Justin Bell says he believes God will hold off the rain Saturday at Razorback Stadium.
He may be right. The chance of rain, according to Weather.com, has dropped to 60 percent. Only 60 percent. It was 90 percent.
This is a rather significant development because wet turf gives a further edge to Arkansas in one important area that it holds an advantage already – the run game.
Ole Miss is averaging 146.5 yards in SEC games, that’s 11th in the league. The Rebels have struggled to move the chains consistently on the ground.
Arkansas hasn’t been as good in SEC games (151.8 ypg) as it has overall (232.9 ypg). Much of the Hogs’ overall rushing production can be seen in two non-conference games. They rushed for almost 500 yards – 495 total – in a 73-7 win over Nicholls State. They had 438 rushing yards the following week against Texas Tech.
That’s 40 percent of their season’s rushing total in two games.
Where I think the Hogs have their biggest edge here is in approach. They’re not going to stop running the football. They’re going to keep pounding. That approach eventually led to a 95-yard drive for the late go-ahead touchdown in the Rebels’ 10-7 loss at LSU.
Arkansas will have a better passing game when it does decide to throw, but its bread and butter is the ground game.
The most recent body of work for Ole Miss is a struggle against the run in SEC play. LSU ran for 264, Auburn 248.
An FCS game followed by an open date going into this game has given the Rebels a chance to get healthy. More importantly, perhaps, it’s given defensive coordinator Dave Wommack extra time to implement a plan to stop the run. Players say it’s about alignment and assignment, fitting gaps and being in the right place at the right time.
Perhaps, but once they’ve done all that they still have to get off blocks and make plays. They have to be the more physical team in the trenches Saturday afternoon. If they don’t do that, Fadol Brown told us, they don’t have a chance on Saturday.
That may be a bit heavy on the dramatics, but there’s some truth there.
I’m not one that thinks just because Arkansas defeated LSU last week to end a 17-game SEC losing streak that it’s completely rejuvenated, everything is fixed, and it automatically beats Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks had been building to that point. They’d been close – very close – against good teams.
They have a physical front seven, led by sophomore tackle Darius Philon, who one SEC analyst calls the best defensive tackle in the league.
That’s allowed the Razorbacks to be stingy with rushing yards and hold down opponent scoring in three of their last four SEC games. Georgia, which is averaging 38.8 points in conference play, was able to score 45 points in a 13-point win in Fayetteville. There was some self-inflicted damage in there for the Hogs with turnovers and such. In three other games in that window Arkansas held Alabama to 14 points, Mississippi State to 17 and LSU to zero.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is on target when he says the Rebels have to maximize their offensive possessions in this game. They have to score when they have the chance.
They need Wallace to be on target again Saturday, and this is where the weather could become a real issue.
Wallace has practiced with a wet ball this week, but the bigger concern is receivers making cuts on wet turf.
Add to the fact that this is the receivers’ first SEC game without Laquon Treadwell.
Since we’ve reached the “you are what you are” stage of the season Ole Miss is going to have to be better at what it does – passing and catching – than Arkansas is at what it does.
That’s going to require strong play up front, as Fadol Brown pointed out. It’s going to require precision in the passing game.
Success in the run game would be a bonus. Don’t be surprised to see larger roles for Mark Dodson or Jordan Wilkins in trying to achieve that. They both shined against Presbyterians, but that was Presbyterian.
Dodson and Wilkins are both bigger than I’Tavius Mathers. If using one or both of them more is indeed a plan for Hugh Freeze it could be altered on the fly by the weather. There’s a trust factor from a coach with a player that he’s played in SEC games many times. Neither Dodson nor Wilkins have had just bunches of carries early in SEC games.
Whatever the case, a stronger running game would boost this SEC offense, and Freeze isn’t beyond tinkering with the things even at this late date in the season as evidenced by his placement of Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield last year in the Egg Bowl.
Speaking of which …
Letting the cat slip out for next week’s predictions post, I’ll say that I’m calling Ole Miss to split in its last two games with the loss coming on the road.
Prediction: Arkansas 17, Ole Miss 15