Four Downs: Arkansas

Sports editor Dylan Rubino (@drubino11), assistant sports editor Collin Brister (@CollinBrister), and football writer Cody Thomason (@thecodythomason)

1. How will the return of junior defensive back Tony Conner impact the Ole Miss defense?

Collin- The return of Tony Conner is vital because of his ability to stop the run.  The Rebels struggled when Conner first went out with the meniscus tear, but after moving Mike Hilton to husky, the Rebels were able to gain some stability. Having Conner back will allow the Rebels to move Hilton back to safety where he started the season.

Cody- It gives the defense a huge boost, even if his time is limited.  Conner is one of the best tacklers on the team, which will help in trying to stop Brett Bielema’s heavy-run offense, but Conner’s biggest impact could be felt in pass defense. The Razorbacks are excellent at play-action passing, and because they have so many talented tight ends, they run multiple tight end sets where it’s tough to tell whether the offense will run or pass. Conner will be crucial to cover these tight ends when the Razorbacks do go to the air.

Dylan – Conner is not only one of the better players on this Ole Miss defense, but also one of the vocal leaders for the secondary. The communication of Conner was greatly missed in both losses to Florida and Memphis. Conner is not only a great safety in the secondary, but his presence in stopping the run and reading the ball carrier is something that will give the Ole Miss defense a boost. Going up against a strong Arkansas running game, Conner will make a big impact.

2. Does the rain in the forecast benefit Arkansas or Ole Miss?

Collin – I think the rain obviously favors the Razorbacks, but I don’t think it will hamper the Rebels like it did last year in Fayetteville.  The Rebels weren’t able to find anything on the ground last year, and wound up losing by 30.  This year, especially since All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s return, the Rebels have produced on the ground and will be able to turn to that if they conditions are indeed sloppy.

Cody – No question about it, Arkansas is the beneficiary. It’s much harder to pass in the rain and Arkansas is a run-based offense, so they shouldn’t be affected too much. Meanwhile, at times, this season Ole Miss has struggled to run enough to balance their offense. The strength of the Rebel offense is definitely through the air. If the weather effects the passing attack, that could spell big trouble for the Rebels offense, especially since Arkansas has been great in run defense all season.

Dylan – The rain clearly favors a run-heavy Arkansas offense. It showed last year in rainy Fayetteville, which led to a 30-0 blowout win for Arkansas over Ole Miss. The rain shouldn’t drown the Rebel offense this time around like it did last season. The Rebels are finally getting healthy on both sides of the ball and should feel well equipped to handle a little rain. With the running game rounding into form, expect the offense to lean heavy towards the running game.

3. What should be the game plan to stopping the strong Razorback running game led by running back Alex Collins?

Collin – Many will say that you need to load the box and make quarterback Brandon Allen beat you; however, I don’t agree with that notion.  I think Allen is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the SEC and has the potential to beat you if you blitz too much.  I think the Rebels are good enough in the front four to stop the rush, and play regular in the secondary.

Cody- The Rebels will have no choice to stack the box to try and stop Collins. The junior has has taken a big step up this season and become the feature back due to the injury to Jonathan Williams, and Collins has excelled in that role. Collins has the power to go through contact and pick up short yardage games, but he has the speed to break it to the outside as well. Players like Mike Hilton and Tony Conner will need to use their speed to stop him from breaking off long runs, and the defensive line will need to get a good push at all times.

Dylan- Alex Collins has stepped up and and filled the role of running back Jonathan Williams with ease. The obvious game plan for the Rebels will be to stack up the box and take away all the running lanes that Collins might see, but that will soften up the secondary and give Allen open receivers to throw to. It’s pick-your-poison game planning against Arkansas, but that might be a necessary wish for the Rebels to take in order to win. If the Rebels can contain Collins and force some turnovers from Allen throwing the ball, the Rebels will be fine.

4. With LSU looming after the bye week, could this game be a potential trap game?

Collin- I don’t think so.  I think Ole Miss realized when they got home from Memphis that they were out of mulligans.  I think the Rebels understand that they better take every team seriously, or their SEC championship hopes will be dashed.  I think Ole Miss needs to jump on Arkansas early and not give them any room to breathe.

Cody- To me, last year Arkansas was the trap game and they dominated the Rebels by a score of 30-0. I’d be willing to bet this year’s Ole Miss team will not overlook the Razorbacks  This game isn’t as much of a trap game as it is just a very tough SEC matchup like last year. Arkansas’ run game isn’t as good as it was last year, but their air attack is improved and their defense might be as well. This should be an SEC slugfest that goes down to the wire, I don’t believe either team has a big advantage going into the matchup.

Dylan- With a bye week in between the Arkansas and LSU games, I don’t see this game being a trap game. Hugh Freeze has preached the idea of every week being a one game season and that approach will give the Rebels the proper mindset to come out with a victory Saturday. Saturday will be another SEC fist-fight, but the Rebels are the better team and that will show.

Collin prediction: 30-17 Ole Miss
Cody prediction: 27-23 Arkansas
Dylan prediction: 24-21 Ole Miss