Ground game to be tested by Hogs’ stout run defense
The past two weeks have seen a vast improvement for Ole Miss in the run game.
Against Texas A&M and Auburn, the Rebels (7-2, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) rushed for 386 yards, averaging nearly 200 yards a game.
That newfound running attack will be tested Saturday when the 19th-ranked Rebels host Arkansas (2:30 p.m., CBS).
The Razorbacks’ rush defense ranks fifth in the SEC, holding opponents to 117.9 yards per game on the ground. That is also good for 20th in the country.
“The more I watch Arkansas, the more impressed I am with them,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re really, really good against the run. I haven’t watched any game where people have just lined up and ran the football on them. They just do a really sound job. Their technique is good, and it will present a challenge for us to run the football and stay balanced.”
Arkansas (4-4, 2-2 SEC) has played Auburn and Alabama, both of which have two of the better rushers in the league in Peyton Barber and Derrick Henry, respectively.
In a four-overtime losing effort, Barber was held to 120 yards. He did score four touchdowns, but most of those came during the multiple overtime periods. Henry was held to just one touchdown and 95 yards on 27 carries in a 27-14 Alabama win.
“I’ve just been very impressed with how hard they play,” offensive line coach Matt Luke said of Arkansas’ defense. “They play two safeties and still nobody can run the ball. That tells you something right there.”
There is no flashy talent on the Razorbacks’ defensive front, but the group as a unit has caused havoc against opposing offenses, especially in the run game.
“They don’t have that one guy, but as a whole they’re every bit as good (as last year),” Luke said. “From top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses. There is no one where you feel good and say, ‘OK, we can run it at that guy.’ They’re very sound and solid.”
Safety Tony Conner is still on track for making his anticipated return Saturday. He has not experienced any full contact this week but is still planning to “give it a go,” Freeze said.
Linebacker C.J. Johnson was in a no-contact jersey Tuesday while dealing with a stinger he received but returned to practice Wednesday and will play Saturday.