Connor Lane, sports editor at The Arkansas Traveler, joins The Daily Mississippian sports editor Grayson Weir to discuss Saturday’s SEC West matchup between Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Grayson Weir: The Razorbacks’ offensive line has been unable to get a push on running plays, and the Rebels’ defense cannot stop the run. How much will Arkansas look to establish the ground game versus throwing the ball? What will the balance look like?
Connor Lane: Well, it would be hard to talk about Arkansas’ line and the rushing attack without mentioning what happened last week. The Hogs’ leading rusher, Chase Hayden, will be out for the remainder of the season with a lower leg fracture. Their star offensive lineman will also miss the rest of the season with a high ankle sprain. That does not add up to a strong rushing outlook for Arkansas. With that, this seems to be 6-foot-7 Cole Kelley’s chance to show his passing ability against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
GW: Cole Kelley took over at quarterback for Arkansas and was immediately thrown into the fire against the No. 1 and No. 14 ranked defenses in the nation. His numbers have, expectedly, not jumped off of the page so far. What is to be expected from his play against a weak defensive unit?
CL: I truly think he can do it. His first year isn’t going to be exceptionally memorable, but I think he can make things happen beyond what he’s been able to do so far. As everyone knows, Alabama is actually good at football. Making your first start against that team should be every quarterback’s nightmare. Going forward, however, things look to ease up a bit. I would expect a capable quarterback to rise from the ashes of what we have seen thus far.
GW: On the other hand, Shea Patterson is out for the year, and Jordan Ta’amu will fill his place at quarterback, making his first start. Outside of last year’s spring game and two drives against LSU, there is little knowledge of how his game changes the Ole Miss offense. How is defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads preparing for the unknown?
CL: As we approach the Thanksgiving season, the Razorbacks don’t have much to be thankful for so far. One of the few things to be happy about, though, is that they don’t have to face Shea Patterson. With that being said, the Razorbacks struggle with dual-threat quarterbacks. Against Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, the Hogs allowed 325 total yard against the freshman quarterback. That’s typically not ideal. And I believe it most likely won’t be ideal this Saturday, either.
GW: Both coaches are fighting for their jobs this season. Will a loss in Oxford be the end of the Bret Bielema era?
CL: If the new $5.9 million buyout figures are true — as opposed to the $11.7 million that was originally reported — I think Bielema’s era could already be finished. A loss to Ole Miss would just be another nail in the coffin, so to speak.
GW: This game means a lot for the Ole Miss senior class that has not seen a victory over Arkansas since its arrival on campus. Does this game hold any extra weight in Fayetteville, or is it just business as usual?
CL: It means the difference between 1-4 and 0-5 in the SEC. Other than that, it’s business as usual. But, with the consistent rivalry between the two schools, you can bet Hog fans want this one bad.
GW: If Arkansas is to win for the fourth year in a row, what needs to take place? Prediction?
CL: Cole Kelley has to have a breakout game. With the offensive line being completely shredded, that could be tough. The defense has to be able to stand up and fight without giving up in the second half — a staple of the Razorbacks. The Hogs have allowed an average of 47.75 points per game against SEC opponents, and I have no idea why that would change. My prediction is 42-28 Ole Miss.
Connor Lane: The big headline of last weekend was Shea Patterson’s torn PCL. With him out for the year, Jordan Ta’amu is the starter. What do you expect from his play?
Grayson Weir: Ta’amu is a baller. In relief of Patterson against LSU, the junior from Hawaii went 7/11 passing for 78 yards and led two scoring drives. The two players are different in nature but similar in athleticism. Ta’amu will fit right into the system and be a non-issue against the SEC West’s worst team.
CL: Do you think the game plan changes with Patterson out? Will the offense remain air-oriented?
GW: There will certainly be a larger emphasis placed on the ground game, but the majority of the offense will come in the air. Running back Jordan Wilkins has been able to establish himself as a prominent back lately, but he will be a game-time decision with an ankle injury. Should he not be able to go, D’Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney will be left with a lesser load. That being said, Ta’amu is an established rusher and will also get his fair share of designed, and broken-play, runs.
CL: The Rebel defense has struggled against the run this year, to say the least. How do you expect it to fare against an Arkansas offense that focuses on running the ball?
GW: Especially with backup quarterback Cole Kelley (presumably) under center and running back Chase Hayden missing time for the Razorbacks; expect a lot of box stacking. The Rebels will attempt to force the ball between the tackles and stuff the run. However, that proved incredibly ineffective against Derrius Guice last weekend, so who knows what the defense will do.
CL: The last three matchups have resulted in crazy Arkansas victories. Does this game hold more weight than usual?
GW: Absolutely. This senior class is tired of the ridiculousness that seems to have happened all three years. Between the downpour in 2014, 4th and 25 in 2015 and Chad Kelly’s fumble at the first down marker last year, all three games should have been Ole Miss wins. Arkansas thinks it has Ole Miss’ number, and getting the monkey off the back is a big deal.
CL: Who ends up victorious? Score?
GW: In a competitive game between two of the worst teams in the SEC, Ta’amu will make his presence known and lead the Rebels to a soul-soothing, definitive second-half victory.