Rebel RoundUp: Ole Miss Heads Home for Revenge Game Against Arkansas
OXFORD, Miss. — After a rough trip on the road, Ole Miss returns home to play an Arkansas squad that got the best of the Rebels in 2020. A lot of fans were excited for the potential of what last week’s game could bring, but make no mistake — Saturday’s game against the Hogs will begin to shape the SEC West. Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Auburn are all fighting for that second-best position behind Alabama.
Ole Miss enters the Homecoming game vs. the Hogs at 3-1. The Rebels’ projected over/under at the beginning of the year was 7.5 wins. ESPN releases a win probability and projection for each team and updates it weekly, and currently Ole Miss is favored to win every remaining game except on the road at Auburn.
Arkansas, on the other hand, enters Saturday with a 4-1 record. The Hogs’ projected over/under to start the year was set at 5.5 wins. The ESPN win probability has head coach Sam Pittman’s team favored in all but two remaining games…Ole Miss and at Alabama.
It’s an incredible turnaround for Pittman and Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin to even be sniffing around double-digit wins. However, as I’m sure both coaches have made it known, they’re not worried about the future. It’s one week at a time. This game has the potential to be one of the biggest SEC games of the season.
- Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9th, 11:00 PM CT
- TV: ESPN
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines:
- Ole Miss: -5.5
- O/U: 66.5
- Ole Miss Moneyline: -220
- Arkansas Moneyline: +180
There are very few teams that embody its coach’s mentality as well as Arkansas does Sam Pittman’s. His demeanor and passion for permeate with a love for Arkansas football. And he doesn’t find excuses; he just gets things done.
“Sam never backed down from the challenge… He understood that we were in the SEC West, he understood our history of having not won an SEC game in a couple of years, and he believed he was the right man to change the trajectory of our program and change those things that made our football program look like a negative opportunity from the outside.”
AD Hunter Yurachek on Sam Pittman
Many initially criticized the hiring of Pittman, but he made some smart moves including bringing in former Mizzou head coach Barry Odom to man the defensive coordinator position, giving Coach Pittman someone with prior head coaching experience to help the transition.
Odom and Pittman have created a versatile defense that, like Ole Miss, throws a lot of dime packages at you. Occasionally they can line up three on the line, or four, and can play multiple linebackers but the 3-2-6 has been on display so far this year.
Pittman hired Kendal Briles to bring an innovative offense to Fayetteville. Briles has had multiple top-10 offenses under his control with stops at Baylor, FAU, Houston, and Florida State before heading to Arkansas. Briles has brought a zone-read run scheme that has players such as Trelon Smith and Treylon Burks thriving. The Razorbacks return 17 starters from last years team.
The Razorbacks’ starter is KJ Jefferson. A native of nearby Sardis, he has found life in Kendal Briles’ system as a true dual-threat quarterback. His huge frame at 6’3 and 245 lbs. make him a tough opponent to take down. Prior to last Saturday’s showing against UGA, he was averaging over seven yards per carry.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 25, 2021
On the season, Jefferson has thrown for 909 yards and six touchdowns through the air. He is one of three QBs who, according to ESPN, have a rating over 160.0 and a completion percentage under 60%. As a passer, he has a big arm but mechanical issues cause inaccuracies at times.
A special thanks to Scottie Bordelon of wholehogsports.com for presenting the statistics on how Jefferson has distributed the ball thus far.
At/Behind LOS: 16/22, 226 yards, TD
1-5 yards: 13/19, 129 yards, TD, INT
6-10 yards: 10/23, 100 yards, TD, INT
11-15 yards: 3/8, 40 yards, TD
16+ yards: 12/19, 414 yards, 2 TD
As we can see, Jefferson excels at making short throws and swinging the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Where he begins to struggle is in the intermediate area of the field. He has had success pushing the ball downfield this year, and some of that may be attributed to wideout Treylon Burks. He also can excel at extending plays out of the pocket.
On the ground, the Arkansas QB has amassed 235 yards and 2 TDs. Similar to Corral, Jefferson can rush past the line of scrimmage and gain yardage. However, he and Corral have different running styles in that Jefferson’s size affords him the opportunity to try and bulldoze his way for extra yardage.
Physically, Jefferson matches the profile of Tyrone Swoopes, a former Texas QB (6-4 / 250 lbs.), but the way Arkansas gives him more designed runs is reminiscent of how Blake Bell was used at Oklahoma in terms of run style.
Ole Miss and Arkansas have a few similarities at the tailback position. Both teams have an abundance of backs, a QB who can run, and a feature back. For the Razorbacks that is Trelon Smith. Starting his career at Arizona State, Smith has been a staple for Arkansas since last season.
Smith is a shifty back who has a quick burst that enables him to get through the holes. On the year, he’s averaged 4.9 yards per carry along with three touchdowns. He is a patient runner, so the key for the Ole Miss defense will be to get to him quickly, get an arm on him, and knock him off course as Arkansas struggled to break tackles last year.
Trelon Smith taking ankles 🤭
— FanSided (@FanSided) September 25, 2021
Behind him, we can see any of the following: Raheim Sanders, Dominique Johnson, and AJ Green. Sanders gives you a good overall blend, while Johnson brings you size and power. Green is a freshman who’s been a weapon in the receiving game. The best thing Ole Miss can do is get to them early and limit early-down production as Arkansas is near the bottom in third-down conversion percentage.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Treylon Burks is the star here. He has 22 catches this season and nearly three times as many as the next leading receiver (Tyson Morris – 8). Standing at 6’3″ and 225 lbs., with a rumored glove size of 5XL, there is a lot to like about this big-bodied receiver.
TREYLON BURKS CLEARED IT💨
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
What makes Burks stand out most is how he’s utilized as a slot guy. Arkansas will use a ton of quick-hitters (slants, swings, sweeps) to get him the ball, due to just how difficult he is to take down. In 2020, he averaged 7.6 yards after the catch, making him a force to take down.
Burks is also good at catching through traffic with the help of his physical size and attributes. Ole Miss needs to keep eyes (Safeties/LBs) on him at all times, ready to close in to limit some of these quick plays to small gains.
The rest of the starting receivers have experience with two seniors in Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren. Morris will line up outside, while Warren lines up on the opposite side of the field. Warren Thompson is a reserve who can get some looks and Blake Kern is the main tight end.
The line naturally excels in run-blocking given both the emphasis on it and Pittman’s expertise as a former offensive line coach. All five starters from last season are back. The tackle spots are set for a pair of redshirt seniors in Myron Cunningham and Tyron Wagner. Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer start at the guards. Sam Pittman has stated that backup tackles Jalen St. John and Ty’Kieast Crawford will get reps at the guards spots as well following performances in the UGA game.
All of the starters as well as the second string have produced for the Razorbacks this year. They typically run a three-man front but can run some four-man lineups.
The interesting part is the three listed starters. All of them are transfers in who have made the switch very well. They brought in a pair of transfers from Missouri in Tre Williams and Markell Utsey.
Williams leads the team in sacks on the season. On the interior, they brought in a transfer from Illinois State in John Ridgeway. At 6’6″, 320 lbs., he really knows how to eat up blocks. At the hybrid position is Zach Williams who has three tackles for loss this season.
Grant Morgan is the leader of very strong Razorback linebacker corps. The mike linebacker and a former walk-on made serious noise last season as he led the Hogs in tackles with 117. Bumper Pool has also been a big-time player for this defense over the past two seasons. He’s notcched over 90 tackles the past two years. Hayden Henry (yes, he’s related) is also a key part to this linebackers’ unit.
All of these guys are seniors, meaning they are experienced and motivated. The group really loves to get down and into the backfield as they’ve accumulated thirteen tackles for loss already this year. This is one of the better groups in the SEC.
The superstar in the secondary is Jalen Catalon. He is the most talented player on this team. The safety already has two interceptions and three pass deflections. The Ole Miss offense needs to be aware of where No. 1 is because he flies around the field. Joe Foucha is the other safety and the senior provides plenty of experience.
There are three cornerbacks to focus on. The starters are LaDarrius Bishop and Montaric Brown. Like Catalon, Brown has also tallied two interceptions on the season. The nickelback is junior Greg Brooks. Hudson Clark is a reserve to know as well. Last year the quad of Bishop, Brown, Brooks Jr., and Clark totaled eight interceptions.
Arkansas Special Teams
The special teams unit for Arkansas was set up to be good, but it was a closer to a disaster in 2020. They ranked 124th in ESPN special team’s efficiency rating last season. But one thing Rebs do need to note is that Arkansas doesn’t give up kickoff returns. Vito Calvaruso will make sure of that. The Razorbacks, like Ole Miss, have a true freshman kicker who’s taking over the placekicking duties, while redshirt junior Reid Bauer will handle punting.
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.