As excited as they were about the open week, head coach Hugh Freeze said they're equally as excited to get back to playing this week against Arkansas. It's the fourth of six straight home games and will be the Rebels' first game of the year with a kickoff earlier than 5:30 p.m.
"To be at home again is always nice," Freeze said, as before the open date there were three straight home games and after the open date there will be three straight home games. "We're looking forward to getting an early kickoff. That's something we haven't had this year," Freeze said. "We've enjoyed the ones we've had, but it's always nice to get a variety."
"I'm so glad that we have an early kickoff," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We wake up and go play, instead of having to sit in the hotel room all day and watch games, so yeah I'm excited about these morning kickoffs."
Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC) had won back-to-back games over then-No. 6 LSU and Idaho entering the bye week, while Arkansas (3-6, 0-5 SEC) won their first three games, but have lost six straight, including most recently a 35-17 loss to No. 8 Auburn.
"The off week came at a good time, and hopefully we won't be very rusty at all, but we'll continue to improve, as I thought we had the last couple of weeks," Freeze said. We're playing a very scary football team to me. If they ever convert drives, they'd be very, very dangerous. They control the time of possession, and they run the football extremely well."
"They're a lot better than a lot people think they are," Wallace said. "They're close to coming through and win some games, and they're still playing hard. If you watched the Auburn game, you could tell they're still playing hard. They'll be a tough test."
Offensively, Arkansas is led by a dynamic running back duo of freshman Alex Collins (98.8 ypg) and sophomore Jonathan Williams (79.6), who rank fourth and seventh in the SEC, respectively.
As a team, the Razorbacks have rushed for at least 200 yards in six of nine games and average 211.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the SEC. Arkansas also ranks fifth in the SEC in time of possession (30:51), including 34:14 time of possession against Auburn.
"They are closer than people realize, and they scare you," Freeze said. "If you have one or two turnovers, you may not see the ball again. Last week, Auburn, which is somewhat similar to us in a tempo offense, only had 21 snaps in the first half."
"That's frustrating for me when I have to sit over there for so long, and they're just running the ball," Wallace said. "You just have to stay on the phone with Coach Werner and get what him and Coach Freeze are thinking about and keep all the guys up on the sideline."
More Depth, Flexibility On Defense
Ole Miss has been hit hard with injuries this year, with three starters out for the year in junior offensive lineman Aaron Morris (ACL), junior defensive end C.J. Johnson (ankle) and freshman tight end Evan Engram (ankle). Several other key players missed either LSU or Idaho game, or both.
Entering this week, however, Freeze said they're as healthy as they've been in a while, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
"Still questionable are Charles Sawyer and Jeff Scott," Freeze said. "I think everyone else will be ready, except for those out for the year, like C.J. Johnson, Aaron Morris, and Evan Engram. Carlos Thompson is still on the doubtful list. The off week came at a good time. Hopefully we won't be very rusty at all and will continue to improve as I thought we had the last couple of weeks."
Among those expected to return are three defensive starters in freshman defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and sophomore cornerback Mike Hilton.
"All of the people who played and contributed whenever everyone was gone, it helps them and help us as a defense because it gives them confidence when they come into the game," junior linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "They give us more depth on defense."
Their expected return, Freeze said, gives them not only more depth but also more flexibility on defense.
"Robert gives us better depth and some flexibility to move people around up front," Freeze said. "Denzel was our leading tackler last year and hopefully to have him healthy for a stretch of games will pay great dividends. Hilton, I thought was maybe the most-improved player on our defense. We do a lot of things with him. He can play our nickel, our corner and anywhere in six-defensive back formation. All those guys give us some flexibility."
Bowl Implications For Both Teams
A win over Arkansas would make Ole Miss bowl eligible for the second straight year under Hugh Freeze.
In this week's bowl projections, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards both have the Rebels in the Music City Bowl, CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm has them in the Gator Bowl and SI.com's Stewart Mandel have them in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
"It's exciting," Wallace said. "We were 5-3 at this same point, so the first step is being bowl eligible, and then building on that. Any time you can get that sixth win, it's a big game and a big week."
On the other sideline, for Arkansas, it has to win out in its final three games at Ole Miss, at home against Mississippi State and at LSU to become bowl eligible.
"They have to win these last three games to get into a bowl game, and they feel like we were in the Mississippi State game last year," Bryant said. "They're going to bring it and do everything in their will to win this game."