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Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-Arkansas

Three areas to watch as No. 8 Ole Miss travels to Arkansas in its final road game of the regular season Saturday.

Slowing the Hogs' Ground Attack

The extra week of preparation, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should prove beneficial to prepare for the scheme and personnel of Arkansas' run-heavy offense.

"They use unbalanced formations and shifts and motions," Wommack said. "They're not like an LSU where it's just pound you, but they have really good backs and a good line and they do some deception with it, too, and we have a great advantage to work on that stuff."

Looking at the numbers, it's no secret the Razorbacks' effectiveness in running the football and the Rebels' effectiveness in stopping the run will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

Arkansas averages 302.6 yards per game and 6.38 yards per carry in its five wins compared to 163.2 yards per game and 3.29 yards per carry in its five losses. 

Ole Miss has allowed just 96.1 yards per game and 2.82 yards per carry in its eight wins compared to 256.0 yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry in its two losses.

"Just looking at what has occurred, this may not be our best matchup," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "You have to play it. You have to find a plan and get your kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learn something from seeing that (kind of offense against LSU)."

Starting O-Line Back at Full Strength

With the return of left tackle Laremy Tunsil and left guard Aaron Morris from injury, Ole Miss will have the same five starting offensive linemen that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start.

The Rebels generated a season-high 640 total yards, including a season-high 402 rushing yards, in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian, and they look to build off the performance with their full complement of offensive linemen for Saturday.

"It was better last week against Presbyterian, but that's probably not comparing apples to apples," Freeze said. "It's hard to say. In the off week and Presbyterian week, we worked quite a bit on the inside run. It's been tough to run it on these guys for other teams."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (126.7 yards per game) and sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.76 yards per carry). In a 17-0 win over then-No. 20 LSU, the Razorbacks held LSU to 36 yards on 32 carries.

It starts up front with defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon. Flowers is the active SEC leader with 41.5 career tackles for loss and is tied for third with 15.0 career sacks, while Philon leads all SEC defensive tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss this season.

"They have two of the better in the conference in 86 and 91, in Trey Flowers and Darius Philon," Freeze said. "Those guys are really special. Like I said, you look at their stats and they just held LSU, one of the best rushing teams in the conference, to 36 yards."

Passing Game Sans Treadwell

Playing without wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Auburn, Vince Sanders stepped up as the team's No. 1 receiver and responded with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian.

Derrick Jones, who moved back to wide receiver from cornerback, hauled in his first five career receptions for 55 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.

"It went well," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "Obviously, we hate losing Laquon, but we always talk about next man up and wide receiver is one of our deepest positions, so the guys did step up, and Vince (Sanders) had a great game."

Saturday's game against Arkansas marks the first SEC game and the first road game for Ole Miss without Treadwell, and the Rebels will face a Razorback defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, including a shutout of then-No. 20 LSU this past Saturday.

In addition to the wide receivers, tight end Evan Engram also steps into a bigger role. Engram leads all SEC tight ends with 15.2 yards per catch and ranks third with 27 catches, 410 yards and two touchdowns.

"Evan (Engram) will be a critical, critical cog in the wheel for us, particularly with Laquon (Treadwell) going down," Freeze said. "We have to find ways to get him the football. He'll win one-on-ones, so he's been extremely valuable to us."

Rebels Ahead of Schedule in Year Three

It's sometimes easy to forget where the Ole Miss football program was just three short years ago, when Hugh Freeze was interviewing for the head coaching position.

The Rebels had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games. 

Three years later, No. 8 Ole Miss is 8-2 (4-2 SEC) and remains alive in the SEC Western Division race and the College Football Playoff discussion, but that was not the original plan, and Freeze is glad the Rebels have gone off-script.

"My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year," Freeze said. "The goal was to be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game. That was the original plan, but we're excited it didn't work out. I'm glad I was wrong."

Many of the seniors endured that 2-10 season in 2011, and their buy-in, doing the little things and holding the team accountable, Freeze said, has been a reason the turnaround has happened as fast as it has.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Freeze said they have talked about the possibilities at their fingertips and what they can go earn by finishing strong.

"It's kind of bittersweet that it's coming to an end," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "But we have a chance to finish as one of the best team in Ole Miss history. I'm ready to see what happens. I came in at 2-10, and for me to maybe leave 10-2, that would say a lot about where we came from over these few years and where the program is headed."

"Let's get No. 9," Freeze said. "Senquez is a little bit ahead of his coach there. I'm thrilled in year three for us to be were we are. It's way ahead of schedule. Of course, we want to finish strong. Anything above this now certainly expedites our journey a little faster, but you have to go earn it. The only thing I can think about is playing at Arkansas on Saturday and hopefully competing at a level that gives us a chance to win it in the fourth quarter."

Starting Five Back Together

Ole Miss had its starting offensive line back for practice this week, a group that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Aaron Morris, center Ben Still, right guard Justin Bell and right tackle Fahn Cooper.

Still missed the LSU game and played through injury against Auburn, while Tunsil missed the Auburn and Presbyterian games and Morris missed the Presbyterian game.

"It will be interesting to see him go back out and play after three weeks off," said offensive line coach Matt Luke of Tunsil. "He's anxious to get back out there, but he's practiced and tested out well. He's done everything. I look for him to be 100 percent, or close to it."

"He can't play receiver," said Bell, when asked if Tunsil had any limitations in practice. "If anything, that's probably his only limitation."

Behind the starting five, Robert Conyers gives Ole Miss options at center and tackle, having started the last three games at both spots, while Rod Taylor has gained valuable experience and earned his first career start against Presbyterian.

Luke said Morris and Bell will start, as they did through the first seven games, but he looks for Taylor to play as many snaps as both of them, giving Ole Miss a three-man rotation at the two guard positions.

"He's really come on, said Luke of Taylor. "Getting in there and playing, sometimes a light bulb goes off. The more you play, the better off you are. He's played really well the last two weeks against Auburn and Presbyterian. He graded out the highest of all the linemen, so I'm really proud of him and the development he has showed."

Landsharks Brace for Hogs Ground Attack

Arkansas is one of just two teams in the nation with two running backs to rush for 800-plus yards, boasting two of the Southeastern Conference's top five rushers. Junior Jonathan Williams ranks fourth averaging 93.2 yards per game, while sophomore Alex Collins ranks fifth averaging 88.6 yards per game.

Williams and Collins have benefited from running behind a massive offensive line averaging 328.4 pounds per player, larger than any NFL starting offensive line.

"We don't really look at size," sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown said. "I mean, you can look at guys like Issac Gross, who's been holding his own since his freshman year, and C.J. Johnson. I guess athleticism and movement makes up for some of the size."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC averaging 232.9 yards per game and ranks third averaging 5.45 yards per carry, but they have had significantly more success in non-conference play than conference play. 

The Razorbacks average 151.8 yards per game and 4.00 yards per carry through five conference games compared to 354.5 yards per game and 7.13 yards per carry in non-conference game.

"It's the best run game we've seen all year long," Brown said. "Every game, they come with it. They just try to power you off the hole, pound you constantly and run the same plays over and over to try to get you out of the gap."

In its eight wins, Ole Miss allowed just 96.1 rushing yards per game and a 2.82 yards per carry average. In its two losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss allowed 256.0 rushing yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry average.

Arkansas, like LSU and Auburn, emphasizes the run, so Brown and the Ole Miss defense expects their success to go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

"This game is going to be on us and nobody else, just like the LSU game was on us," Brown said. "We have to be physical up front and dominate the line of scrimmage. If we don't do that, then we don't have a chance."


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Recent Comments

    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

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