Oct 13, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) motions to the line in the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Little Rock, Ark. – The tipping of the scales can happen seemingly overnight in college football or in the case of Arkansas and Ole Miss over one spring camp.
Arkansas ended 2011 with an 11-2 record and a third place SEC West finish behind the two teams that would challenge each other for the BCS National Championship, LSU and Alabama.
While Arkansas only lost two games last season Ole Miss struggled to reach two wins beating Southern Illinois (42-24) and Fresno State (38-28).
After each team fired their head coaches before spring football was finished, both programs are fighting to get back to respectability while the other is trying to maintain their once undeniable two-year position as one of the elite teams in the country the other is crawling out of obscurity putting the SEC on notice.
Hugh Freeze had no where to go but up after taking over a Mississippi program that struggled to produce six wins after back-to-back nine win seasons. And lifting the program up is exactly what he has done. Freeze has already by-passed last year’s winning total and has put a noticeably improved football team on the field of play.
While neither Arkansas nor Ole Miss has a signature win under their belt, Ole Miss has played the elite teams tougher this year than in years past. The improved play has caught the attention of media, the fan base, and recruits alike.
The Razorbacks struggled with key injuries early in the season unseating a team that had national title hopes. After two-confidence building wins over Auburn and Kentucky the Razorbacks are thinking about going bowling again, as are the Rebels.
The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Little Rock, Ark., will hold the keys to a bowl berth while the other might miss out on post season play.
The Razorbacks finish their season with games against Tulsa, South Carolina, MSU, and LSU. Ole Miss’ schedule is not any easier having to face Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU and in-state rival MSU.
As is the case for every Arkansas game this year is the play of the offensive line against the opposition’s defensive front. Ole Miss blitzes a lot, leading to 19 total sacks, which could cause problems for the Razorbacks in pass protection. The good news for Arkansas is Ole Miss is somewhat soft against the run allowing 172 yards per game.
The emergence of Arkansas’ running game behind senior running back Dennis Johnson with the help of junior preseason All-SEC junior running back Knile Davis should make the Razorback offense explosive against Mississippi’s defense.
Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson will get help in the passing game and run game with the return of senior tight end Chris Gragg from injury. Gragg is a nightmare matchup for any defensive coordinator. He should open holes for the running game and other receivers on the field for Wilson.
The bigger question is which defense for either team will show up? The Ole Miss team that allowed 676 total yards of offense to Texas or the Arkansas team that allowed 716 to Texas A&M?
Ole Miss might be able to take advantage of Arkansas in two areas, pass defense and inexperienced linebacker play. Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace has played well of late while forming a nice one-two read option with running back Jeff Scott.
The Razorbacks have had trouble stopping running quarterbacks and Wallace’s 343 rushing yards on the year certainly qualifies him as such. As a passer Wallace has posted a stat line of: 1,371 passing yards, 9 TD, 8 INT, with an alarming 16 sacks.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has posted a stat line of: 1,957 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, five interceptions, and has been sacked just four times.
If the Razorbacks return from their bye week healed and ready to go in the secondary, bolstered by the full-time return of starter Tevin Mitchell, the recently awakened Arkansas defensive line could control this game from opening kickoff.
Both teams seem fairly matched up on offense in the run department but the overall offensive edge goes to the Hogs and their dynamic duo of Gragg and senior wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.
Hamilton leads the SEC in receptions (46) and receiving yards (754).
Super sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief will get a lot of attention from the Razorback defense. Moncrief is seventh in the SEC in receiving yards with 480 and has found the end zone five times, good for second best in the SEC.
Ole Miss’ leading tacklers are all guys lining up well off the ball. Denzel Nkemdiche (44) and Cody Prewitt (44) are secondary members that are hard-nosed tacklers. Nkemdiche leads the Rebels in tackles for loss (9) and is tied for second on the team with two sacks.
Junior Mike Mary leads the Rebel linebackers with 39 total stops.
Arkansas fans have not seen a lot of Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg, and Tyler Wilson on the field together at the same time; in seven full games played by the Hogs the trio have only shared the field for a total of four quarters. Look for this matchup against Ole Miss to be exploited early and often.
If the Hogs shut down Jeff Scott the top three rushing yard producers behind him are all quarterbacks. Arkansas has played the run well this year, look for Scott to be limited outside a couple of medium sized plays.
Moncrief leads Ole Miss in receptions but the Rebel QBs have done a good job of spreading the ball around. The top eight pass catchers on the team have a 10 yard per catch average or better but only Moncrief has found the end zone more than once.
Moncrief is too talented to completely shutdown; look for him to find some wiggle room in the Arkansas secondary.
Arkansas 38 – Ole Miss 28
Tyler Wilson is too much for most college defenses to stop. If the Rebels can stay in his face all game this could be trouble for the Hogs but the Razorbacks quick strike offense is always just a play away from putting six on the board.
Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m. CT. The game will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., with television coverage provided by the SEC Network.
News and Notes
Points per game:
Arkansas – 27.0 per game
Ole Miss – 32.7 per game
Points allowed per game:
Arkansas – 31.0 per game
Ole Miss – 26.6 per game
Rushing yards per game:
Arkansas – 115.7 per game
Ole Miss – 211.1 per game
Passing yards per game:
Arkansas – 311.4 per game
Ole Miss – 229.6 per game