Both battered and bruised but walking with heads held high after moral victories, the Ole Miss Rebels travel to Fayetteville on Saturday to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in an SEC West showdown. As positive as the season has been for both teams under new head coaches in their own unique ways, each is seeking to stay out of the divisional "cellar" with a much-needed victory.
If there was a dubious honor for the best unranked college football team in the country, Ole Miss (1-2) would be atop the polls. The Rebels seemingly did everything possible against No. 2 Alabama in Week 3 of the SEC season except produce at least two stops in a 63-48 slugfest. Ole Miss walked out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium posting the most yards ever against an Alabama squad (647), turning seven red zone opportunities into points, and keeping drives alive by going 4-for-4 on fourth down.
For the Razorbacks (1-2), a referee's no-call on a spike-fumble by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix proved to be the difference in the Hogs posting back-to-back conference wins for the first time since the 2015 season. As is, history will show that the War Eagles beat the Hogs 30-28 on an Anders Carlson 39-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the game. SEC teams beware, Arkansas is showing grit and signs of improvement. The Hogs fought back from a 17-0 deficit to take a 28-27 lead late in the fourth quarter producing 437 yards of offense on the road.
Ole Miss at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -1
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
When the Rebels have the ball, fans cannot blink. Head coach Lane Kiffin's up-tempo offense had the Crimson Tide on their heals for four quarters routinely snapping the ball as Alabama's defense was still getting set and calling out the offensive formation. The troubling aspect for defensive coordinators against the Ole Miss offense, they are a balanced attack. The Rebels threw for 379 yards and rushed for 268 against the Tide.
As quarterback Matt Corral goes, so goes the Rebels' offense. The sophomore dual-threat has climbed the SEC statistical ladder positioned fourth with 1,080 yards passing. The impressive numbers, Corral is completing 76 percent of his passes and has a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The 365 yards tossed against Bama's defense was no fluke; Corral has gone over the 300-yard mark in each game this season throwing two or more scores. Helping Corral sling the ball around the yard are running backs Jerrion Ealy (243 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Snoop Conner (179, 4), who are fifth and 11th, respectively, in rushing yards in-conference. The duo combined for 248 yards and four touchdowns last weekend.
Statistically, Arkansas is middle-of-the-road on defense, but do not let the stats fool you; this squad is better than advertised. Teams are posting 411.0 yards per contest against them, but have been limited to 27.0 points per game. Before Georgia got their offensive machine going, the Hogs held the Bulldogs to 387 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs just ate up Tennessee for 431 yards.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
When the Hogs take over the pigskin, expect continued improvement, especially going against the worst statistical defense in the FBS ranks. Even without two of their top offensive playmakers, running back Rakeem Boyd and receiver Treylon Burks, Arkansas got it going on offense against Auburn, especially in the second half. In Boyd's absence, Trelon Smith turned in a gritty performance rushing for 81 yards on 21 carries while hauling in six passes for 78 more yards with a score posted.
Another positive takeaway for Arkansas was the improved play of senior transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks. The former Florida Gator turned in his best performance as a Razorback in Week 3, hitting on 22-of-30 attempts for 318 yards with four touchdowns without tossing an interception. Smith is the Hogs' leading target, but Mike Woods (12 rec., 150 yds., TD) and De'Vion Warren (10, 223, 3) also are becoming reliable options for Frank.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is set up for success when the Rebels come to town, but can he capitalize? The Rebels are watching the opposition compile 641.3 yards per game after letting Alabama roll for 723 total. That's 62.5 yards per game worse than any other FBS team. Allowing 303.3 yards on the ground (76th) and 338 in the passing game (73rd), out of 76 active FBS teams the Rebels are not defending anything very well.
There is doubt if this game will be played after a press conference on Wednesday when Kiffin announced a COVID outbreak on the team. Specifics on who and how many players have tested positive were not divulged. Per SEC guidelines, if a team drops below 53 scholarship players the game will be postponed or canceled. If any of the Rebels' key offensive players fall under COVID-19 protocols, this changes the complexion of the game, especially at the skill positions.
The Razorbacks have been dealing with their own setbacks due to injuries. Arkansas was down five starters against Auburn, and their linebacking unit is ailing. Burks is considered questionable to return, and Boyd's status is unclear. If the game goes through, neither team will be at full strength, but one can expect a lot of offensive output.
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Ole Miss 35
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.