Will the maligned Ole Miss defense limit or elevate Feleipe Franks?
Perhaps the most significant determining factor in Ole Miss’ success on Saturday in Fayetteville is whether a struggling Ole Miss defense is able to contain Razorback grad transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Franks has been efficient through 3 games for a Razorback team that’s been one of the surprises of the Southeastern Conference this season despite their 1-2 record, which could easily be 2-1 if not for a controversial non-fumble call at the end of last week’s loss at Auburn. He’s completing 64% of his passes and has thrown for 720 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 picks. That’s an average of 240 per game and a couple of touchdowns per game.
Will this Ole Miss defense — a group that’s hardly had a pulse through 3 games — hold Franks under those sturdy but manageable averages? Or will they set the stage for a career day for a guy whose career has been limited by his inconsistencies?
“They go fast,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “There are similarities in that. (Franks) has done a really good job coming over there, which is tough because he had no spring ball as well. They’re doing a really good job.”
The Rebels’ defense ranks last in the SEC in most statistical categories. They’ve given up 155 points and generated just 4 sacks. The Arkansas offense does not do anything one thing particularly outstanding but it has been serviceable enough to give themselves a chance to win late in games. Franks is capable enough to do damage in the vertical passing game when given enough time to throw, and given that Ole Miss’ greatest weakness as a defense is its inability to generate a consistent pass rush, that is likely what this game will come down to. His accuracy and completion efficiency has been the biggest difference this year. He’s completed over 71% of his throws in the last 2 games and threw the football at least 28 times in each contest.
How does this struggling Ole Miss defense find a way to combat that?
“We’ve got to align better, tackle better and make more plays,” Kiffin said. “When you’re in a run like this where we’re struggling in that phase of the game, it’s hard. We’re playing some great players. A lot of first-round picks we’re trying to cover there. It usually takes a game or a part of a game to play well and get that back.”
If last week’s loss to Alabama cemented one thing, it’s that Matt Corral and the Ole Miss offense are going to score points at a high enough clip to give the Rebels a chance to win. That figures to continue Saturday.
So, what Franks will the Rebels see?
His first 2 1/2 seasons at Florida were consistently inconsistent. Franks completed a shade under 60% of his passes with some good moments and others tethered by turnovers. The book is out on Franks, and it is just a matter of whether the Ole Miss defense holds him to what his numbers say he is or elevates him to a level at which he has never consistently performed.
This is a fascinating matchup between programs in Year 1 of their respective regimes that have generated a bit of momentum after 3 frustrating seasons under their previous coaching staffs. The winner will be 2-2 and looking down the schedule at a mediocre SEC West spotting an opportunity and the loser will be 1-3 wondering what could have been.
“I think they have some really good young players that you’re seeing, kind of like us on offense as well,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing a great job. They very easily could’ve won last week against an established program like Auburn. Sam (Pittman) is doing an awesome job.”