After coming off of a surprisingly close game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Ole Miss Rebels will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., this weekend to face a Razorback team that has had equally shocking upsets — or almost upsets.
Both teams have had a similar trajectory this fall. Arkansas lost without much of a fight against Georgia in week one, and Ole Miss had a similar experience with Florida. Then in week two, the teams won games as underdogs. The Rebels took down Kentucky for their first win, and the Razorbacks took down the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who beat defending national champions the LSU Tigers a week prior.
Last week, the Rebels and the Razorbacks put up strong performances against highly ranked opponents, with Ole Miss putting up 48 points against Alabama and Arkansas losing to Auburn on a controversial call at the end of the game.
This week, The Daily Mississippian sports desk spoke with Robert Stewart, sports editor of the Arkansas Traveler, about this week’s upcoming matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Coming off of the close loss against Auburn, Stewart said he thinks the Razorbacks are eager and ready to take home a solid win, predicting a final score of 45-41.
“Obviously with the controversial call at the end of the game, the Auburn loss is hard to swallow, but if it has any impact at all on the matchup with Ole Miss, it will only add fuel to the fire,” Stewart said. “Sam Pittman made it clear that the Hogs are going right back to work.”
While the backwards spike is still on the minds of most Razorbacks fans, Stewart said he is hoping that the team will move past it and focus on improving the other areas of play where the team is lacking.
“While the Arkansas defense has been strong so far, I worry about its ability to keep up with a unit like the Rebel offense that just hung 647 yards and 48 points on Alabama,” Stewart said. “Last week was the worst game the Razorbacks have played defensively to this point. They missed tackles left and right and conceded a season-high 446 yards. For the first time this season, it looks like the Hogs are headed for a shootout.”
Even with the concerns about the Arkansas defense being able to keep up with the UM offense, Stewart said he and the rest of the Razorbacks’ fan base have been stunned by the defense’s performance as a whole this season.
“The Razorback defense has been the most pleasant surprise of 2020,” he said. “You wouldn’t necessarily guess that if you haven’t watched Arkansas play yet since Georgia posted 37 in the opener and Auburn dropped 30 last week, but the consensus is that Barry Odom has proven to be a strong hire through three weeks.”
Offensively, though, Stewart said he thinks the team needs to work more cohesively, and he saw improvements in the most recent game against Auburn.
“The offense has felt inefficient at times, but Feleipe Franks has thrown seven touchdowns this season and just two interceptions, both of which came in the first game,” he said. “Franks and the offense are definitely trending in the right direction, and after a 318-yard, four-touchdown performance, they have to be feeling confident ahead of this game.”
For the Rebels, the plan seems to be to stay the course, maximize the offensive time on the field and just hope that the defense can make enough stops to get the offense back on the field.
This will be a key game for the Rebels. If they do win, they have a chance to jump into the AP coaches poll top 25, which would be the first time since 2016 that the Rebels break the top 25 and would be another boost to Kiffin’s already upward trending season.