For the record, I can enjoy fireworks as much as the next guy. We didn’t have them growing up because there was an accident when my father was young and one of his brothers lost most of his eye sight.
So it was always a treat when we did get to see a good fireworks display. We knew it wasn’t going to happen at our house, but watching the professionals fire round after round was just fine with my father. As he always said, there is a time and place for everything.
The one thing I don’t get are fireworks at day football games – especially with rain in the air. The combination produces a haze that hangs over the football field. It just doesn’t go well together.
OK, I got that off my chest. Now I’m ready to find some keys to victory for Arkansas’ trip to Ole Miss, perhaps one of those games where there should be some fireworks. There is capability on both sides to score some points. It could be an offensive show. As my father once said, both teams will have ample opportunity to signal the bands into action in celebratory mode. The fight songs will be played often after the 2:30 p.m. kickoff (CBS-TV) in Oxford.
Why do I say that? I look at the pass offenses, then the pass defense on both sides. Here’s the key numbers from the SEC lists:
1, Ole Miss, 232-356-13, 24 Tds, 346.7 yards per game.
4, Arkansas, 143-277-5, 16 Tds, 260.0 yards per game.
10, Ole Miss, 202-351-12, 14 Tds, 226.8 yards per game.
14, Arkansas, 176-264-7, 8 Tds, 273.0 yards per game.
Then there’s the sack totals. Ole Miss has given up 15 sacks and sacked the opposition 16 times. The sack is rarely in an Arkansas game. The Hogs have given up seven and recorded seven by their defense.
All of this points to the key area of the game, protection. Both teams will throw the ball.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly is the gunslinger, trying to fit the ball into a tight window. He’ll wait for a big play, giving up some sacks. He will throw interceptions.
Conversely, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is much safer with the football. He’s probably going to face a tougher pass rush led by Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes (7.5 sacks). But Allen avoids pressure and doesn’t throw interceptions. He’s thrown just five, against Kelly’s 12.
That’s why I give Arkansas a chance to pull an upset. And, despite Arkansas winning 30-0 last year against a lot of these same Rebels, it would be an upset. Ole Miss is rolling, healthy and has terrific players all across the depth chart.
Arkansas is healthier than it has been in several weeks. With wide receivers Jared Cornelius and Cody Holister back, the Hogs have some options in the throwing game. With Dominique Reed blossoming as the vertical threat, the safeties are playing deep and that helps the bubble screen game that has been semi effective all season.
It’s much tougher to load the box against the Hogs than it was last year. And Allen seems to love the ability to check to some passes, a freedom that Dan Enos has brought to the table that Jim Chaney, the offensive coordinator the previous two years, didn’t seem comfortable providing to his quarterback.
It’s that decision making that may prove to be the key for the Hogs in their try for a second SEC road victory of the season. Kelly will take some chances and that might lead to a critical turnover.
The Rebels do make mistakes. They have fumbled 21 times this year, losing eight. That’s compared to just six fumbles, two lost, for the Hogs.
The recipe for an upset generally includes turnovers. And all of those numbers are reasons the Hogs have a chance at Oxford. So that’s where I’ll start my top 10 keys to victory this week.
Top 10 Keys to Victory
1, The Weakside Triangle – That’s the game within the game. Dave Wommack, the Ole Miss defensive coordinator, is good at disguising his secondary. Robb Smith, the UA signal caller on defense, likes to show man and play zone and relies heavily on the matchups within his weakside triangle. The key for Arkansas will be the ability to avoid playing too much man on Laquon Treadwell, the top wideout in the SEC with 61 catches. No one else is within 14. He’s tall and powerful and it’s hard to see a good match in the UA secondary. Henre’ Toliver is the longest at 6-1. It appeared Smith was preparing for this matchup when he moved Toliver to corner from the nickel spot last week, working Kevin Richardson on the slot at nickel. That might be the way to mix the back end this week against the Rebels, especially if Toliver can play Treadwell tight at the line of scrimmage. Some of it comes down to forcing a dropback throw on third down. Quick throws on play-action early in the count make it difficult to apply pressure. Linebackers have not dropped into coverage to take away that quick throw game. Hence, it's there early in the count because they are playing run. Play action has been deadly against this defense, not nearly as good in the weakside triangle as last year. That's the problem when you play a true freshman at weakside linebacker. Young players have a hard time sticking to their keys. The one thing that Trey Flowers could do last year that is missing, play run and transition to the pass quickly. He was so good and he had a weakside linebacker behind him in Martrell Spaight that never took the play-action fake because he read his keys perfectly. Team defense is a complex beast. Well, it should be a beast. But young players complicate things. Last week, UT Martin set the front so that Dre Greenlaw and Ryan Pulley, the boundary corner playing for D.J. Dean, would be to the same side. Playing against two true freshman on the same side in coverage was death. Dean should be back this week and Greenlaw is another game older.
2, Ball Security – That’s always been important to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. Keeping the ball off the ground is the way he built his program at Wisconsin and that’s the reason running back Jemal Singleton was a great hire. He fits what Bielema wants to build his program around. Alex Collins will be tested this week. The Ole Miss front four, led by powerful Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle, will knock running backs around. Their mission is to separate the football from the ball carrier. Collins will run inside against the Rebels. So will Kody Walker, the big back in the UA offense. They have to protect the ball if the Hogs are going to have a chance.
3, Hands Up – As noted in this space over and over, the Hogs don’t get sacks. They have only seven on the season. If they aren’t going to get to the quarterback, they at least have to make Chad Kelly see them by getting hands up in the throwing lanes. Deatrich Wise, Tevin Beanum, Mitchell Loewen and Jeremiah Ledbetter have the height to bother Kelly. It could be a key to the game if they get their hands on a couple of passes that are batted into the air. It’s a key that UA defensive line coach Rory Segrest has hit on this week, mainly because most of the quarterbacks the Hogs have seen do not hold the ball long. Segrest said UT Martin threw 30 passes that went six yards or less last week. And, then there’s a trivia question that means nothing to the Hogs now, but is still interesting. How many sacks has Toledo allowed this year. Segrest told me it’s still at zero. UT Martin has allowed just four, one total against Ole Miss and Arkansas. OK, get your hands up.
4, The Tight Ends – There are some good ones in this game. Ole Miss has a dandy in Evan Engram, 22 catches for 25.8 yards per game. He’s almost another wide receiver in the Hugh Freeze spread. He’ll test UA middle linebacker Brooks Ellis. The Hogs have turned the tight end loose several times this year. They can’t this week. Of course, the Hogs have some dandies in Hunter Henry (28 catches) and Jeremy Sprinkle (13 catches). The play action stuff will work for both teams and tight ends slipping out away from the flow of the running game can be deadly for both teams. Who takes advantage of the mismatches the best with their tight end?
5, The Tackles – Ole Miss has two good ones in Laremy Tunsil on the left side and Fahn Cooper on the right. Tunsil may be the nation’s best left tackle, but the issue might be a little rust. He’s played only two games after battling through an NCAA investigation. The Hogs will try to keep fresh bodies on Tunsil, perhaps not in game condition yet. The Hogs counter with largeness. Left tackle Denver Kirkland (6-5, 340) and right tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 330) may not be as athletic as the Ole Miss tackles. But they still present problems because of their mass. Kirkland seems to be getting better each week after a shoulder injury against Toledo and has an awesome next-door-neighbor in guard Sebastian Tretola. If you want to key in on great matchups, watch the tackles. Ole Miss has an advantage here, but the Arkansas tandem is coming on as the Dan Enos screens and tricks seem to be taking hold.
6, The Toes – Turf toe has been an issue with Arkansas this season. Alex Collins seemed to solve the issue with new shoes from Nike. Collins said they had better arch support for his flat feet and helped his toe injury. He ran for five touchdowns and said he felt like he could dance again. That’s a key part of his game, ability to make the first man miss. Sometimes you don’t block them all and the Hogs won’t against Ole Miss. But Collins can do some damage if he’s feeling good again. The other toe issue centers with cornerback D.J. Dean. He hasn’t been nearly as effective this season as he was late last year. The toe is the problem. The Hogs rested Dean last week and held him out of practice Tuesday. There is hope that he’ll be close to full speed against the Hogs. Maybe the Hogs will give him a pair of new shoes, too. The Hogs need all of their corners to be sharp because Ole Miss might have the best wide receiver bunch in the league.
7, The QB Run – Who has balance? And, can the quarterbacks make it tough on third and short with a knuckleball call. It would appear it would lie with Arkansas, a better running team of late. Ole Miss does run the ball with Jaylen Walton. He’s more of a slasher at 5-8, 172. The Rebels do have some options with 222-pound Akeem Judd. Chad Kelly has run for 290 yards (not counting 128 lost yards for sacks), so he’ll take off if the Hogs collapse the pocket. He has speed to go along with an extremely strong arm. But the Hogs have a better running game, and they have shown some run calls for quarterback Brandon Allen, too. It may come down to a few third-and-short plays where the quarterbacks try to make a play. Both quarterbacks will improvise and the one who can protect the ball while doing that might lead his team to critical conversions.
8, Kicking Game – Ole Miss has the leading kick scorer in the SEC in sophomore Gary Wunderlich. He’s 14 of 17 on field goals. Cole Hedlund, the UA kicker, is just six of nine. Hedlund did make a big one for the Hogs last week late in the fourth quarter, perhaps his most important boot of his college career. The redshirt freshman was Bret Bielema's pick for special teams player of the week. That might help his confidence heading on the road where he might face a little more pressure with the game on the line. The Hogs are most likely going with Jared Cornelius at punt return with D.J. Dean battling an injury. Cornelius has proven to be a nifty option there. He’s got fresh legs after sitting out with an arm injury for six weeks. He could be a difference maker in this department.
9, Laquon Treadwell vs. Drew Morgan – If there is a great player in the game, it’s probably the Ole Miss wide out, Laquon Treadwell. The fact the Rebels didn’t have him last year down the stretch was the biggest key in their end-of-season swoon. Of course, the Hogs shut them out last year in Fayetteville, 30-0. There is little doubt that having Treadwell healthy now makes the Rebels roll. UA secondary coach Clay Jennings is a big admirer. He said, “He’s got great, soft hands and wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line. We have to know where he is at all times. We have to put our hands on him and slow him down and make him earn everything.” Without question, he’s Chad Kelly’s go-to man. He’s a sure NFL draft pick. By comparison, Brandon Allen’s top target is Drew Morgan, battling a shoulder injury. Morgan doesn’t rate with Treadwell, but he seems to like a challenge and has a big heart. Don’t tell Morgan he can’t take over a game like Treadwell does. He loves to prove you wrong.
10, Fourth Quarter – The Hogs did great things at the end against Auburn. They also had a good fourth quarter, but in a different way, against Tennessee to earn a road win earlier this year. Interestingly, defensive end Tevin Beanum thinks the Hogs may be close to putting it all together. He said, “Against Tennessee, the defense shut them down in the fourth quarter and we felt like we helped our team earn a victory. Then, against Auburn, when the defense couldn’t get a stop, it was the offense coming through. We felt like the defense had the offense’s back in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, then the offense had our back against Auburn. They won that game.” Now it’s time for the complete game, probably what it will take to knock Ole Miss out of the driver’s seat in the SEC West race.