OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi’s rise in the Southeastern Conference has turned the Rebels into a formidable opponent for just about everyone in the league’s Western Division.
Arkansas, however, remains the program’s kryptonite.
The Razorbacks are the only program to beat Ole Miss in each of the past two seasons, both times putting a huge dent in the Rebels’ aspirations of finally making a trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship game.
No. 12 Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) travels to face No. 22 Arkansas (4-2, 0-2) on Saturday.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze readily acknowledges that the Razorbacks always cause problems for the Rebels.
“I think matchups are important in college football,” Freeze said. “Sometimes you look at them and feel ‘Oh I like this matchup’ and then other teams seem to give you more of a problem.
“They’ve been that to us the past few years.”
Though Ole Miss has lost two in a row to Arkansas, the losses couldn’t have been much more different. The Rebels suffered one of the worst defeats in Freeze’s tenure in 2014, when Arkansas crushed Ole Miss 30-0 in Fayetteville, in a game that wasn’t even close to competitive.
“That was a tough day,” Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram said. “I don’t really think about that game too much because of how bad it was. But we’re definitely looking forward to getting back to Fayetteville and having a better result.”
Last year’s game was much more competitive, but ultimately a heartbreaker for the Rebels. Arkansas beat Ole Miss 53-52 in overtime in a game that featured several crazy plays, including Arkansas converting on a 4th-and-25 situation when Hunter Henry lateralled to Alex Collins for a first down that kept the game alive.
The loss was the main reason that Alabama — and not the Rebels — was the West’s representative in the SEC championship game.
“They fight 60 minutes,” Engram said. “Arkansas, since I’ve been here, is probably the most relentless, sound, fighting football team I’ve played.”
Ole Miss gets its chance against Arkansas this season after having a week off to rest. The Rebels haven’t played since Oct. 8, when they beat Memphis 48-28.
Ole Miss has shown it has one of the best offenses in the SEC, especially in the passing game. But the Rebels have also had a porous defense that ranks at or near the bottom of the league in several categories.
That could be an issue against Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been one of the better offensive teams in the league this season, especially when throwing the ball.
Junior Austin Allen has thrown for 1,232 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season. He leads the SEC in passing efficiency.
Even with the recent history between the two programs, Freeze says he doesn’t expect to hear much from players or coaches about getting revenge. He says most of that talk is counter-productive.
“I don’t really buy into that,” Freeze said. “I buy into, here’s the plan that gives us the best chance to succeed and now we’ve got to make sure we understand and can efficiently do it. That will be our focus.”
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