Arkansas will tell us more about Ole Miss' ceiling than Alabama did
Ole Miss was humbled in a 42-21 defeat to Alabama that wasn’t even as close as the score suggested.
The Rebels won’t have much time to dwell on it as another test looms Saturday against visiting Arkansas. We will learn a lot more about this Ole Miss team this week than we did from them not being up to the test against the top-ranked team in the sport.
Why? Well, Ole Miss must now respond in an early kickoff (11 a.m, local) against an opponent that is going to give you the same dosage of medicine as the Crimson Tide did, though it may not be quite as potent.
Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson is good, but not as good as Matt Corral. The Hogs have some weapons, notably star WR Treylon Burks, but their success is tied to their ability to win the battle of the trenches in most games they play. Run the football and stop the run. That was the same recipe Alabama used to dominate the Rebels. Ole Miss rushed the ball for 2 yards per carry on 34 attempts. It was the first time in the Lane Kiffin era the Rebels ran for less than 100 yards in a game. Conversely, Alabama ran for over 200, largely on the back of Brian Robinson Jr.
How will the Rebels handle a similar test this time?
“They run the ball really well, they don’t give up explosive plays, I think they’re second in the country in pass defense, so this is a scheme we struggled with a year ago,” Kiffin said. “We basically switched to it for our defense because it’s really good and they do a great job, plus they play super hard.”
Kiffin is referring to the well-documented and talked about 6-interception game from Corral last year in Fayetteville. Corral struggled against the drop-8 zone concept, yet another wrinkle to this challenge beyond Arkansas rushing for 223 yards per game and its ability to run effectively between the tackles.
Styles make fights, and that’s what makes this is a difficult challenge for Ole Miss.
Arkansas’ offensive strengths are uniquely suited to attack Ole Miss’ weaknesses, and the Hogs’ defensive front 7 is built to slow down what Ole Miss wants to do offensively.
Beyond that is the big-picture aspect of both the past and present of this series.
Arkansas had Ole Miss’ number last year in Fayetteville and humbled Corral. The past 8 years of this series have produced some crazy and unpredictable results, a few of which the Rebels have been on the wrong side of. Can Ole Miss respond from an embarrassing loss against a team that, on paper at least, is a poor match-up? Can the Rebels get past the natural lethargy that accompanies an 11 a.m. kickoff and rally to a strong performance in a crucial game to the program’s chances at making a New Year’s 6 bowl and exceeding its predicted win total?
“This is the SEC and the SEC West. You go and play the No. 1 team, and now you have to go up against a top 15 team,” Kiffin said.
Such is life in the SEC West. This game will be a far more telling test than last week and will be a more accurate gauge to where this Ole Miss program stacks up in relation to the rest of the SEC and college football landscape