OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss (0-1, 0-0) began the season with a 15-10 loss to Memphis in the Liberty Bowl last weekend.
The Rebels struggled up front on the offensive line throughout the game, but made some improvement in the second half after a change at halftime in the blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage. The running backs were able to generate some positive yardage in the second half after the adjustment.
At times, redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral, who was frequently under pressure, struggled a bit progressing through his route tree; however, he made some plays with his legs in the second half that set the Rebels up for their first touchdown of the season.
Landsharks see improvement
One very bright spot for Ole Miss last week was the vastly improved defense under defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre. The change to the 3-4 defense in the spring has paid off significantly for this Landshark defense. Tackling has improved across the board in the secondary, linebackers, and the defensive line. We saw fourth-year junior Jaylon Jones and sophomore Keidron Smith each make two tackles for loss in the game after shedding off blocks by wide receivers to get to the ball carrier, making beautiful one-on-one open field tackles.
JUCO transfers Lakia Henry, Sam Williams, and Jonathan Haynes each made their debuts in the Red and Blue as starters at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and strong safety, respectively. Redshirt freshmen Quentin Bivens at nose tackle and Luke Knox at outside linebacker both had breakout games last Saturday, with each recording tackles for loss that helped the defense get off the field.
Regardless of the offensive struggles against the Tigers, the defense allowed this team to stay within striking distance the entire game.
In order to try and shore up some of the shortcomings on the offensive line, the Rebels are going to give true freshman offensive tackle Nick Broeker some reps against the Razorbacks. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Springfield, Illinois native has been taking a lot of first-team snaps during practice this week in preparation for the game tomorrow.
If Broeker is able to hold his own out there against the talented front seven of the Razorbacks, don’t be surprised to see him remain at left tackle throughout the game. I would not be shocked to see him earn the starting role by Week 4 if he’s able to adjust to the speed of the game; he possesses all the physical tools to be an every-down tackle in SEC.
Starting right tackle Alex Givens was able to play a good number of snaps against the Tigers last weekend after missing much of fall camp due to back surgery in July. After another full week of practice, we expect Givens to play the majority of the game against the Razorbacks. In only Week 2 of the season, this is a very important game for the Rebels, and it can’t be understated how important it is for the Rebels to have Givens on the field moving forward.
Scouting the Razorbacks
Turning our attention to Arkansas, the Razorbacks didn’t have the start they were hoping for against Portland State last weekend. They eked out a 20-13 win against their FCS opponent, but many Hogs hoped they’d run them out of the stadium last weekend.
However, the Razorbacks get one of their most prolific weapons back this week in tight end Cheyenne O’Grady. The senior, who suffered a knee injury August 13 and needed arthroscopic surgery, led the team last season with 30 catches and 6 touchdowns.
Starting running back Rakeem Boyd rushed for over 1,200 yards last season and started the season off with over 100 yards against Portland State last weekend. Don’t be surprised if we see a heavy dose of Boyd this weekend for the Razorbacks. The senior running back ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown before getting injured in the first half against the Rebels last season.
The Razorbacks also have a pair of talented true freshman wide receivers in Trey Knox and Treylon Burks who performed very well in their debut against the Vikings. However, the receivers were limited by the performance of senior grad-transfer QB Ben Hicks. Hicks (14-for-29, 143 yards) overthrew several balls in a game where you’d think he’d be much calmer having been under head coach Chad Morris’ offense when they were together at SMU.
Arkansas has a very talented front seven with veterans all over the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. This game is going to come down to how well the Rebels’ offensive line can hold up in the trenches against an SEC defensive front.
The bottom line
ESPN’S FPI gives Ole Miss an 80.2% chance to beat Arkansas this weekend. The Rebels are also favored by 5.5 points against the Razorbacks inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this weekend.
I’m inclined to say Arkansas will cover the spread in this game, but the Rebels will earn the victory in the end. Regardless, this one isn’t going to be decided early on. It’ll be a nail-biter down to the end. This is the Razorback’s best chance of picking up an SEC victory this season. If not, Coach Chad Morris could already be on the hot seat in Week 2.
Prediction: 27-24 Ole Miss wins.