Ole Miss enters Saturday’s showdown against Arkansas with the potential of having one of their biggest offensive games of the season. The Rebels (4-3, 1-2 SEC) will take on a Razorback defense that is ranked 13th in the SEC in total defense, 12th in scoring defense, last in pass defense and fifth in rush defense.
The Razorbacks (3-4, 2-2 SEC) will also be without senior linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright, who are both out for the year due to injury. Highsmith was the team’s leading tackler with 54 total tackles, and Wright turned in 28 tackles before suffering his injury.
“They’ve got a lot of depth it looks like to me, so I don’t know how it will affect them,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “Hopefully adversely. Highsmith was a really good player; he could really run around. I’m sure they have someone who can step in and do a good job for them.”
Despite the two key losses for the Razorbacks, the Rebels anticipate still seeing a defense that has improved the past few weeks.
“Steady improvement,” head coach Hugh Freeze said of the Arkansas defense. “Any time you lose leaders, there is some transition that happens, but they seem to have really rallied around each other in that time and no question they have improved the last few weeks.”
Ole Miss enters the game ranked fourth in the SEC in total offense (440.7 ypg) and will be led by sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace, who is averaging just under 200 pass yards per game, and junior running back Jeff Scott, who is averaging just under 100 yards on the ground per game.
The Rebels look to take advantage of the favorable matchup on paper and find ways to exploit the Arkansas defense.
“We always try to find things,” Werner said. “They are sound and well coached, so it’s not like we say, ‘Hey, we know we are going to be able to do this.’ As the game flows, you hopefully run a few plays and see this guy is cheating this way, so we come back with something else, but it is a constant chess match during the game.”
Elston returns, Mathews settles in at safety
Freshman safety Trae Elston returned to practice Wednesday after nursing a tender knee and sitting out of practice Tuesday afternoon. Elston said he suffered the injury during against Texas A&M.
“It happened during the Texas A&M game,” Elston said. “I got cut by a lineman, but I’ll be alright now.”
Elston has been doing constant rehab to get healthy for this weekend’s game.
“I’m feeling real good,” Elston said. “I’ve been going to rehab a lot and it has helped me. I think the bye week was very helpful. We just have to get prepared for Arkansas now.”
Freeze announced in a press conference Monday that junior Brishen Mathews would be moving to safety after starting the season at huskie. On the year, Mathews has recorded nine tackles, including one for a loss.
Mathews has played in all seven games for Ole Miss, but has seen limited action behind junior Dehendret Collins and freshman Mike Hilton.
“Whenever you’re not on the field, as a player, it is always hurtful,” Mathews said. “But everybody’s time comes. Right now, the biggest thing is whenever you do get an opportunity you have to capitalize. Even if it is just blocking one guy, even if it is just making sure the punter punts the ball, it is the little things in this game that make the biggest difference.”
Mathews, a native of Monticello, Ark., said he is looking forward to the clash with his home state’s team.
“It’s going to be special,” Mathews said. “Last time I played there I won a state championship and got MVP. If I could live up to that, that would be great, but if not, I get to go back home and say we beat the Hogs.”
Mathews knows this game will be a tough one for him and his teammates.
“It’s tough,” Mathews said. “It’s the SEC. We’re going to play the best every week. Week in, week out. It’s part of the game. If we practice well this week, which I think we have, it shouldn’t be an issue.”
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