When Ole Miss hosts Arkansas this weekend, it will mark an occasion in which the two teams will look into a mirror and see each other.
By Matt Zemek
To be clear, Arkansas and Ole Miss are cut from very different stylistic cloth. They play the game in different ways and have sharply contrasting approaches on how to play offense, how to manage tempo, and how to thwart an opponent. Sam Pittman and Lane Kiffin are two very different football minds – both fertile and fascinating, but from opposite vantage points. One wants to mash, the other wants to dash. One wants a slugfest, the other a star wars video game. They come at the game from different worlds.
Yet, while the aesthetics of the matchup offer a study in contrasts, Arkansas and Ole Miss are indeed looking at each other in a mirror. They both went through the same shared experience this past weekend: They went up against one of the two heavyweights in the SEC, on the road, and got torn to shreds. Arkansas was shredded pork against Georgia, while Ole Miss came up dry and got bombed by Alabama. Both teams realized how far they actually are from the top of the SEC. Both teams got a first-class education in what they need to work on in order to improve in the coming months. Now they get to test themselves against each other, coming off those blowout losses. It’s a fascinating confluence of circumstances. Ole Miss will try to become the team which learns better and improves more fully.
1 – Corral, unshackled
Matt Corral couldn’t break free from Alabama’s defense. Nick Saban kept him under wraps, and Ole Miss continuously failed on fourth down. The decisions by Lane Kiffin to go for all those fourth downs were correct – you don’t beat Alabama by playing or coaching scared – but Ole Miss just doesn’t have the horses Alabama does. Corral will now face an Arkansas defense which doesn’t have nearly as much overall speed as Alabama. He should have more time, freedom and space in which to make big plays. This is the cornerstone of an Ole Miss victory in any game it plays this year.
2 – Third-down defense
It’s very simple: Arkansas wants to control the ball and lean on the Ole Miss defense as the game goes on, tiring out the Rebels in the fourth quarter and prevailing in a close, hard-fought contest. Ole Miss can’t allow that to happen. Third and 3 situations are going to be the most defining plays of this game, other than any special-teams surprise or coverage bust which might emerge. The Ole Miss defense has to rise to the occasion when it has a chance to get off the field.
3 – Shake it off
There’s no shame in getting blown out by Alabama. That happens to a lot of teams. Lane Kiffin is surely telling his players to mentally turn the page and move on, but that’s easier said than done. Ole Miss needs to be very intent on playing this game and being excited about it. Any lingering gloom from the Bama blowout needs to be dispelled early. Mental refreshment is an essential part of a Rebel win.