Arkansas and Ole Miss are in the same boat.
It will be two, mediocre-at-best, teams with glaring weaknesses trying to exceed low expectations. It’s an even matchup. The odds makers say Ole Miss by seven, but that’s most likely because the Rebels own the home field advantage. The matchup really is very even.
The sure bet would be for a close, ugly game.
Both teams left their season openers with glaring questions. Unlike Ole Miss, Arkansas won its opener, but the 20-13 victory over FCS Portland State did little to excite a beleaguered Hogs fan base.
Ole Miss lost 15-10 to Memphis, a Group of 5 conference school but, nonetheless, a worthy opponent. However, losing to the regional “little brother” never sits well with Rebels fans.
The Hogs and Rebels enter Saturday’s SEC opener at Oxford with some uneasiness and many corrections to make if they expect to win any other league games this season.
With the two teams sharing nearly the exact same situation, coaching will be paramount.
It will be clear which team has the better staff, which may not be saying much.
I’m not just referring to in-game Xs and Os, but that may also be a factor.
Most important, will be who did the best job analyzing film on Sunday and figured out how to correct deficiencies and communicate that to their respective teams to lead to drastic improvement.
Can new Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez get freshman quarterback Matt Corral on a quick learning curve to jumpstart the offense?
Can the Arkansas staff shore up the pass protection and get quarterback Ben Hicks more on the same page with receivers?
Have the Hogs cleaned up clock management issues?
Whoever loses this game may not only have to deal with the reality that they coughed up the best chance of an SEC win, but it may also be a wakeup call that some of the mistakes that are being made won’t be correctible.
It’s a lack of talent that’s the problem and not just execution. If you can’t do [fill in the blank] against Arkansas or Ole Miss, what other SEC foe will you be able to do that against?
Both defensive coordinators left the opener feeling a little better than their offensive counterparts.
Ole Miss held the high-octane Memphis offense reasonably in check.
Arkansas was dominant at times against PSU.
Since both of those units are further along than their respective offenses, it stands to reason that defense will be big. With quarterbacks on both sides prone to making mistakes, this game will most likely come down to a key turnover.
I could see a defensive touchdown scored in this game. Ole Miss’s defensive line looks dominant. Arkansas’ Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel could be running for their lives with Arkansas’ porous line.
Veteran Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis will be licking his chops coming up with schemes to confuse the inexperienced Corral. This game has the makings of a low-scoring, ugly battle.
Neither team is looking for style points, though.
While some Arkansas fans have already given up on the notion of a bowl bid after last week’s unimpressive opener, a win Saturday puts both teams closer to the bowl-qualifying six wins.
Mediocre or not, Arkansas will be favored in its remaining non-conference games.
If they escape Oxford with a win and sweep Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky, the Hogs would need only one more SEC win to reach the postseason.
So, it really doesn’t matter if the Hogs look impressive this week as long as they win. But, to continue winning, Arkansas will need to improve.
It’s important to note that even with the abundance of red flags, this is a long season.
It was a little alarming that the Hogs didn’t look more improved over last year in the opener, but maybe improvement will come as the season moves along and the Hogs will peak late in the year.
I know some of you just gave me a big eye roll.
Well, it is possible, and each game will give more of an indication of the future.
In Morris’ short tenure we have only seen glimpses of his coaching ability because the team has been so poor.
He hasn’t really had a chance to match wits. He concerned some with his approach last year at Colorado State and again late in the half against PSU last week when Arkansas squandered a scoring chance late in the first half after a turnover. He will have another chance Saturday night.
The Ole Miss game offers an even playing field for two coaches trying desperately to gain some momentum.
The outcome will tell who the better coach is and which program will be in better shape at the end of the season.