KNOW YOUR FOE: Another nail-biter coming between Ole Miss, Arkansas?
Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2017
WRITER’S NOTE: This is the eighth of a 12-part series breaking down each of Ole Miss’ opponents for the 2017 season.
Not much has separated Ole Miss and Arkansas on the scoreboard recently.
The Southeastern Conference Western Division foes have decided their last two meetings by a combined five points with both games going to the Razorbacks. Both came down to the wire with Arkansas following “The Lateral” game in 2015 that resulted in an overtime win with a four-point victory in Fayetteville last season that was preserved with a stop on Ole Miss’ final possession.
Ole Miss will get Arkansas at home this season when the teams renew the entertaining rivalry Oct. 28 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“I don’t think we’ve had their number or anything like that,” Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen said. “Every game we play I feel like is a competitive football game. It’s two good teams competing against each other. If the bounce goes one way, they win the game. If it goes the other way, we win the game.”
Allen is back to lead the offense for fifth-year coach Bret Bielema, who’s led Arkansas to three straight winning seasons but has just one winning record in SEC play during his tenure. Taking over for his brother, Brandon, under center, the younger Allen had one of the best seasons among SEC signal callers last year, completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.
Arkansas complemented its passing game with 1,400-yard rusher Rawleigh Williams III, but Williams gave up football earlier this year after suffering a second neck injury during Arkansas’ spring game. That leaves rising sophomore Devwah Whaley as the most experienced back on the roster after rushing for 602 yards and three scores a season ago.
Arkansas is losing three of its top four tacklers from a defense that finished 58th nationally against the pass, 76th in total defense, 85th in points allowed and 94th against the run, but the Razorbacks have some experienced pieces on the back end. Safety Josh Liddell is back after racking up 63 tackles and two interceptions a season ago while former walk-on Kevin Richardson Jr. will start at cornerback but is versatile enough to line up anywhere in the secondary.
The group will try to finish stronger than it did last season when Arkansas lost three of its last four games to limp to a 7-6 record and a fifth-place finish in the SEC West.
“(Our players) have owned and embraced what we didn’t do well at the end of the year and focused on what we can do well,” Bielema said. “We’re going to focus on winning games in the second half, not losing them, putting our best personnel on the field no matter how that comes about, and then really trying to play and understand what it means to be at Arkansas and have that come through.”