OXFORD – Listen to defensive players and coaches from Arkansas and Ole Miss talk, and it’s like they met in Little Rock, compared notes and developed a game plan together.
For Arkansas and Ole Miss, success in today’s SEC game hinges as much on pass rush as anything else.
There is a natural order of things, and stopping the run is always important. Beyond that, the team that most disrupts the opposing quarterback, whether Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or Jevan Snead of Ole Miss, will take a big step toward victory.
As the Rebels (4-2, 1-2 SEC) face coach Houston Nutt’s former team, a win for Ole Miss or Arkansas (3-3, 1-3) would got a long way toward bowl qualification and positioning.
Kickoff at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is 11:21 a.m., and the game will be the SEC Network telecast, aired locally on WCBI.
“We’ve seen these last four weeks when we’ve gotten pressure on the quarterbacks we have forced them into some errant throws. Snead is just like any other quarterback. If you can pressure him and hit him consistently, he’ll throw the DBs some bad balls,” Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said.
Snead’s numbers, a 49.7 completion percentage and nine interceptions, support that theory.
Second-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has built the SEC’s top passing offense largely with skill players he recruited in receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, all sophomores, and Mallett, the strong-armed transfer from Michigan.
Defensively, though, an improving unit with an active front line gets most of its bang from players Nutt signed in Fayetteville, including tackle Malcolm Sheppard with eight tackles for loss, ends Bequette and Adrian Davis with five each and linebacker Wendel Davis with 41⁄2.
The Razorbacks got six sacks against then-No. 1 Florida in a 23-20 loss in Gainesville last week.
“A lot of those pressures came when Florida got into some empty formations in passing situations, you block five against a good front, you’re asking a lot from your offensive line,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said.
Arkansas is third in the SEC in sacks with 2.67 per game but has been hurt by the pass often this season, ranking last in the SEC in yards allowed (253.67 ypg) and in efficiency (144.13 rating.)
The Rebels are third in the nation and fourth in the league in efficiency (87.87 rating) and eighth nationally in yards allowed. (152.33 ypg).
The Rebels expect to be at full strength in the secondary today with the return of cornerback Marshay Green, who missed last week’s 48-13 win over UAB with a cracked rib and a bruised kidney sustained in a 22-3 loss to Alabama the week prior.
‘Best QB we have seen’
Pass defense has been very good for Ole Miss this season, but it comes with this asterisk.
“Mallett is the best quarterback we have seen in the passing game,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
The Rebels have had an effective pass rush most of the season, fourth in the SEC with 2.33 sacks a game.
Only two of Mallett’s 14 touchdowns came against Florida and Alabama, the league’s top two pass efficiency defenses.
“We won’t change anything. We will do what we do,” Nix said. “But we’re going to have to get a great rush on Mallett.”
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Today’s game at a glance
– Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford
– Kickoff: 11:21 a.m.
– Television: WCBI
– Radio: Ole Miss network; XM channel 200; Sirius channel 213
– Records: Ole Miss 4-2, 1-2 SEC; Arkansas 3-3, 1-3 SEC
– Rankings: Ole Miss is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today coaches poll. Arkansas is unranked.
– Series: Disputed. Ole Miss records show the Rebels trailing 25-29-1. Arkansas records show the series 30-24-1 in favor of Arkansas.
– Coaches – Arkansas: Bobby Petrino 49-19 (Fifth year); Ole Miss Houston Nutt 124-76 (17th year)
– Statistical leaders – Arkansas: Ryan Mallett 103-107 3 INT, 1,646 yards, 14 TDs passing; RB Michael Smith 50-330 2 TDs rushing; WR Greg Childs 21-345 yards 4 TDs receiving; LB Wendel Davis 40 tackles, 4 1-2 TFL. Ole Miss: QB Jevan Snead 80-161, 9 INT, 868 yards, 12 TDs passing; RB Brandon Bolden 70-364 1 TD rushing; WR Shay Hodge 26-389 3 TDs receiving; SS Johnny Brown 41 tackles, 1 INT.
Trends: Ole Miss is 7-10 against Arkansas since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992. … Arkansas had won four straight in the series before Ole Miss won 23-21 last year.
n Notes: Nutt was 75-49 in 10 years as head coach at Arkansas. … In addition to Nutt, 10 other Ole Miss staff members played, coached or did both at Arkansas. … The Ole Miss defense ranks fourth in the nation in pass defense efficiency and eighth in both passing yards allowed and points allowed.
– Summing it up: “It’s big because it’s the next game. It’s a very big time of year. They’re big for everybody.” – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Arkansas 21