Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels (5-3, 2-3 SEC) have an opportunity to clinch their second consecutive bowl appearance this Saturday with a home victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-6, 0-5 SEC).
The Rebels have survived the SEC West gauntlet to put themselves in position to reach another bowl, with an insurance game against Troy looming if Ole Miss falters. But with a huge upset win over LSU and competitive losses to Auburn and Texas A&M, the Rebels have more than earned their standing as a 17-point favorite over an Arkansas team that looks likely to miss the postseason for the second consecutive season.
Here are the keys for Ole Miss to hold serve, as well as what Arkansas can do to keep their flickering bowl hopes alive.
Time in the Pocket
Quarterback Brandon Allen should have time to throw, as the Rebels rank near the bottom of the SEC in sacks. That's important for jump-starting an offense that ranks dead last in the SEC in points per game and has produced an average of 355 yards per game, 101st in the country.
The Razorbacks will apparently have to account for Robert Nkemdiche, the Rebels' highly touted defensive lineman who announced on Twitter that he is ready for game action:
Nkemdiche has just one hurry this year, but his presence allows for greater versatility up front, particularly given the emergence of Bryon Bennett in the last month. Allen has struggled for much of the year, so perhaps some early high-percentage passes will be part of the game plan to calm him down in a hostile environment.
|SEC Turnover Margin|
|Team||Turnovers Lost||Turnovers Generated||Net Margin|
|via CFB Stats.com|
As you can tell, the Rebels don't turn the ball over particularly often. That bodes ominously for the road underdogs, but Arkansas must find a way to generate turnovers if it is to remain competitive, especially given the state of its offense.
Offensively, Ole Miss is a roughly 50-50 run-pass team, with quarterback Bo Wallace having an efficient season. Wallace has completed 62.7 percent of his passes and thrown 11 touchdowns to just three picks.
Turnovers are always a prime catalyst for a road underdog to pull off the upset, so the Razorbacks must find a way to generate some prime field position for their listless offense.
Pound the Rock
This is a lot simpler for the Rebels, who should be able to run the ball against a Razorbacks defense that ranks 84th in run defense.
Though Wallace is probably their best player, it may be helpful to rely on the speedy Jeff Scott, if he is able to go. If not, the duo of I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have been successful in carrying the load the last two games with Scott out and should do so again.
Scott's potential return would be a big boost, nonetheless. His eye-popping average of 8.2 yards per carry ranks second in the SEC, and he has added value as a dangerous punt returner:
Five players have rushed for a touchdown this year for Ole Miss, so there is certainly no shortage of options to attack a weak Arkansas run defense.
Minimize the "David Strategies"
What are "David Strategies," you ask? Well, anything that Arkansas can do to construct high-variance situations favors the Razorbacks pulling off the upset. Ironically, Ole Miss running the ball frequently might create a low-possession game, a condition conducive toward pulling off an upset.
Of course, it will take more than that for the Razorbacks to win, and the Rebels likely know it.
Solid special teams play to keep field position even should allow Ole Miss' superior talent to take over. A moribund Arkansas offense is unlikely to score frequently playing straight-up, so Mississippi should also be on the alert for gadget plays and fourth-down gambles.
Again, this is all about minimizing the number of wacky things that are necessary toward pulling off the upset. Sound, fundamental football should rule the day in Oxford.
Ole Miss has come a long ways under Freeze and deserves another bowl berth given its stiff competition against elite SEC West competition. Expect the Rebels to finish with at least seven wins, possibly eight if they can steal an Egg Bowl win on the road this year against Mississippi State.
Ole Miss 34, Arkansas 17