Saturday Oct. 24th at 11:21 CST the Arkansas Razorbacks will take the field against the Ole Miss Rebels. On one sideline will stand Bobby Petrino, on the other will stand Houston Nutt. The hoopla that surrounded the 2008 match-up was all about Houston Nutt coming back to Arkansas with his new look Rebels. The 2009 match-up is focused on which of these two teams will rise in the SEC West and which will sink.
This game will be televised by the SEC Network. It is also available on ESPN 360.
Keys to the game: Arkansas
1. Offensively: Running the Football.
Simple enough. Running the football and moving the chains on Ole Miss will allow the Razorback offense to operate on a good Ole Miss defense. Michael Smith is listed as day to day still. He has been able to operate in practice more this week than last week so the signs are encouraging. Dennis Johnson has looked very good all week in practices after having a big first 3 quarters against Florida before suffering a blow to the head.
The offensive line has showed huge improvement and is the biggest reason for the running games recent success. Last week the coaches said during the week they felt the line made a big improvement. This week they have made similar statements. If the big uglies up front continue to make holes Arkansas has a plethora of talented backs to hit the holes.
If the running game shows this improvement then the Ryan Mallett should have time in the pocket and the Ole Miss defense on their heels. At that point no matter how good the Ole Miss defense is they will be at the mercy of the SEC's top passing attack.
2. Defensively: Stop the Run. Force Jevan Snead into mistakes.
The Razorback defense does not have the stats to show it but they have been very effective in stopping the run this season. They have held Alabama, Texas A&M, and Florida well below their rushing averages. They also contained the Auburn running game very well for all but the 3rd quarter. The Hogs defense ranks second in sacks in the SEC and first in tackles for a loss. The Hogs will look to continue to stop the run, and force Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead to throw the ball more.
Snead has thrown 12 touchdown passes, but also 9 interceptions. The Ole Miss passing game is averaging only 211.5 yards per game. This ranks just seventh in the SEC, and Snead ranks ninth in the SEC in quarterback efficiency.
So if Arkansas can limit the run and put the ball in Snead's hands more they will like their chances of winning this game.
3. Eliminate the BIG Play
The Razorbacks Defense ranks as one of the worst in the SEC in giving up the big play of 20 yards or more. They have improved from the beginning of the season, but still in every game they are allowing a big play. Missed assignments have been the most common reason. Early in the season it was due to poor tackling. If the Hogs defense could stop giving up that one long play a game of sixty or seventy yards they will force Ole Miss to earn everything the hard way. Ole Miss is sixth in the SEC in scoring and seventh in the league in yards per game.
Those are respectable stats, but actually a break in a way for the Razorbacks defense. The past three weeks the Hogs defense has faced two top SEC offenses in Auburn and Florida, and what was the #1 ranked offense entering the game in Texas A&M.
If Arkansas eliminates the Big Play in this match-up expect to see them teeing off on 3rd downs and increasing the pressure on Snead and their team sack total.
4. Continue to Win the Turnover Battle
The Razorbacks lead the SEC at +7 turnover margin. This is the same Arkansas team that ranked near the bottom of the league in 2008. Bobby Petrino credits this to more players getting to the football and simply put making plays.
The Ole Miss Rebels rank eighth in the SEC at -2 turnover margin. The Razorbacks game plan will be centered around the previous points of stopping the run and the big play.
If the Razorbacks can force Jevan Snead to have to win the game with his arm this turnover margin should get even worse for the Rebels.
And the final, albeit most important key is...
Not to cause controversy. This key is meant to summarize the previous four keys. If Bobby Petrino and Co. can game plan and make the necessary in game adjustments and out "coach" Ole Miss they win this game. Petrino runs this team and program like a business.
If it is business as usual on Saturday and the Hogs succeed in their keys to the game they will walk out of Oxford winners.