State of the Hogs: Top 10 List (Ole Miss)

Here's a few things to watch for this week when Ole Miss visits Arkansas. It's our weekly Top 10 guide for football. I probably don't have to tell anyone they need to watch out for Houston Nutt. He may say this is just another game, but no one will believe him.

It's good to go back and check your lists from time to time. I've done that. So far most of the things to watch in this Friday lists have been worth watching. But you miss the boat sometimes. You leave out special teams one time and your top 10 list becomes less than special, or downright mediocre.

Maybe last week's list should be labeled the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There was ugly in the defense and the special teams for four quarters. Then, there was the fourth quarter. I've been putting the fourth quarter squarely in the middle of my Top 10 Things to Watch for several weeks now. It was important again, this time just flat out ugly.

I did have Ryan Mallett at the top of the list last week with Cam Newton No. 2. Nowhere to be found was Tyler Wilson. I doubt many would have included Wilson in a top 10 things to watch unless you are into pre-game warmups. I bet a few watch Wilson in the pre-game this week. I plan to do that. Man, he was something to behold last week. I doubt an Arkansas backup quarterback has ever done anything close to what he produced in the second and third quarters in relief of Mallett.

There are a few superficial things to train your eyes on this week. Yes, I'd be watching every time Houston Nutt enters and leave the field. You never know when he might wave to the crowd or someone in the crowd might wave something back. There could be some cute signs. No, not a banner over the stadium, but that's an idea.

I've heard one rumor that is definitely not true. But when you see it, you have to wonder. That trooper that travels with the Ole Miss sideline is not there to keep quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from taking something that is not his. They had that trooper before Masoli got to Ole Miss. The truth is that Masoli is worth watching, but not for those reasons. That bad reputation was bogus. I was told that by the Ole Miss head coach. We know to believe everything said by Nutt.

OK, some of this was just another weak attempt at humor. Don't take any of it serious. Just stuff to get us to the meat of this column, the Top 10 Things to Watch for the Arkansas-Ole Miss game:

1) Ryan Mallett
You have to start every list this way as long as he's the quarterback. You should watch the first time he's hit, to make sure he responds alright after missing time at Auburn because of a concussion. There are rumors that his left shoulder is beat up. You can watch how he gets up from the ground. Does he use that left hand to pick himself up? I know some who have been watching that for several weeks now. They say it's a problem. I've yet to notice anything like that. I seemed to notice that Tyler Wilson got the plays off quicker last week. Maybe he didn't spend as much time checking as Mallett did. Maybe the Hogs just got into a better rhythm last week. Maybe they figured Auburn's scheme out and just had the right plays called in the huddle and didn't need many checks. But I am going to watch to see if Mallett finds a rhythm like Wilson did. Maybe it's having a reduced playbook. Certainly, Bobby Petrino said the play list for Wilson because of reduced practice time was trimmer than it was for Mallett. If that's what it takes to find rhythm, maybe they trim Mallett's play list a bit. Watch for that.

2) Jeremiah Masoli
We already took our obligatory cheap shot at Masoli. Maybe he deserves it, maybe he doesn't. But no matter what you think about his route to get from Oregon to Ole Miss, you have to admit that he's a fine player. He's settled in at quarterback as the season has progressed. Offensive coordinator David Radar (and Nutt, the real playcaller) have found things in their offense that fit Masoli and perhaps added a few things that he did well at Oregon. He's made more plays of late and will use his legs against this Arkansas defense. Look to see if he can get outside, his best way to scramble.

3) Special teams
No use waiting around for this one. The game will start with a kickoff. Can Arkansas tackle on kickoffs? Can the Hogs block for their kick returner? After getting a punt blocked against Auburn, it's a sure thing that Ole Miss will come after Dylan Breeding at some point in the game, probably early. The Hogs have to improve on special teams.I It's been a decent area in the early games, but with the added speed in SEC play, something has happened and the Hogs have lost focus in that area. The area that needs to improve the most is coverage on kickoffs. Actually, the Hogs are getting down the field, but they have lost containment and done a poor job of tackling. There may be some switches in personnel in kickoff coverage. I'll be watching to see who lines up to start this critical area.

4) Turnovers
It's a fact that the Hogs have turned it over too much and aren't getting any turnovers from its defense. That was a solid area last year. It's been a problem so far this year. The Hogs had a chance at a fumble last week, but the replay officials went against them. I'd like it better if the fumble recoveries happened a little further away from the goal line so we don't have to go through that drill again.

5) Mental Toughness in the Fourth Quarter
This might be too far down the list again. It might need to be No. 1. If it doesn't work out this week, I promise to slide it into the top spot. Coaches preached fourth quarter play all winter, spring and summer. But somehow they haven't gotten it right. It's the fourth season of the year now with fall officially here. Leaves are falling. Maybe that's the sign the Hogs have been waiting on to get the fourth quarter right. They better figure it out this week. We know the Houston Nutt motto, "Hang around until the fourth quarter, keep it close and then make a play." I'd like it if things were safely tucked away after three quarters and we can see Brandon Mitchell for the first time since the opener. That would be the way I'd show toughness, build a big lead, then see what Mitchell can do in The Pistol formation with some quarterback runs.

6) Physical Line Play
There were too many stalemates and not enough victories in the one-on-one matchups in the front last week. That's mainly a knock against the Arkansas defensive front. They need to win matchups this week against a beat-up, inexperienced Ole Miss offensive line. The team that wins this battle has a good chance to come out on top in the game. Can Byran Jones, Dede Jones, Jake Bequette and Damario Ambrose dominate up front? Bequette and Ambrose were not a factor last week. They have to get to Masoli and beat those Ole Miss tackles in the process. Can the Hogs block the Ole Miss front? No one has so far this season. It's been the secondary that's been leaky for the Rebels. The Arkansas offensive line has to beat on the interior line so that the running game can keep pressure off the quarterbacks. It sounds simple when you read this paragraph, but it's what SEC football is all about and it's hardly easy. Zack Stadther has had a week to get back in the flow. Maybe he makes a few plays in the middle of the line. Someone needs to remind him that Nutt didn't offer him a scholarship when he was at Arkansas and Bobby Petrino did.

7) Wide receivers
Arkansas didn't make many plays at wide receiver against Ole Miss last year. They dropped some potential big plays, including two that might have been touchdowns. They have to play big for the Hogs this year. Which team can produce against the other team's cornerbacks? Ole Miss struggled early in the year against the pass, especially at cornerback. The Rebels have improved of late. Can they cover Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright in press coverage? That's been the Ole Miss staple. Usually wide receivers lick their chops when they see press coverage. Watch to see if the Hogs can make the Rebels pay for playing too tight on the outside.

8) Penalties and mental errors
Ole Miss struggled in this area last week at Alabama. Watch to see which team makes the fewest mistakes. Will the noise of the Arkansas crowd be a factor when the Ole Miss offense is on the field? This probably falls into the area of mental toughness so we've covered it once. But the team that avoids the big mistakes -- holdings, personal fouls and pass interference -- probably is the one that scores the most points.

9) The Houston Nutt factor
There are a lot of things that weigh into this area. We are told that Nutt isn't making a big deal about his second return trip to Fayetteville. He's already been down that road and it is just another trip now. Believe that? I don't. I think every Arkansas fan expects him to make it a crusade. He's been known to do that before so why would he drop that now? He won't. How will the Arkansas players react? There are fewer in important roles that were on the team when Nutt was at Arkansas. They say it's just another game, but I don't believe that. Ramon Broadway spoke to that earlier this week saying it was time that the Arkansas players won a game for Bobby Petrino. That tells me that everyone in the Arkansas locker room knows who is the head coach in the visitor's locker room.

10) Replay Man
Penalties have already been covered. But this is a beast all by itself, the SEC replay man. Will he be a factor? Will he get it right? There's little doubt that Arkansas fans are now paranoid about the replay man, for good reason. He's failed to overturn missed calls in multiple big games. He's the reason some now think there is a conspiracy. I'm not a conspiracy theory type of person, but I admit that I know a missed call when I see it. I'd probably get it right more often in the replay booth than what the SEC is doing now. What I have to admit is that I don't want to see a referee by the name of Wagers (the Auburn ref was Penn Wagers) anymore. How bad is that, a guy with a betting name wearing the white hat. He's the guy listening to the replay man. I can hear it now, "Listen, I have this little wager and can I get a little help up there this time. If it's close, well, you know ... " The man in the booth has to get it right this week. Well, as they say, we'll be watching.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories