Arkansas Searching For a Spark

OXFORD, Miss. -- They spent the week making a transition at quarterback, benching an experienced player for someone who spent the first half of the season at the bottom of the depth chart.

They've stopped opponents with an aggressive defense, but have struggled to score. Inconsistent play under center was identified as the primary problem. So, with bowl hopes nearing extinction, they rolled the dice and made a major move.

It's the perfect description of Arkansas' season. But it's also fitting for Ole Miss.

"If you look in the mirror, we're a lot alike," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

Two teams that have traveled similar -- and disappointing -- paths because of struggling offenses will meet in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium today at 1 p.m.

Arkansas (2-6, 0-5 in Southeastern Conference) started true freshman Casey Dick against South Carolina last Saturday in hopes of energizing its offense and preserving postseason plans, but didn't reap the benefits after a 14-10 homecoming loss. Ole Miss (3-5, 1-4) is hoping for better results after first-year coach Ed Orgeron named Ethan Flatt the starter in place of Michael Spurlock on Monday, hoping the Rebels will muster enough under the new signal caller to keep their dwindling bowl hopes alive.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said both teams believe they're much better than their records have shown this season. And one of them will have a chance to prove it in what Herring believes will be a nip-and-tuck game.

"They've got a bowl game on the line still and we're playing for pride and new life," Herring said. "We're trying to find out how to win a game and they're trying to win a bowl ticket. I think it will, hopefully, be a tremendous battle on both sides."

Arkansas, of course, doesn't have the luxury of fighting for a bowl game largely because of its offensive struggles the past few weeks.

The Hogs had no trouble moving up-and-down the field against South Carolina, outgaining the Gamecocks 356 to 187. But Arkansas was once again plagued by penalties, missed blocks and other mistakes. The Razorbacks failed on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter, couldn't punch the ball in from the 1 in the second and were stuffed on other short-yardage situations against the Gamecocks.

"It's almost like it's an imaginary brick wall," said left guard Stephen Parker. "That fourth-and-1 call or that third-and-short or goal line inside the 20, I don't know. It's almost like if we just block the end zone out, if we pulled the curtain on the end zone and didn't see it, maybe we'd play better. I don't know what the deal is.

"I think once we get a couple of them, we won't be talking any more about this."

The Hogs believe they've fixed the problems even though it won't help bowl hopes, which were dashed last week.

Dick will start his second game after a solid performance against South Carolina and will be supported by tailback Darren McFadden, who has turned in four straight, 100-yard rushing performances. Nutt has gained confidence in Dick's passing ability and intends to test Ole Miss, which is 14th in the nation in scoring defense (17.8 points).

Why not? Arkansas is stuck in the unusual predicament of playing for nothing more than pride the final three games. And it doesn't intend to roll over at Ole Miss.

"We're all competitors," receiver Marcus Monk said. "We won't quit. We've got too much pride for that. We hate losing and we just want to get on the winning track and we've just got to take it one game at a time, one day at a time.

"Hopefully we can get things started back up (at Ole Miss)."

The Rebels, in the meantime, have much more at stake, needing to win their final three against Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State to become bowl-eligible.

Ole Miss' attack has floundered in its first season under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, sitting near the bottom of the conference in almost every category. The Rebels rank 113th in the nation in scoring offense (13.8 points), 109th in rushing offense (94.8 yards) and 104th in total offense (301.1).

"We've gone through about four tailbacks and a couple of quarterbacks and the offensive line," Mazzone said. "It's been a tough year, but we've made a little bit of progress in certain areas. I've been on teams before where you haven't been very good on offense. I've also been on those where the offenses have been very good.

"We're just going to keep working and the kids will grow up. We're real young on offense, but it's just kind of the cycle of college football."

Flatt started Ole Miss' 35-3 loss at Arkansas last season, completing 11 of 21 passes for 126 yards. He entered 2005 as the Rebels' third-string quarterback, but backup Robert Lane moved to fullback and Spurlock has struggled. Flatt ran the offense well in the open week and gives the Rebels' big-play capabilities.

Flatt doesn't present the same scrambling threat as Spurlock, but Orgeron is hoping the offense will be "rejuvenated" in time for the final three games.

"I think it will happen this week," Orgeron said. "We should be able to move the football and open up our running game. We should be able to create some mismatches that we've been wanting to create and get the ball down the field."

Ole Miss has had plenty of success against the Razorbacks in Oxford, Miss., winning five of the six meetings. Arkansas' only win in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium came in 2001, when true freshman Matt Jones led the Hogs to a 58-56, seven-overtime win.

Arkansas is 1-6 in its last seven road games and is 0-5 in SEC play for the first time in school history. But the Razorbacks know a win at Ole Miss would go a long way toward next season, when 17 of their 22 starters are slated to return.

So receiver Cedric Washington said it's time for Arkansas to go on the offensive.

"Nobody around here is used to losing," Washington said. "This is a winning program. We have a winning tradition. We've been to bowl games and know what it's like. I can't put my finger on (the offensive problems). It's not like we have less leadership or anything like that. It's just, things aren't going our way right now.

"But we're going into (Ole Miss) to win. There's no other motive. We're not looking for anything else. We need a 'W' and we're going in to win the game."

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