OXFORD — Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze uses the word “scary” to describe the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Considering the Razorbacks are winless in the Southeastern Conference, that might seem like a touch of hyperbole. But Freeze is adamant that Arkansas’ first-year coach Bret Bielema has the infrastructure in place to develop a winning program quickly.
Bielema’s run-based, deliberate approach to offense is nearly a complete 180 from Freeze’s up-tempo philosophy. It hasn’t worked out yet — the Razorbacks rank last in the league with 20 points per game — but Freeze says the numbers are deceiving.
“If they ever convert drives, they would be very, very dangerous because they control the time of possession,” Freeze said. “They run the football extremely well — two of the finer running backs that we’ve seen. Again, just for whatever reason, they haven’t finished drives the amount of times that they’ve had chances to. If they ever did that, it would be a very, very scary game. We sense that in this building.”
Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) will play host to Arkansas (3-6, 0-5) at 11 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels are one win away from becoming bowl eligible for a second-straight season.
Ole Miss is coming off a bye week, which gave several starters a chance to get healthy. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, cornerback Mike Hilton, and running back Jeff Scott are all expected to play Saturday after missing time with injuries.
“They’re really good players,” Freeze said. “They’re kids that the other kids like to know are out there with them in the battle.”
Nkemdiche, Hilton and Scott will join a group of Rebels who have played very well over the past month. Ole Miss has a 2-1 record on its current six-game homestand, including a 27-24 victory over then-No. 6 LSU on Oct. 19.
While Ole Miss is rolling, Arkansas is sliding. The Razorbacks have lost six straight games, including the past three to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn by a combined score of 139-24.
Arkansas is averaging 211.2 yards rushing per game, which ranks third in the SEC, but the Razorbacks are the worst passing team in the league by a wide margin.
Arkansas should be prepared for the Ole Miss offense after losing last week to Auburn, which has a very similar up-tempo style.
Bielema said Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is a little more of a thrower than Auburn’s Nick Marshall, but there are some similarities.
“A little bit,” Bielema said. “I don’t think this quarterback in particular wants to keep it as much as Auburn’s but the element is there. He’s got ranginess. He’s a real gritty kid. I like the way he plays — definitely a tough kid.”
Wallace missed some practice last week because he had pink eye. He wasn’t even allowed near the football facility while the staff thought he was contagious, but used to time to rest and watch Arkansas film on his iPad.
“I think they’re a lot better than a lot of people think they are,” Wallace said. “I think they’re close to coming through and winning some games. They’re still playing hard. If you watch the Auburn game you can tell they’re still playing hard. It’s going to be a tough test.”
Ole Miss senior Emmanuel McCray said it’s obvious the Razorbacks have talent.
“I know they’re hungry for the win,” McCray said. “We’ve been in that situation before. I’ve been in that situation where you really don’t know what’s going wrong but the wins aren’t happening. We can’t do anything about that, but go out there and play. They might fight hard or they might roll over, we don’t know.”
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