Ole Miss looks to keep control of their SEC West destiny Saturday while hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 62nd meeting of the Houston Nutt Classic. The Rebels will be looking for revenge for last year's 31-0 drubbing by the Razorbacks in which practically everything that could go wrong for Hugh Freeze's squad did go wrong and helped write the story of the Rebels' capitulation at the end of the 2014 season.
Arkansas enters the game with a 4-4 record with additional games remaining against LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri, so each game could be potentially critical towards bowl eligibility given the lack of margins the Razorbacks have left themselves after a 2-2 non conference record. An Arkansas win would mark the first time since 2011 that the Razorbacks would have a winning SEC record.
Last year's loss, despite the lopsided result on the scoreboard, was closer in nearly every other statistical category. The Rebels outgained Arkansas and garnered more first downs while holding Arkansas to only around 150 yards on 50 carries, but Ole Miss was doomed by six turnovers and an early 17-0 deficit that they could not overcome after Bo Wallace got banged up.
With the series history, what's on the line—particularly for the Rebels—and the revenge factor from last year's game, this looks to be one of the more intriguing matchups in the SEC of the weekend aside from LSU and Alabama.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
1Ole Miss rushing vs. the Arkansas Defense Since Ole Miss has gotten Laremy Tunsil back from NCAA suspension and been able to shift Fahn Cooper back to right tackle, the offense has been much more balanced. The Rebels have rushed for over 150 yards and four yards per carry in their last two games--granted these have been against two of the worst rushing defenses in the SEC in Texas A&M and Auburn--but after struggling mightily with running the ball earlier in the season, the uptick opens the Rebel offense up as they have not been behind in success rate as frequently. Arkansas offers a firmer test in rushing defense and will be the biggest test so far of the to Matt Luke's offensive line and running game since Tunsil's return.
2Arkansas Pass Defense Arkansas sports, arguably, the worst pass defense in the SEC by over 20 yards per game and comes in at 112th nationally in the Passing S&P+ defensive rankings. Even last week against UT-Martin, the Razorbacks yielded 380 yards in the air. As mentioned earlier, Arkansas forced six turnovers in last year's game in this series including a trio of interceptions. Chad Kelly has had issues with interceptions with several coming off tipped balls, but Arkansas will be looking to get some turnovers in the passing game to set up a short field for their offense in order to overcome what could be a day in which the Razorbacks yield significant yardage.
3Arkansas' Injuries Few teams in the country have probably had as many injuries as Arkansas have suffered in 2015. Between Jonathan Williams in the preseason, Keon Hatcher, Jared Cornelius and, last week, Rawleigh Williams, the Razorbacks have suffered a multitude of long term injuries this season. Alex Collins has been steady at running back and will likely top 1000 yards on the season, but depth will be tested as junior Kody Walker will be leaned on to spell Collins. At the receiver position, Drew Morgan and Dominque Reed have stepped up. Arkansas will likely be looking to turn this game into a quick one and garner over 35 minutes in time of possession and try to suffocate the Rebels by chewing up the clock.
4Weather a Factor? For Arkansas to dominate the time of possession and milk the clock, a rainy day as has been forecast would have been a significant advantage. As of early Saturday morning at time of writing, the Weather Channel shows that rain in Oxford this morning should clear out by this afternoon and between 3 and 7 p.m., there is a zero percent chance of precipitation.
5What Does Vegas Think? The Vegas line opened with Ole Miss an 11 point favorite and the line has settled between 9.5 and 10 with an over/under of 54. That yields out a potential Ole Miss scoreline of 32-22. The line at 10 seems high as I do expect the game will be a quick one with several long drives for Arkansas shortening the game.
THREE TO WATCH
Akeem Judd, RB, Ole Miss: The junior college running back has had a slow start to his Ole Miss career, but has emerged with a couple solid performances in the last two games since the return of Laremy Tunsil. Judd redshirted in 2014 and only had 90 rushing yards in the first five games of 2015, but has had games of 68 and 54 yards the last two weeks with at least eight carries. Judd offers a larger frame for a running back than the other backs for the Rebels and potentially a power back option that has been lacking for Hugh Freeze's entire tenure in Oxford.
Photo: Joe Patronite /Alls
Kody Walker, RB, Arkansas: Walker had a pair of touchdowns two weeks ago against Auburn, but has largely been quiet for most of the season. Walker did not garner a carry in four of the Razorbacks' games and fewer than 17 yards in another pair of games. But over the last two weeks he has picked up eight carries per game and had 57 yards last week against UT Martin. With the loss of Rawleigh Williams, Walker will be looked at to spell Alex Collins and could be looking at a career high in carries and potentially yards.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: After last year's devastating injury, there were questions on how Treadwell would recover and if he would be back at full strength in 2015. So far, Treadwell has five-100 yard games, including an active streak of four straight, and another will break the single season Ole Miss record. Additionally, at 61 catches and 870 yards so far, the single season mark for Ole Miss is in sight in both categories (77 and 1135 respectively).
As I've eluded to a couple of times, Arkansas will be looking to make this a short game and keep their defense off the field as much as possible. Given Ole Miss' propensity to score quickly, that may further push the time of possession line towards the Razorbacks and leave the Rebel defense on the field a whole lot. If Arkansas can turn those possessions into touchdowns, they will likely win, but if the Rebels can force field goal attempts or turnovers, the Rebels should hold. The 10 point line seems high and this could well come down to the last possession of the game. Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 21.