No. 13 Arkansas aiming for rebound vs. No. 17 Ole Miss; Missouri starting fresh with North Texas coming to town
(AP) - Mississippi and Arkansas got to see how they stacked up against the Southeastern Conference’s two dominant teams.
Now, they get a fairer measuring stick: each other.
The 13th-ranked Razorbacks visit No. 17 Ole Miss Saturday, a week after both not only suffered their first losses of the season but weren’t even competitive. Arkansas (4-1, 1-1) fell 37-0 to No. 2 Georgia and the Rebels (4-1, 1-0) fell way behind early to top-ranked Alabama in a 42-21 loss.
“This is the SEC and the SEC West,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “You go and play the No. 1 team, and now you have to go up against a top 15 team that obviously struggled last week.
“What it appears is that there are two super teams this year with great players on both sides but especially defense, and then it seems like there’s a dropoff. So gauging them in that game, everyone has struggled.”
Neither team fell all that far in the poll, and Arkansas coach Sam Pittman figures that’s a tribute to how good Georgia and Alabama are. Pittman admits the atmosphere may have intimidated his team.
“I think everybody saw we just weren’t ready for the grand stage yet,” he said.
Matt Corral gets another crack at an Arkansas team that intercepted six of his passes last season. The Ole Miss quarterback also lost a fumble in that 33-21 defeat. But Corral hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season.
Pittman recently watched an interview with Corral from after that game.
“I’m sure he’s going to be really excited to play us because in his words he didn’t play very well,” the Arkansas coach said. “So we’re looking for his best effort, like he’s been giving each and every game. But he’ll probably have a little bit more on this one because of last year.
“We can’t do identically what we did last year because if we do he’ll pick us apart. We’ll certainly put some wrinkles on there on defense.”
GIANT RUNNING BACK
Arkansas’s KJ Jefferson, like Corral, is a threat to run. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Jefferson has run 40 times for 235 yards and two touchdowns and is the only SEC quarterback with 900 passing yards and 200 rushing yards this season.
Kiffin said it’s “crazy how big he is. Maybe Cam (Newton) was that big at one point, I don’t know. That’s an issue because he’s like a giant running back back there when he runs the ball and he has improved in some throws.
“So very dangerous. They make a lot of big plays off the run game.”
Pittman didn’t summon his players for a big team meeting to address the Georgia loss, not wanting to be “sending a message that I’m panicking.”
“And I’m not. I think we’ve got a good football team and we got our butt kicked by a really good football team,” Pittman said. “And we don’t like it and we’re not accepting it, but I’ll be damned if Georgia’s going to make us lose this game.”
REGROUPING PART II
Ole Miss tight end Chase Rogers said the Rebels still have the confidence despite a loss to Alabama, when the game was 28-0 by halftime.
“Were going to keep moving forward and on to the next one,” Rogers said. “That’s in the past.”
The game features two of the nation’s Top 20 running teams. The Rebels are 10th averaging 243.5 yards per game on the ground. The Razorbacks’ 224.6-yard average is 18th.
Since the start of the season, Missouri players have headed into practice each week knowing exactly where they stand on coach Eli Drinkwitz’s depth chart.
Not this week.
After the Tigers were blown out 62-24 by Tennessee, every position was up for grabs when they reconvened for practice. Incumbents such as quarterback Connor Bazelak and running back Tyler Badie are almost certain to be on the field Saturday against North Texas, but there are plenty of other positions that could see some changes.
“Yeah, there’s no depth chart,” Drinkwitz said. “There’s Tuesday’s practice. And after Tuesday and Wednesday we’ll have a better feel for who is going to play. But there’s no depth chart.”
In that respect, it’s almost as if the Tigers (2-3) have headed back to fall camp this week.
They certainly could use a reset.
Their defense surrendered 667 yards total offense to the Vols, including 458 on the ground, and allowed them to score on their first nine possessions. Tennessee averaged more yards per play (11.5) in the first half than the Tigers scored points (10).
The performance was a big reason why Drinkwitz fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin earlier this week and replaced him with veteran coach Al Davis, who had been a defensive analyst.
“We weren’t connected,” Drinkwitz said. “When I watched the tape, what we’re saying we’re supposed to do and what we’re doing isn’t working. So whatever it is, it wasn’t working, so there was a disconnect.”
Missouri’s offense wasn’t a whole lot better. Bazelak was just 27 of 44 for 332 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Badie averaged 2 yards per carry on 21 attempts.
The game is a big opportunity for North Texas (1-3) to pick up a marquee win over an SEC opponent.
“Offensively, they do a lot of different motions so you have to keep your eyes right in the run game and they have some explosive receivers, too. Defensively, they are big on the back end, are long and athletic and can run,” Mean Green coach Seth Littrell said. “I just want to see our guys go out and compete and play hard for four quarters. The wins and losses take care of themselves.”
Tigers cornerback Ennis Rakestraw tore his ACL during practice Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. Akayleb Evans, Allie Green IV and Ish Burdine are expected to take the snaps in his place.
Missouri is one of nine teams in the country to score on every red-zone trip this season, scoring 15 touchdowns with two field goals — the best TD efficiency among them. LSU is the only other SEC school to be perfect in the red zone.
MAKING A STATEMENT
Mean Green cornerback Upton Stout made his first career start at Louisiana Tech and played well enough that he earned another start against Missouri. Stout is among the most decorated recruits to North Texas in years.
“Something that really sticks out with him is his mentality,” Mean Green safety Makyle Sanders said. “He’s a really good, physical, technical dude. He’s always working on his technique, and that’s a great mentality to have.”
GROUND AND POUND
The Mean Green should be salivating after watching the Tigers’ run defense last week. They are averaging more than 200 yards per game, and tailback DeAndre Torrey is averaging 129 yards through the first four games.
“The coaches are leaning on me,” Torrey said, “and I know if I go down, our chances go down. Not saying I’m the team or anything like that, but I just want to be there for my teammates whenever I can to take strain off them.”
STICKING WITH THE OFFENSE
Despite all the Tigers’ problems on defense, Drinkwitz said he’s leaving corrections in the hands of new coordinator Steve Wilks and his staff. The Tigers have enough to worry about on the other side of the ball, where Drinkwitz serves as his own offensive coordinator and calls the plays on game day.
“There were critical mistakes that have to be corrected. You can’t bury your head in the sand and say they didn’t happen,” Drinkwitz said, “but there’s also things that you just got to move on from. You can’t dwell on it. I’ve told the team and the staff that Tennessee doesn’t have to define us or this season, but if we let it, it will.”
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