  That's why everyone always raves about Mark Richt's road record.  Outside of the game in Jacksonville every year, Georgia has an astonishing record on the road.  But Arkansas does not.  So going on the road with a distracted team would be a bad combination.

Yet a different challenge is the hogs again face the pressure of a "must win" situation.  For Arkansas to take the place they have had over the past decade or so as being one of the teams in the top half of the SEC West, Arkansas really needs to be able to count on beating Ole Miss as they have in years past.  The glow for this years Ole Miss team has worn off and most midseason assessments consider them one of the underachievers of this season.  If Arkansas can't get it done there, the Hogs go to 1-4 in conference play and one really has to begin to wonder if Arkansas will be a "close but no cigar" type of team under Petrino.

Like the Auburn game, I believe that this game will be a sign of things to come.  Arkansas has truly improved but how much.  If the defense plays like it did against Florida, the Hogs will be in the game.  And if the offense gets clicking, it could be a fun one.  However, Ole Miss has a good defense.  Alabama got into the red zone five times and had to settle for five field goals.  The only Tide touchdown came on a 4th down gamble from outside the red zone.

Nutt will pull out all the stops including trick plays and gambles to win this game.  He needs this game to be one the Rebs can win because his road got harder when he moved to Ole Miss.  That's because his record playing the rest of the SEC will be theoretical about what it was when he was at Arkansas.  But now, instead of getting to play Ole Miss every year (as he did with Arkansas), he has to now play Arkansas every year.  That's a schedule upgrade for him.  So the more he can turn Arkansas, the team he replaced Ole Miss with on his coaching schedule, into what Ole Miss was while he was here (which was a fairly guaranteed win), the better off he is.  Without doing so, he will not have winning records in the SEC and will eventually get canned...again.

Nutt has shown that a leopard doesn't change his stripes.  His teams at Arkansas constantly didn't develop QB's and, in fact, QB's regressed under his tutelage.  The same can be said of Snead.  And he doesn't know how to prepare for passing teams.  When he was the coach at Arkansas, I constantly feared how bad the score would be against teams that had really good QB's.  So Mallett should really strike fear into the Ole Miss faithful given Nutt's previous tendencies against good passing teams.  If Arkansas' offensive line can absorb the blitzes they will get all day and Mallett can get into a rhythm, this one could get ugly for Ole Miss.

It's hard to predict this game.  I'll revert back to what I would predict when Nutt was the head Hog.  If Arkansas was playing a team with an improving defense and Mallett as QB, I would probably pick the score to be around 35-21.  So, for lack of anything better to go on, I'll just go with instinct.