OPINION: Opportunity knocks and Rebels answer the call

OXFORD – Ole Miss knows a little bit about the post-Florida doldrums. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino didn’t blame the Razorbacks’ 30-17 loss on his team’s state of mind following its near-upset win at No. 1 Florida last week.
When the Rebels pulled off the win in Gainesville last year, they followed up with a disappointing home effort in losing to South Carolina.
Petrino sounded dejected in his postgame address, listing a myriad of departments in which he believed the Razorbacks were outplayed by the Rebels.
Among them was the physical level of play on both lines.
Saturday’s game had certain Liberty Bowl implications. You figure, the loser now has the inside track to Memphis. All things considered, these are two pretty good SEC teams. They are not Alabama- and Florida-type teams, but now the Rebels have their first quality win of 2009, and they’ve created for themselves a wealth of opportunity.
Had they fallen flat against Houston Nutt’s previous employer, the demons of self-doubt would have risen, and there’s no time for that with the calendar racing to November and a road trip to Auburn looming next week.
Having asserted themselves against Conference USA twice, the Southland Conference once and a Vanderbilt team that is competitive on defense but approaches the end zone like it’s a nuclear landfill, the Rebels needed to beat a good SEC team.
What remains on their schedule are good SEC teams. They’ve had their date with Alabama. They don’t play Florida.
Arkansas offered an improving defense and a high-powered offense, and the Rebels showed themselves well-equipped to compete and win on both sides of the ball.

Winning the pressure game
This one was going to come down to who protected their quarterback and who didn’t, and the Ole Miss offensive line scored high marks.
America has seen the struggle the game has been for Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead when he’s not protected, and troubling Snead was a big part of what the Razorbacks wanted to do. They could not. Snead was not sacked by a unit that sacked Tim Tebow six times last week. He stood in the pocket with time to throw, and a quarterback completing just 49.7 percent on the season completed 66.7 percent.
Half-way through this season, the Ole Miss offensive line has evolved into one that can pass protect fairly well. Left tackle Bradley Sowell, unimpressive in early starts, is holding his own.
This is is a finesse group, as evidenced by its inability to power the ball into the end zone when it gets inside the 5.
It is, however, performing solidly in the protection area. It becomes incumbent upon the staff to take advantage of that with high-percentage passes and a perimeter run game. That approach was successful in this very important win.
On the flip side the Rebels pressure disrupted strong-armed slinger Ryan Mallett. He didn’t throw picks, but he didn’t throw accurately, completing just 12-of-34 attempts. Take away a tipped ball to a receiver who was double-covered that was cradled by another alert Arkansas receiver, and Mallett had fewer than 200 passing yards.
He was sacked four times. Petrino said his offense was, “beat up.”
It was a throw back to happier times for Ole Miss, stirring fond memories of last season’s 23-21 win at Arkansas and the five more wins that followed.
Could a repeat streak occur?
If such execution in three phases of football follows against these good SEC teams it’s not that hard to imagine.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at www.NEMS360.com.

Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal