Arkansas coaches and players know what they are getting in the Ole Miss defense, an opportunistic group that has forced 27 turnovers to lead the SEC with just 309.8 yards per game.
UA running back coach Joel Thomas knows turnover margin will likely be the key to the game Saturday when the Hogs play host to the Rebels at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville.
"We are at zero and we can't get below that," Thomas said after the Hogs finished a full pad practice Tuesday night inside Walker Pavilion. "We gotta take care of the ball."
The Hogs did not lose a turnover against LSU, helping them get to zero in turnover ratio for the season. Ole Miss is a healthy plus 13 in turnover ratio. The Rebels do it with quickness and a nice blitz package as orchestrated by coordinator Dave Wommack, a former UA coordinator.
"They have a lot of experience and you see that in their productivity," Thomas said. "It's a fact, they get to the ball and do it violently."
With all of those forced turnovers, quarterback Brandon Allen said the Hogs have to protect the ball, but still try to make plays.
“You always have to be aware of the big play makers on defense," Allen said. "You have to be careful when you know what routes you’re about to throw against them and I think that we’ll be preparing well this week. We know what routes we’re going to want. You just have to be careful, but you can’t be too careful. You just have to cut it loose and trust your receivers and make plays.”
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema praised running back Alex Collins for his blitz pickups against LSU. That's going to be needed against the Rebels, Thomas said.
"Alex did some really nice things in pass protection," Thomas said. "He got the back end on one of our big plays and he did it with force and lift. It was impressive. He's building confidence in his protection."
Collins said it's about becoming a complete player.
"I try to do my job and perfect my game," Collins said. "You can have a good game without (rushing) stats. Against LSU, I knew it was going to be about protection."
The 29-yard pass play that featured the nice block by Collins didn't start out as a protection situation.
"I was leaving to go on a route because there was no one coming on my side," Collins said, beaming as he described the block. "I was out on the route, or close to it. Then I saw the linebacker come full speed in on the other side and he was going to hit Brandon (Allen). So I just went for him."
It's going to be about blitz protection this week, too.
"Ole Miss plays downhill and they mix it up," Collins said. "They'll blitz and try to get in our backfield. We'll have to be sharp on our IDs and get the right guys."
Collins said that's been the biggest change for a running back coming into the SEC from high school.
"It's an adjustment, for sure," he said. "You never had to worry about IDing anyone in high school."
Collins did his part with the ball, too. He provided the clinching touchdown, a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter. Thomas said it was a nice read before the snap and then an even better adjustment after taking the ball from Allen on his cut to the right side.
"It was a great cut," Thomas said. "I think he counted them in pre-snap and knew where the side to go was -- then he jumped the guy who did get penetration. It all starts with what he saw pre-snap."
Collins said, "It's about reading keys. First, you check the defensive line. They were all slanting to cut down our offensive line. So the next key, read the linebackers. They were going to my left, so I cut right. Once I jumped the one guy, there was nothing there. The only trick was landing on my feet and I did that and I kept my balance."
The Hogs got their 10-0 lead on a 1-yard TD run by Jonathan Williams, with perfectly executed blocking up front by Dan Skipper and Sebastian Tretola.
"After we didn't get in on the sneak, we were ready with our next play," said Sam Pittman, O-line coach. "We knew they were going low, trying to submarine us up front. We didn't want to double the three technique (defensive tackle). So we told Dan to get the tackle and for Sebastian to get the mike linebacker."
Tretola smashed down on the tackle and Tretola hit the middle linebacker in the chest, knocking him down.
"We just didn't want the three technique to take them both out. Sebastian did a nice job of staying on his feet and I think he enjoyed (the hit against Kendall Beckwith). They opened a pretty nice gap."
Tretola said it wasn't his best block.
"It wasn't a pancake," he said. "But I got him. I knocked him back and I kinda went sideways. The next thing I know Jonathan hit me in the back. He didn't exactly truck me, but he can deliver a pretty good hit. I guess it was a good feeling because he was airborne and it was a TD."
Tretola said it was a fun night. He didn't wear any sleeves and enjoyed his regular warmup drills alone at midfield with shorts and a T-shirt and his sandals. He was bouncing through some music when LSU coach Les Miles stopped to check out the 6-7, 340-pound guard.
"Yeah, I saw him," Tretola said. "I thought he might say something, but he didn't.
"I thought it was a great night, nice weather. Some of my teammates were talking about it being cold, but I told them they were weenies. This was nothing. I played some in Iowa when it was negative numbers.
"I do hate cold, but I love to play on cold nights. That one was a lot of fun."
Tretola knows the assignment is tough on Saturday. He'll probably get a few chances to block against Ole Miss standout tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
"Obviously, he's very skilled," Tretola said. "He works hard and plays hard. I'm working my butt off in practice to get ready.
"They have a really good defense. They limit their mistakes. If they make one, they don't make it again. The key is for us to be the more physical team."
Tuesday Grid Update, 11/18
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