Preseason expectations were high for both Arkansas and Ole Miss entering the 2015 season. Every preseason poll had the SEC West foes in the Top 25 but the season has played out differently for both squads. Ole Miss is 7-2 on the season with a feather-in-the-cap 43-37 win over then-No. 2 Alabama in Week 3. The Razorbacks stumbled out of the gate, going 1-3 with losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M but have rebounded to go 3-1 over their last four.
Despite the differences in the win-loss column and national rankings, if Arkansas (2-2 SEC) can pull off the road upset against No. 19 Ole Miss (4-1) on Saturday, the two squads will draw even in conference play in the loss column.
For Arkansas to replicate its 2014 win over the Rebels, a similar approach is needed, along with a little bit of luck.
3 Keys to an Arkansas Victory at Ole Miss
1. Pressure Chad Kelly Into Mistakes
One of the big keys to Arkansas winning 30-0 in 2014 was coming up with six turnovers. Two of the six turnovers were committed by senior starting quarterback Bo Wallace. Chad Kelly, the Rebels' starter this season, leads the SEC in passing with 2,856 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he also is tops in the conference in interceptions with 12.
The Rebels have the No. 11-ranked passing offense in the nation, gaining an average of 347 yards a game. This could be trouble for the Hogs, as the Razorbacks’ are among the worst in nation against the pass at 273 yards per game allowed. Arkansas fans should not fret yet, Memphis’ pass defense is even worse, ranked No. 123 (316 ypg), but still found a way to win 37-24 even with Kelly throwing for 372 yards. The Tigers did pick off Kelly twice.
2. Turn Brandon Allen Loose
The 2015 Ole Miss defense is a far cry from the 2014 squad that led the nation in points allowed and that finished as the No 13 unit in FBS. This season the Rebels have had their issues against the pass, allowing 227 yards per game through the air. Their run defense might be overrated as well. The Rebels are limiting teams to just 122 yards per game on the ground, but that number might be deceiving. The Rebels have only played one true downhill rushing attack this season, and that was Alabama. The Crimson Tide gashed the Rebels defense for 503 total yards with 215 coming on the ground.
The Hogs have tinkered with their offensive line, moving guys around, and lost preseason All-SEC running back Jonathan Williams to a season-ending injury in fall camp, so this Arkansas squad is not the same power-running that it was in 2014, but it's still been productive. The Razorbacks are averaging 196 rushing yards per game led by junior running back Alex Collins.
If Arkansas can open up some running lanes, forcing Ole Miss to put eight defenders in the box, Allen should be able to exploit the Rebels through the air with tight end Hunter Henry and wide receivers Dominique Reed and Drew Morgan.
3. Arkansas Catches Ole Miss Looking Ahead to LSU
When Arkansas beat Ole Miss 30-0 in 2014, all the momentum on paper was swinging the Rebels’ way. Ole Miss wrapped up an easy, 48-0 win over Presbyterian and then had a bye week before facing the Hogs. Maybe Hugh Freeze’s team was looking ahead to the Egg Bowl against No. 4 Mississippi State and slept on Arkansas?
Something similar could be at play again in 2015 with No. 4 LSU coming to Oxford in Week 11. If LSU beats Alabama on Saturday, Ole Miss could win a share of the SEC West and jump into the College Football Playoff picture with a home defeat of the Tigers.
No matter how the game plays out, it should be an up-and-down affair with Ole Miss trying to exploit the Hogs’ secondary and the Razorbacks trying to take the air out of the ball by pounding the Rebels’ defensive front seven for four quarters. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET with CBS providing the coverage.
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.