Can the Rebels keep running against the Razorbacks?
No. 12 Ole Miss had a bye last week, but a bye in the SEC is anything but a break for coaches. Hugh Freeze and his staff ran the recruiting road with two weeks to prepare for Saturday night’s game against No. 22 Arkansas in Fayetteville.
It came a week after running all over Memphis with a surprising running game. In a 48-28 win, the Rebels’ 263 rushing yards was a breakout for a team struggling to get that kind of production behind Chad Kelly.
“I keep telling everyone, it is very hard to run the ball in this league,” Freeze said. “You saw that the other night. I think Arkansas rushed for 60 or 70 yards against Alabama.”
Arkansas is ninth in the league, rushing for 176 yards a game. Ole Miss got a bump against Memphis, but it’s still ranked 12th in the SEC with 157 yards per game.
The Rebels (3-2, 1-1) and Razorbacks (4-2, 0-2) aren’t that different. Kelly is no secret and Arkansas junior Austin Allen is making his mark in his first season as the Razorbacks’ starter. He actually ranks third in the SEC behind Kelly in passing with 272 yards per game and has thrown 15 touchdowns. Kelly’s 163.2 passer rating is the best in the SEC, while Allen is second at 158.1.
The run game could make the difference and open things up for two deadly aerial attacks.
Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams III is one of five SEC backs with more than 100 carries. He ranks third in the SEC with 605 yards and has scored 5 touchdowns.
You have to look way past the top 10 to find an Ole Miss back. Senior Akeem Judd is slotted at No. 19 in the league with 302 yards on 56 carries with 2 touchdowns. He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry but his output is behind three quarterbacks (Trevor Knight, Nick Fitzgerald and Josh Dobbs).
That’s where junior Eugene Brazley comes in. Brazley has been the team guy. It took Ole Miss inadvertently messing up Jordan Wilkins’ academic eligibility and Eric Swinney missing his second straight season to injury to get Brazley his best shot.
Against Memphis, he ran for 124 yards on 13 carries, an average of 9.5 per carry and he scored twice. Judd ran for 108 yards on 15 carries, his first 100-yard game ever. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry.
The effort by the two backs was significant since Ole Miss hadn’t had a pair of 100-yard rushers since 2014 against Presbyterian, and the Rebels hadn’t had a single 100-yard performance in 2016.
The ability of the Rebels and Razorbacks to run the ball will be critical in this game in order to capitalize on what has been a common weakness for both schools.
Arkansas is ninth in the SEC by allowing 180 rushing yards per game. Ole Miss is next to last, allowing more than 215 per game. It will be a solid test to see if the Rebels’ production against Memphis was an anomaly or not.
“They have given up some rush yards, but there are some good teams that can do that,” Freeze said. “Typically, they’ve been a lot like us, just bend and don’t break, you try to hold teams to field goals and banking on your offense scoring some touchdowns. They’ve been very good at that.”