Throw out the teams’ records and disregard preconceived notions; current form is meaningless when Arkansas and Ole Miss meet on the gridiron each fall.
The last time Ole Miss defeated the Razorbacks was in 2013. Since then, Arkansas has pitched a 30-point shutout, Ole Miss has blown a 24-point lead and the Razorbacks pulled off the infamous fourth and twenty-five debacle. Do not get sidetracked with 1-5 and 4-2 when the two teams meet in Little Rock on Saturday.
Arkansas and its first-year head coach, Chad Morris, come into the matchup off of a 65-31 loss to Alabama. A five-touchdown loss usually does not contain many positive outcomes. However, a struggling Arkansas offense, ranked No. 102 in the country in total offense, scored 31 points on the Alabama defense. Those 31 points could have been even more if not for a fumble on the Alabama one-yard line.
In contrast, the seventh-ranked Ole Miss offense only mustered seven points against that same defense.
Morris is overseeing a rebuilding in Fayetteville as he shifts the offensive scheme away from Bret Bielema’s run-heavy, pro-style scheme to an up-tempo, spread scheme. The slow start for Arkansas has led to losses to North Texas and Colorado State. However, since redshirt junior Ty Storey took over at quarterback, the Razorback offense has improved.
The Ole Miss coaching staff, from Matt Luke and Wesley McGriff to linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, have all shared similar sentiments in preparing for Arkansas’ offense: it will use motion before the snap, repeatedly. The staff believes that, on 50 percent of the Razorbacks’ offensive plays, the Razorbacks use some type of pre-snap motion. This will place heavy importance on the linebackers and safeties to identify assignments and communicate changes.
The Ole Miss defense does not have elite athletes who can rely on pure athleticism to make plays when they guess wrong. Being in the right spots before the snap will decide if the defense can make plays on Saturday.
The Ole Miss offense has yet to show up in its two SEC matchups. Passing yards and points have declined heavily when the Rebels play conference opponents. However, Alabama and LSU have four and five-star players littered throughout their defenses. The LSU defense will see multiple players drafted in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, as will the Tide. Arkansas may not have the talent that those teams presented, but they are not worlds away in terms of performance.
The Arkansas defense ranks 85th, nationally, allowing 405.7 yards-per-game, which measures better than the Rebels. On paper, Morris’ team is overmatched. Ole Miss’ offense ranks seventh nationally with depth and talent at the skill positions. The receiving talent goes five players deep. However, the Rebels’ key player is not in the N.W.O.
Scottie Phillips’ performance will be of utmost importance for Ole Miss’ success. He has established himself as a star, averaging 7.1 yards-per-carry and registering three 100-plus yard games over six weeks. His 637 yards on the season have him well on track to eclipse the 1,000-yard horizon. That does not happen often at Ole Miss. His usage is not as high as it could be, however. His highest total of rushes in a game this season is 19, with his second highest being 16.
Ole Miss has had leads in the fourth quarter in four of six games this season, but the play-calling has not changed from the typical pass-heavy gameplan. Grinding out games in the SEC sometimes calls for reliance on the running game, and Phillips gives the Ole Miss offense a true running back that can chew away the clock late in football games.