Ole Miss vs. Arkansas Preview: Freeze is pumped for another shot at the Hogs
On Saturday inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the 19th-ranked Rebels (7-2, 4-1) will have a chance to avenge last season’s 30-0 shutout loss to Arkansas—and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is looking forward to the rematch.
“I’m a competitor and an offensive coach. As soon as we were able to turn our attention from Auburn, that was on my mind,” Freeze said at Monday’s weekly press conference about the Rebels’ upcoming game with the Razorbacks. “I like getting another shot at that. It motivates me.”
When playing in Oxford, the Rebels have a 7-4 series lead over Arkansas.
Rebels riding a two-game winning streak
Ole Miss is currently riding a two-game winning streak, with wins over Texas A&M and Auburn, and has found its mojo on defense, forcing two interceptions-four turnovers in all-in the two games and holding both programs’ quarterbacks to only a few explosive plays.
Against the Aggies, the Rebels held Kyle Allen to 88 yards passing on 12-of-34 completions. Ole Miss held Tigers’ gunslinger Sean White to 258 yards on 12-of-28 passing for one touchdown.
Scouting the Razorbacks
Now, the Rebels will be facing another successful quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, Razorbacks’ senior Brandon Allen. In last season’s win, Allen didn’t have to do much, except hand the football off to his running backs, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who combined for 43 carries, 160 yards and one touchdown. Allen completed just 5-of-10 passes for 87 yards and a score.
But this year, Arkansas (4-4, 2-2) will be without Williams, who suffered a foot injury prior to the season starting. Allen has had to take on more of a leadership role with the offense and has not disappointed. He is currently third in the SEC in passing yards (2034) and has completed 63.2 percent of his passes. The most important stat is his number of interceptions (five).
Razorbacks’ head coach Bret Bielema thinks Allen is a much better performer behind center from a year ago. “Your quarterback gets better when he has good players around him,” Bielema said on Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference.
Freeze, who’s 2-1 at the University of Mississippi against Arkansas, isn’t taking the Razorbacks for granted and feels they are still a solid football team, despite the way their season has gone—with three-consecutive losses to Toledo, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M in their first four games to start the year.
Since then, Arkansas has won two straight with wins over Auburn and UT-Martin. The Hogs have had a lot of success running the football in both wins behind Collins, who rushed for 278 yards and six touchdowns on 41 carries in the two wins.
Another tough conference game in the SEC
Freeze expects his team to have a physical battle on both sides of the football on Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS).
“It will be an SEC fistfight. It will be a physical game,” Freeze said.
They can control the clock, and they have good schemes on both sides. Their defense makes you go the length of the field without making a mistake in order to score points. They have given up very few explosive plays. That is the way they are built. They have given up some yards, but they tend to not give away many points. We have a big test ahead of us. It’ll be a close, physical battle on Saturday.
One thing Coach Freeze is not worried about is motivating his team for the game with Arkansas. When asked at his weekly press conference whether he will talk about last year’s loss to the Hogs, Freeze replied: “I won’t talk to our kids about that. I’ll just put the film on. Arkansas can speak for itself by the way they played against Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn. So that should motivate our players.”
Rebels’ running game continuing to improve
Ole Miss has found stability in its running game during its current two-game win streak. The Rebels have used three backs—Jaylen Walton, Jordan Wilkins, and Akeem Judd—and the trio has helped balance out the offense and take pressure off Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.
Judd has been a big spark for the Rebels’ running attack, whether he is running through the middle or breaking to the outside. In wins over the Aggies and Tigers, Judd rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
“Judd is just straight down hill,” center Justin Bell said about Judd. “Judd is that physical, nasty running back that you need to get short yardage.”
Hugh Freeze is also impressed with Judd’s performance.
“He’s playing very well. We are excited about the added dimension he brings us,” he said. “He and Jaylen (Walton) are a good combination. That was a big-time run he made to put us ahead the other day. He’s finishing runs. He’s taking care of the ball when he runs. He’s been a very nice bonus for us.”
Tony Conner is expected to play
After missing over a month with a torn meniscus that required surgery following Ole Miss’ win over Alabama, junior defensive back Tony Conner is making his return to the gridiron for a defense that can definitely use his presence for tackling.
Freeze announced Conner’s return on Monday. “The goal is to get through this season playing in some of these critical last games. We have this week, and then an open week where we can control the swelling so we can play the last two. He’s going to give it a go.”
Where to catch the game
Date: Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Venue: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (59,347)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 145, XM 191
Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk