In the third part of a three-game home stretch, Ole Miss will host Arkansas in a desperate battle to avoid last place in the SEC West tomorrow.
Coming into the weekend, the Rebels and Razorbacks are in eerily similar situations. With key injuries at quarterback, coaches fighting for their jobs and unimpressive records both in and out of conference, there is a necessity to walk off of the field with a win. Ole Miss sits at 3-4 overall with a single SEC win, and Arkansas is at 2-5, winless in the conference. Neither record is something to hang a hat on.
For Ole Miss, quarterback Shea Patterson is out for the season after tearing his PCL last week against LSU, and Jordan Ta’amu will fill his role. In relief of Patterson last weekend, the New Mexico Military Institute transfer orchestrated two scoring drives and will hope to keep his momentum rolling Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas has been without starting quarterback Austin Allen for the past two weeks. In his absence, redshirt freshman Cole Kelley has unsurprisingly struggled to move the ball against the No. 1 and No. 14 defenses in the nation. Head coach Bret Bielema hinted that Allen could step back on the field Saturday, but a full, healthy start still looks doubtful, and Kelley will presumably lead the offense.
Regarding Bielema, the Rebels could provide the nail in the coffin for the Razorback head coach. Rumors about his job security are swirling, and an Ole Miss win could have Bielema looking for a new place to call home.
Ole Miss, of course, is also dealing with a bit of coaching drama of its own. Athletics Director Ross Bjork announced earlier this week that the search process would begin in November, and while interim head coach Matt Luke has done a fine job, Bjork cited a need for “… somebody who has seen it on the highest level.”
Putting the off-field drama aside, the Rebels face another run-heavy offense only a week after LSU racked up almost 400 rushing yards. Arkansas averages 160 rushing yards per game this year, which is a step back from its dominant rushing attacks of the past, but Ole Miss has allowed 260 yards per game and ranks near the bottom of FBS teams in run defense on the year.
However, the Rebels’ defensive pass rushers should be able to feast against a weak Arkansas offensive line. The talented trio of Marquis Haynes, DeMarquis Gates and Benito Jones will be key to the defense’s success. If the three can follow Alabama and Auburn’s example of attacking Kelley, Ole Miss could force turnovers and help the defense get off the field against a ball-hogging Arkansas offense.
Both teams are struggling this year, but Saturday is sure to provide a slew of excitement nonetheless. Redemption is in the air after a pair of down-to-the-wire, wildly entertaining losses ruined the Rebels’ postseason hopes in the teams’ past two meetings.
In 2015, the Razorbacks converted an absurd 4th and 26 in overtime with a cross-field lateral to win the game and keep Ole Miss from the SEC Championship. Last year, Arkansas took a 34-30 lead with less than three minutes left before Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly tried to channel a little karma. He nearly converted a 4th and 16 on the next drive before fumbling the ball right at the first down marker, a moment that eventually cost the Rebels their bowl eligibility.
This year’s basement-dwelling, high-emotion matchup begins at 11 a.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network.