The Hogs are back in action Saturday with another top 10 team. A win and the Hogs lock up a bowl, a loss and they'll have to travel to Columbia, Mo., with a berth on the line.
Although Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is known as an offensive guru, the Rebels have survived this season with defense, led by former (2002-2004) Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. Either Wommack has learned how to coach defense since Houston Nutt gave him the boot after a disastrous 2004 campaign (he inherited a talented Jon Thompson unit and got progressively worse over his three years), or he's being masked by great talent, or some of both.
Fellow SB Nation blog EDSBS does a weekly (humorous) breakdown of midweek games that always begins with a "stat of dubious validity," so here's one: Arkansas has yet to allow more than 17 points in Fayetteville this season, and has only given up more than 250 yards once (NIU). UAB scored the 17 and did so on a touchdown with 42 seconds left. Arkansas' Fayetteville opponents have rushed 166 times for 392 yards (2.4 yards per carry, 78.4 yards per game) with ZERO touchdowns. Through the air, opposing quarterbacks are 60 of 122 (49.1 percent) for 595 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Every FBS team to visit Fayetteville (NIU, Alabama, UAB, LSU) has scored a season-low in points. Take that for what its worth.
Another elite secondary
LSU actually led the SEC in pass defense heading into last week, but Ole Miss is right up there in both raw numbers and efficiency. Ole Miss is 2nd in the NCAA in interception percentage, picking off six percent of all passes thrown against them. The Rebs pick off two passes per FBS game, also 2nd in the nation.
|Arkansas offense||Ole Miss defense|
|Pass Downs S&P+||18th||5th|
Arkansas is going to want to keep this party on the ground as much as possible. That will keep Bo Wallace and company on the bench and allow Arkansas to control the pace. Ole Miss has advantages everywhere, especially in the passing game (Passing S&P+, Pass Downs S&P+, isoPPP), but the Hogs do have a slight advantage in success rate, where Arkansas makes its living anyway. Ole Miss was gashed for 55 rushes for 264 yards by a patient LSU running game - the same running game that generated 36 yards on 32 carries last Saturday, by the way - and Arkansas is built to do something similar. The Hogs have to be patient, but right up the gut is where Ole Miss is weakest.
Here's how Ole Miss's run defense has performed this season:
|Opponent||Rush Off S&P+||Season||vs. Ole Miss||Margin|
The Tennessee game stands out, but the Vols struggled to run the ball while Justin Worley was at quarterback. The last two SEC games, both losses, saw the Rebels gashed in the run department. It stands to reason that 175-200 rushing yards should be sufficient for victory if the defense plays well. Ole Miss will also be without starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who was injured in the first quarter against LSU. Even with Nkemdiche, Ole Miss' linebackers are a weakness, and combined with the lack of beef up front (the two-deep for the interior defensive line averages about 280 pounds), the Hogs have some opportunities to stay between the tackles. The defense is fast, though, so running outside may be a struggle.
When Arkansas has to pass, the Hogs have finally decided that the tight ends are pretty good and pretty uncoverable. Brandon Allen's 16 completions against LSU included nine to the tight ends, four to Korliss Marshall, and three to wide receivers (two for Keon Hatcher and one for Jared Cornelius). Not counting the jet pass to Marshall, seven of Allen's first nine attempts went to tight ends.
I tried to graph how tight ends have performed against Ole Miss this season, but the chart is plagued by a small sample size:
|Team||Player||Season Receptions||Season Yards||Ole Miss Receptions||Ole Miss Yards||Margin|
|Boise State||Jake Roh||2.4||26.7||4||34||27.34%|
|Texas A&M||Cam Clear||0.5||3.4||3||23||576.47%|
A bunch of tight ends have had their best game of the season against Ole Miss, namely O.J. Howard and Cameron Clear. But C.J. Uzomah didn't have a catch against the Rebels. This seems like a perfect time to deviate and see how the coaches' all-SEC tight ends have looked this season:
|O.J. Howard, Alabama||1st||10||173||0|
|C.J. Uzomah, Auburn||2nd||10||125||2|
|Hunter Henry, Arkansas||3rd||30||417||2|
|A.J. Derby, Arkansas||-||21||290||3|
Nice work, guys. Everyone in the state of Arkansas saw that one coming.
The doctor will see you now
|Arkansas defense||Ole Miss offense|
|Pass Downs S&P+||20th||16th|
Ole Miss doesn't run the ball very well at all, and frequently has to employ quarterback draws in order to keep the linebackers from cheating back against the pass. But Bo Wallace has had a nice year, throwing for 2,554 yards and 22 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. If he throws a couple of picks - always a possibility - Ole Miss may dig itself into a pretty big hole. But if he's on point, Arkansas will have a hard time playing keep-up in what could end up being a high scoring game.
Really, each of these last two games is similar: both Wallace and Mizzou's Maty Mauk can be goaded into erratic decision-making if they get frustrated in a low-scoring game. Arkansas' offense can help out the defense by sitting on the ball to disrupt the opposing offense's timing.
The Treadwell factor
In case you missed it, Ole Miss will be without leading receiver Laquon Treadwell, who was injured in a horrific collision at the end of the Auburn game. Ole Miss has faced Presbyterian and a bye week since that injury, so this is the Rebels' first real game without him. While we wish Laquon a speedy recovery and return to the field, for Saturday this should play into Arkansas' favor (duh).
We've previously discussed that Arkansas' defensive strategy under Robb Smith has been to take away the run and the top passing option, forcing the quarterback to look other places. Here's an updated look at how opponents' top receivers have fared against the Hog defense:
|Team||Name||Receptions/Game||Yards/Game||Receptions vs ARK||Yards vs ARK||Yards Margin|
|Texas Tech||Bradley Marquez||5.8||72.7||4||34||-53.23%|
|Texas A&M||Malcome Kennedy||4.6||47.7||3||44||-7.76%|
|Mississippi State||D'Runnya Wilson||2.4||40.8||2||18||-55.86%|
Dural actually had an okay game in terms of catches, mostly because Arkansas chose not to shadow him with Henre' Toliver, who dealing with some lower back soreness and didn't start. Instead, Jared Collins covered him for most of the game, and recorded four pass break-ups. Collins did a great job of keeping Dural from getting behind him, allowing only short throws.
Without Treadwell, Arkansas will probably shadow Vince Sanders, who now leads the Rebels in yards:
|Laquon Treadwell (OUT)||48||632||5|
|Evan Engram, TE||27||410||2|
The linebackers will have to cover Engram, and the cornerbacks will match up with Sanders and Core on the outside. Not shown in this list is running back Jaylen Walton, who gets a healthy amount of targets. With Ole Miss having a relatively weak running game, middle linebacker Brooks Ellis will be able to drop back in coverage instead of being sucked into the line of scrimmage. He had six pass break-ups against Texas Tech, another team whose running game Arkansas didn't respect.
Keys to the game
1. Go at least +7 in points off turnovers. Anthony Jennings, for all his struggles, never gave the defense a gift through the air, but Bo Wallace might. Arkansas wasted another short field against LSU late in the first quarter, and that's not something you can do against Ole Miss.
2. Run the ball at least 45 times for at least 200 yards. That's a pretty tall order, since Texas Tech and Texas A&M are the only Power 5 teams Arkansas has run at least 45 times on. That said, Ole Miss' quick-strike offense is going to give the Hogs a lot of possessions, so 45 runs could still yield 30 passes. If the Hogs do get 45 rushing attempts in, then 200 rushing yards is almost a guarantee.
3. Target the tight ends on at least 40 percent of attempts. Allen was 9 of 12 for 107 yards and one pass interference penalty when targeting the tight ends against LSU. If the Hogs throw it 30 times, then 13 or 14 more attempts to Henry and Derby is necessary. Some of Hatcher's sideline and hitch work warrants a couple of targets, and a couple of quick screens to the backs should have some success. But does anyone really trust Demetrius Wilson and Cody Hollister working down the field against this secondary? Didn't think so.
4. Record a havoc rate of at least 20 percent. I said 15 percent against LSU and the defense went and nearly hit 25 percent. Ole Miss will probably hit a few big plays (or at least bigger than what LSU could) so inducing havoc is important. Pass break-ups will probably be the main source of havoc, but forcing turnovers and getting a couple sacks will be key. Ole Miss is 78th nationally in sack percentage, as Wallace goes down on 6.8 percent of dropbacks.
5. No special teams disasters. Field every punt, make every field goal up to about 45 yards, don't turn it over in the return game, and don't give up a big return. A game like this can turn on a bad mistake.