AF: Ole Miss is basically coming off a double-bye (but +1 for beating up on a team called the "Blue Hose"), do you expect them to be fresh or rusty?
RCR: Fresh. This double-bye, as you put it, has been an absolute God-send for a team that was abruptly hit with terrible injury luck. The Rebels had gone the whole season without a significant injury, then, against LSU and Auburn, had eight starters go down in a two-week span (including season-ending injuries to linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and wideout Laquon Treadwell).
Fortunately, it seems that all but those last two guys will be back on the field this weekend. That includes All-American safety Cody Prewitt, future first-round NFL left tackle Laremy Tunsil and the man-child that is Robert Nkemdiche. Of that group, Tunsil is the biggest get — our O-line has been awful without him in the lineup.
AF: How is Dr. Bo going to handle surgery without one of his best surgical knives, Laquon Treadwell?
RCR: Solely from a statistical standpoint, Treadwell’s production isn’t as hard to replace as you would probably expect. His 632 yards and five touchdowns are good, but not amazing. After just one game away, in fact, Treadwell’s already been overtaken by Vince Sanders as the team’s leading receiver. And slot receiver Cody Core proved his value with a gangbusters start to the season.
But what can’t be replaced is Treadwell’s effect on defensive game plans. Opponents constantly had to roll coverages his way, opening things up for guys like Sanders and Core. Nobody else on the receiving corps can attract that kind of attention, which should allow the Razorbacks to be considerably more flexible in their defensive calls.
AF: The Razorbacks haven't given up more than 17 points at home this season, does that concern Ole Miss' offense at all?
RCR: At the risk of sounding like a dick, no. That stat comes from a handful of cupcakes, Bama during an offensive lull and an LSU offense that has been awful all season — and of course doesn’t include the 45 points Georgia dropped in Little Rock. It also doesn’t include the games Arkansas has played against spread offenses similar to Ole Miss — the Razorbacks gave up a combined 80 points to Auburn and Texas A&M.
With that said, the Rebels’ offense has had it’s fair share of hiccups this year, particularly early in games. Ole Miss has scored seven points or fewer in the first half four times this season (against Boise State, Memphis, Alabama and LSU). So who knows.
AF: How much does that LSU game piss you guys off considering the Tigers sucked so bad against the Hogs? Losing to Auburn wouldn't keep Ole Miss out of the playoff hunt, but that loss to LSU probably has. Or is there still a magical scenario where Ole Miss can still make the playoffs?
RCR: Yea, LSU’s recent losses are a hit to Ole Miss’ resume, but I certainly wouldn’t call LSU a bad loss. That game was on the road in Baton Rouge at a time when the Tigers were playing as good of football as anybody. Let’s not forget, they took Alabama to overtime just two weeks ago.
And yes, there’s still an outside chance for Ole Miss to make the playoffs! It goes like this: the Rebs win out against Arkansas and Mississippi State while Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl. That puts Ole Miss, Alabama and State in a three-way tie on top of the SEC West at 6-2 — a tie Ole Miss wins because they have the head-to-head over both teams. We then beat Georgia or Missouri in the SEC Championship and get some help from a couple of the other one-loss teams (or FSU) losing.
Hey, crazier things have happened.
AF: Is there any concern that Hugh Freeze would bolt for Florida? Which would be a bigger stab in the back: Tommy Tuberville bolting for Auburn, or Freeze doing the Gator chomp?
RCR: I honestly hadn’t even considered that possibility until Freeze made some public comments this week brushing it off. Freeze, a local guy who grew up an Ole Miss fan and considered this his dream job, seems committed to staying in Oxford and building the program. On top of that, the athletic department looks to be working their ass of to give him an extension.
Still, it’s always a mistake for fans to assume that players and coaches have the same type of personal connection to the school as they do. Freeze’s commitment seems genuine, but that’s based off of press conference quotes and video clips. I don’t know the guy personally, so I can’t tell you what will happen if Florida starts tossing around dollar signs.
In the end, I think the chances of Freeze-to-Florida are somewhere around zero — but my God just imagine the irony: Ole Miss fans root for Muschamp to be fired so Dan Mullen leaves State, only to have Freeze be the one that bolts for Gainesville. /shudder/
RCR: Arkansas’ ground attack has worried me all season. As good as the Rebels defense is, our fast-but-undersized front seven makes us susceptible to the power run, as illustrated by LSU pounding us in Baton Rouge. Still, our absurdly good secondary combined with Arkansas’ lack of a downfield threat means we can stack the box and at least slow that train down. Assuming the Rebel offense shows up healthy, they should be able to outpace the Razorbacks on the scoreboard.
I’ll go 27-14, Ole Miss.