FAYETTEVILLE – The Ole Miss Rebels (8-2, 4-2 in the SEC West) and Arkansas Razorbacks (5-5, 1-5) could be 10-0, 6-0, and 8-2, 4-2, respectively, heading into their SEC clash today at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The CBS-televised kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. and marks the Razorbacks’ final home game of the season off last Saturday’s 17-0 victory over LSU. That win snapped Arkansas’ 17-game, SEC losing streak that dated back to Oct. 27, 2012.
Second-year Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and his Razorbacks know any or all of their three SEC losses — 14-13 in Fayetteville to current College Playoff No. 1 Alabama, 35-28 in overtime to then AP No. 6 Texas A&M back in September, and 17-10 at then unanimous No. 1 Mississippi State — could have gone in Arkansas’ favor.
Coach Hugh Freeze’s Rebels — ranked No. 8 by both the College Playoff and AP polls — would rank in both polls’ top four, but for a hard-fought 10-7 loss at LSU and a flukey, painful, 35-31 loss at home in Oxford to Auburn.
Against Auburn, Ole Miss receiving leader Laquon Treadwell fumbled a would-be, game-winning touchdown out of the end zone for a touchback,giving Auburn the ball at the 20. Worse, Treadwell fractured his ankle as he fumbled and will miss the remainder of the season.
The Rebels regrouped with an open date last week following a 48-0 nonconference romp over Presbyterian. They aim for a 10-win season, and possible major bowl, upon meeting Arkansas and then closing Nov. 29 in Oxford against Mississippi State
Ole Miss could even wind up in a two-loss tie for best in the SEC West with Alabama and Mississippi State, and have the division tiebreaker into the SEC Championship game, should they win out and Alabama — beaten on Oct. 4 by Ole Miss — loses Nov. 29 against Auburn.
The Razorbacks have bowl scenarios of their own. They need a victory against Ole Miss or at SEC East leader Missouri on Nov. 28 to finish the regular season at the minimum six wins to be bowl eligible.
Ole Miss’ virtual two open date weeks, with Presbyterian certainly no preparation sweat, likely will work to the Rebels’ advantage, minus perhaps getting stale without SEC competition since Nov. 1.
The plus likely outweighing that: Freeze adjusts to life without Treadwell (48 catches for 632 yards and five touchdowns) and further diversifies an already diverse offensive attack for senior quarterback Bo Wallace (190 of 297 for 2,554 yards with 22 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions). The Rebels have five receivers catching from 14 passes to Vince Sanders’ 37 for 647 yards and six touchdowns, and Cody Core’s 32 for 437 yards and five touchdowns and tight end Evan Engram’s 27 catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns.
Ole Miss’ running backs — particularly junior Jaylen Walton (5-8, 166) — aren’t big by SEC standards, but have produced some big results. Walton leads the team with 398 yards, while 209-pounder Jordan Wilkins averages a team leading 7.6 yards per carry.
Core averages 22 yards on three receiver reverses.
Arkansas first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith — whose defense pitched Arkansas’ first SEC shutout since 2002 while blanking LSU — and the defensive staff all say the Rebels pose a different style, offensive challenge than posed by smash-mouth oriented LSU.
Bielema and Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney used Arkansas’ bye week well, incorporating more rollout passes for quarterback Brandon Allen (160 for 276 and 1,905 yards with 15 touchdowns vs. five interceptions for the season) that were most effective against LSU.
Allen will need to stay mobile and the Razorbacks’ running game keep him ahead in the count and away from third and long.
Called the “Landsharks,” the Rebels defense coordinated by former Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, leads the SEC with 19 interceptions and leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11.9 points per game.
Bielema said several Razorback seniors — particularly Trey Flowers, Martrell Spaight, Alan Turner and Braylon Mitchell on defense, tackle Brey Cook on offense — have been inspirational leaders while turning the Hogs from last year’s 3-9 team — often noncompetitive in SEC games until down last year’s stretch — into being ultra-competitive this season in five losses to teams then ranked in the Top 10, and throwing the monkey off its back whipping LSU.
“Seniors always graduate, their legacy never does,” Bielema said. “Their legacy that they’re passing on right now is in the preparation how to win. They’re doing it because of the way they’ve handled their business.”
Want to Watch?
WHO: Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Ole Miss Rebels.
• WHEN: 2:30 p.m. today.
• WHERE: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
• RECORDS: Arkansas (5-5, 1-5), Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2).
• LINE: Ole Miss by 3.5.
• TV: CBS, Channels 10, 11 and 710 on Suddenlink. Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst), Allie LaForce (sideline).
• LAST WEEK: Arkansas defeated LSU, 17-0; Ole Miss defeated Presbyterian, 48-0.
• THE SERIES: Arkansas leads 32-27-1.
• DID YOU KNOW?: Arkansas hosts Ole Miss in the home finale as the Razorbacks recognize 20 seniors before their final game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. An Arkansas win will make the Razorbacks bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, when Arkansas defeated Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks have played in 39 bowl games in school history. Today’s contest marks the sixth time Arkansas has played an AP Top 20 team in the past 7 games.