State of the Hogs: Review (Ole Miss)

Arkansas needs to figure out the early-morning start because another one awaits this week in Nashville. The Hogs travel to Vanderbilt for an 11:21 kickoff Saturday.

The best thing about this Top 10 List review from a 29-24 victory over Ole Miss is that Arkansas is still standing in the most important Top 10 ... the national polls. The Hogs emerged from a slow start against the Rebels to avoid an upset, something Oklahoma and Wisconsin could not do Saturday night.

It's fair to be critical about many aspects of another early-morning stumble with a kickoff well before noon. The Hogs didn't play well in the first half of the 11 a.m. kickoff against Texas A&M in Arlington. They did no better in a 11:21 a.m. kickoff in Oxford.

There is some good news. The Hogs scored 29 straight points against the Rebels, kind of like they did against the Aggies in coming back from a 35-17 halftime deficit.

But here's the bad news. The Hogs travel to Vanderbilt this week for another 11:21 a.m. start on regional television.

I liked Jake Bequette's take on the ugly victory. There aren't many times you can spot the home team a 17-0 lead in SEC play and win. The Arkansas defensive end said it was probably a game the Rebels should have won. But they didn't.

If the Hogs learned from another bad start, then that's more good news. At least they can say they are a second-half team and still highly ranked. And at 6-1, they are also bowl eligibile again. That's something the Rebels can't say.

Here's a review of the Top 10 List of things to watch we published Friday and how they turned out.

1. Get Better
That's a difficult one to answer. It's always easier to get better after a victory than a defeat and winning on the road is never easy. So the Hogs have a chance to use the victory for something positive. But, and there's always a but -- there were many areas where the Hogs didn't look a lot better. They gave up the perimeter in the run defense in the first quarter. They did improve in that area in the second half. But it's hard to say they were better as a whole for the game. Ole Miss didn't have a lot of strength anywhere coming into the game. But the Hogs haven't won much in Oxford, so getting only the school's fourth victory since joining the SEC has to bring a tiny bit of satisfaction.

2. Get Healthy
The Hogs are doing that. It didn't appear there were any major injuries in the game. Robert Thomas, Isaac Madison and Darius Winston returned to the defense. However, none had a major influence in the game. Madison was one of the leading tacklers, but that might have been because the Rebels picked on him some. Jake Bequette seems to be getting healthier and that's a major plus. He's a team captain and defensive leader.

3. Turnovers
This was a stalemate, but it seemed like a problem for much of the game -- since the Hogs were back to their old habit of forcing none. The Hogs didn't force an Ole Miss turnover until the final minute when Eric Bennett intercepted a pass after the Hogs gave up an onside kick. Until then, the game's only turnover belonged to Dennis Johnson, a fumble that probably cost the Hogs a touchdown. The Hogs may have lost seven points there and a chance to put the game away early. But they did get a safety and a field goal from the resulting field position when the Rebels recovered at their own 1-yard line.

4. Tackling
This wasn't the problem. The Hogs gave up a cushion on the perimeter early in both the running game and the passing game to help the Rebels. It took a little while for the Hogs to solve the formation and misdirection advantages Ole Miss seemed to hold. The last Ole Miss touchdown was a result of some scrambling by Randall Mackey and the lack of holding calls while the Hogs were chasing him.

5. Coach Watching
Oh, there was plenty to do. Houston Nutt and a few assistants he carried from Arkansas to Ole Miss were front and center all day. The large Arkansas contingent came prepared to shout Bobby Petrino's name, but that didn't really bust out until the final minute when Bennett took an interception near the Rebel goal line and the Hogs killed the clock.

6. Matt Hall
The former Arkansas player started at offensive guard. He held his own except on the safety in the second half. Robert Thomas blew past Hall and into the end zone to force the running back a bit wider and delay the play for Jerry Franklin to record the tackle two yards deep. Hall got in some shoving matches a few times, but he didn't do much to cause problems for the Hogs.

7. Start Fast
Obviously, that was too far into the list. That will be the number one item next week. I figured that falling behind against Texas A&M and Auburn was enough of a reminder that the Hogs needed to come out sharp. They didn't. There is confidence that they can right the ship at halftime, but there may come a time that the ship has too much water by then.

8. Play Fast
The Hogs did just that in the second half. But they looked like they were running in sand in the first half. Dennis Johnson looked to be the fast running back on the field for much of the day. But the Hogs waited a little too long to get him involved. Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Marquel Wade made plays with their legs in the second half, too.

9. Running Game
The Hogs won this battle. They had their best day. Johnson looked dangerous for much of the day. Once they figurd out the Ole Miss sweeps, they held the edge on both sides of the ball in this area. That's a big key to how they dominated the game in the third quarter.

10. Hitting Game
It seemed like the Hogs were winning that area in stretches. They knocked around the Rebels in the second half pretty good. Again, the Hogs need to start faster and dominate for four quarters. They didn't execute well enough in the passing game to keep their defense off the field in the first half. So there was probably too much hitting required for that unit in the overall course of the game. It's no wonder they got a little tired chasing Mackey at the end.

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