Arkansas and Ole Miss each have two regular season games remaining, and there’s plenty at stake for both programs. The Rebels still have faint SEC West title hopes if they win their last two games and Auburn defeats Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The Razorbacks finally earned a win in SEC play under second-year coach Bret Bielema with a 17-0 victory over LSU last Saturday. Arkansas needs one more victory to get bowl eligible and has two winnable games left on the schedule.
Ole Miss is coming off a bye week after an easy 48-0 win over Presbyterian. Prior to the victory over the Blue Hose, the Rebels played six consecutive games against tough competition, including matchups against LSU (in Baton Rouge), Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M. Arkansas’ win over LSU last week came after a timely bye on Nov. 8.
Ole Miss owns a 31-28-1 series edge against Arkansas. The Rebels have won the last two meetings against the Razorbacks. The previous four matchups between these two teams have been relatively close, including a three-point victory by Ole Miss in 2012 and a five-point win by Arkansas in 2011.
Ole Miss at Arkansas
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Ole Miss -3.5
Arkansas’ Key to Victory: Win the Turnover Battle
Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC with a +13 turnover margin. The Rebels are +10 in SEC-only games, but coach Hugh Freeze’s team was -1 against Auburn. There are few glaring holes in the Ole Miss roster, and with Arkansas still developing its passing offense, coach Bret Bielema’s team will need a few breaks. The Razorbacks are even in turnover margin this year but has forced only 14 in 10 games. The defense needs to force at least two turnovers to win on Saturday, especially if they can put the offense in position to take advantage of short fields for scores. There’s a small margin for error for Arkansas on Saturday. The Razorbacks will be able to hit a few big plays on the ground, but can their passing attack deliver? And when Ole Miss has the ball, can the defense force quarterback Bo Wallace into a few mistakes?
Ole Miss’ Key to Victory: Stop the Run
Arkansas has been better with its passing attack in 2014 than it was last year. However, make no mistake: This offense is still a run-first group behind a massive offensive line and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The Razorbacks rank fourth in the SEC with 232.9 rushing yards per game, but that number dips to 151.8 per contest in SEC-only matchups. Collins and Williams could find running room limited against an Ole Miss defense that has limited SEC opponents to 140.2 yards per game in 2014. The Rebels have also limited conference opponents to five rushing scores in six games. The late bye week should help the Ole Miss defense, which was banged up through the brutal midseason SEC schedule. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen may need to throw early (and have success) to prevent the Rebels from stacking too many defenders in the box. Allen has tossed only five interceptions this year and has raised his completion percentage from 49.6 (2013) to 58 percent. The junior has made strides as a passer, but Arkansas still needs to develop more options at receiver. Expect Ole Miss to gameplan to put Allen in several third-and-long situations.
There’s no doubt Arkansas is trending in the right direction. And the Razorbacks are hungry to get to a bowl, which makes Saturday’s matchup a dangerous one for an Ole Miss team that’s still alive in the West Division. The Rebels also have to be cautious about a lookahead factor. With a huge game against Mississippi State next week, Ole Miss can’t afford to look past an improving Arkansas team. Despite the Razorbacks picking up a win in SEC play last week, the Rebels are the better team and will find a way to win and keep their title hopes alive.