Let's state the obvious out in the open.
Get it on the table. No need hiding from the truth.
The football game this Saturday morning between the Ole Miss Rebels (4-2) and the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-3) is important, to both teams, and personal, to both teams.
Let's turn back the clock one day shy of a year ago.
The Rebs, needing a win in the worst way, headed to Fayetteville to take on the Hogs. Certainly not a good venue to "need" a win so badly. Ole Miss was 3-4 at the time and was being led by Rebel first-year Coach Houston Nutt, who had been at Arkansas the previous decade and was pulling every string in his bag of tricks to get the Rebs to believe in themselves.
He knew "it" was in there somewhere - he had seen "it" in the Swamp earlier in the year when the Rebs upset Florida, but there had been little consistency in their play and two straight losses had followed that brilliant effort in Gainesville.
Frankly, if the Rebs were going to have a winning season, it basically had to start in Fayetteville against Nutt's former team, now being ramrodded by Bobby Petrino, who had fled the NFL under the cloak of night in midseason and is known as a volatile, hard-nosed mentor.
Some of Nutt's staff at Ole Miss - Mike Markuson, Chris Vaughn, Don Decker, Clifton Ealy, Mike Beaumont, Danny Nutt - were with Houston at Arkansas. The roots ran deep and the feelings were personal for them as well.
Nutt, deified for years at Arkansas, had gone through a life-changing, grueling final two years in Hogville, replete with personal and public attacks on him and his family. Some of the Hog nation has simply gone too far and bitterness ensued.
His return - and the thought of coaching from the visitors' sideline in that stadium - ate a hole through him.
It's safe to say he never wanted a game more, especially after the hostile "welcome" he got prior to the game. Suffice it to say that much vitriol has no place in college athletics, and it was spurred on by Petrino and his staff during the game by verbal attacks on our ball boys that roamed the Hog sidelines just doing their jobs. Hostility at its worst.
The Rebs prevailed in a 23-21 game that was not real close until the end, when Arkansas secured an onside kick and scared the beejeezus out of everyone Rebel.
From there, the Rebels went on to run the table on the rest of the season, winning its last six, including Arkansas, and putting up a sparkling 9-4 record. . . .
. . . Fast forward to now.
The conditions are eerily similar, team-wise.
Both squads have endured tough losses and both are in need of a win to get going in the right direction.
Even though the former coach angle is not being played up as much this year - time heals most things, it's still personal.
Nutt recruited, signed and coached a lot of the Hog players. The bitter taste of the way he was run out of his home state has not completely dissipated. And his team needs a win in the worst way against a quality opponent, an opponent that would like nothing better than to return the favor of a home loss from last year.
It's no secret there will be no love lost in this game, but most of the revenge motives will disappear when both teams get down to business.
When that fog clears and leather starts popping, what will matter for the Rebels are three things.
One, who protects their quarterback the best. The Hogs will come after Jevan Snead and the Rebels will go after Ryan Mallett. Those are givens. Who gives them time to throw will be a major factor in determining the outcome because both are very capable when given said time.
Two, who wins the turnover battle. The one thing in common for both teams is that in the games they have lost, they have lost the turnover battle, which is usually the case in games that are pretty close to evenly-matched.
Three, who can establish a semblance of a run game to keep the pressure off the passing game. Whoever rushes the ball the best will go a long way toward winning the game.
Those three keys to victory could be used in just about any SEC game, so they are no great mystery or earth-shaking opinions, but the thinking here is that this will be a bare-knuckle football game where doing the basics the best will determine the outcome.
It's really what SEC football is all about.
It's important and it's personal.
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