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Five things to know before Arkansas-Ole Miss

Both teams remain ranked after blowout losses. Which team can bounce back and stay in the SEC West race?
Credit: AP
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Georgia Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark — No. 13 Arkansas (4-1,1-1) visits No. 17 Ole Miss (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday, with kick off at 11 am on ESPN.

Here's five things to know before the Razorbacks and Rebels square off in Oxford.

1. Bounce Back for Both Teams

Arkansas and Ole Miss are in very similar boats as they sail in to Saturday's meeting. 

Both have slipped out of the top 10, after falling in blowout losses to the two best teams in the country on the road. Both teams will be looking to a major bounce back win.

For the Hogs, it was their 37-0 shutout defeat at No. 2 Georgia last week. Not much went right for Arkansas, and it's a game they'll really be able to put behind them with a win in Oxford. 

That game in Athens probably said more about Georgia than about Arkansas, with the Razorbacks only slipping five spots to No. 13. The Hogs still carry an elite ground game, and have a dangerous front seven. They just ran into a better team in the Bulldogs.

Essentially the same can be said about Ole Miss. Lane Kiffin said to "get your popcorn ready" in the pregame interview in Tuscaloosa, but it seemed like the kernels never popped for the Rebels.

Alabama raced out to a 35-0 lead over Ole Miss, before cruise-controlling their way to the 42-21 win. 

Much like Arkansas, Mississippi had trouble stopping the ground game. Both teams gave up over 200 yards on the ground last week, and were out of the game by halftime.

Despite the big loss, the Rebels only slipped five spots as well though.

So Alabama and Georgia are good teams, probably the two best at this point.

Arkansas and Ole Miss are also good teams, and a bounce back win for the team that gets it Saturday will go a long way toward proving their first loss was a bad day instead of the start of a skid.

2. Homecoming for KJ

As the Hogs make the trip to Oxford, it just so happens that their starting quarterback is a native of the state of Mississippi.

KJ Jefferson hails from Sardis, Miss. and was a four-year varsity letter winner in football AND basketball at North Panola High School. Jefferson helped lead his school to the state semi-finals his senior year, and threw for over 3,000 yards each of his last two seasons.

Jefferson picked the Razorbacks over offers from plenty of other SEC schools, including the two in his home state, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. 

This will be his first time starting against one of those schools, and it'll be his first start back in his home state since that 3A semi-final.

Jefferson said earlier this week he's expecting a lot of family members to be in attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. If he can turn up a big performance for them, it would go a long way to getting the Hogs to 5-1 for the first time since 2011.

3. Contending with the Heisman Contender

While Jefferson is the Mississippi native, Oxford is Matt Corral's town now.

Corral his vaulted his name on to the list of Heisman contenders through his Rebels' first four games.

He's thrown 10 touchdowns to no interceptions (more on interceptions in a moment), while being one of only 12 quarterbacks in FBS to average over 300 yards through the air (302.5 pass ypg).

It helps him that Ole Miss features a top-10 rushing attack, but Corral features in that as well. He has six rushing touchdowns on the year, including in three of the four games so far. His best game on the ground came against Tulane, rushing for 68 yards and four touchdowns.

Back to interceptions. A big reason for the improvement from Ole Miss this year is the elevation in Corral's play, including taking care of the ball. No interceptions so far is a major turnaround from his 14 interceptions in 2020.\

If there's a team that feels good about taking the ball away from Corral again this year, it's Arkansas.

The Hogs forced an eye-popping six interceptions in last year's meeting, a 33-21 win in Fayetteville. While its unlikely the Razorbacks will force another six this year, just getting one or two will give Arkansas crucial extra possessions, while taking possessions away from a Rebels team that can really put points up on the board (44.8 ppg, 5th in FBS).

4. Will Either Team Stop the Run?  

Credit: AP
Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) runs at Mississippi defensive back Keidron Smith (20) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

An interesting aspect will be the fact that each team will have a strength vs. weakness matchup on offense.

Both the Hogs and Rebels have been great running the ball so far. 

Stopping the ground game? Not so much.

Arkansas and Ole Miss rank 11th and 12th respectively in the SEC in rushing defense. Each team has been giving up just north of 150 rush yards per game.

Those numbers aren't helped much after each team got gashed on the ground in Athens and Tuscaloosa.

The issue for both defense this week is that both offense do a great job themselves on running the ball. 

We already mentioned how Ole Miss has a top-10 rushing offense, but Arkansas doesn't fall too far behind either. The Hogs come in at 18th in FBS, with over 224.6 yards per game.

A close game throughout the four quarters would like keep both offenses honest and balanced. But if one team can pull away early, turning their focus to the ground and pound could see them grind this ballgame away.

5. Much Still Left to Play For

This goes back to the need for both teams to bounce back.

They've each had promising seasons, but two losses in a row, even to ranked opponents, will likely temper expectations after hot starts.

On the flip side, a win gets both teams right back on track, with a lot still left to play for this season.

While Alabama seems destined for another SEC West title, it's really Arkansas and Ole Miss fighting for second not just in the division, but as the best of the rest in the conference behind 'Bama and Georgia.

A win for the Hogs would be their third over a team that was ranked at the time, after beating Texas and Texas A&M. 

With a 5-1 record and those three wins, the Hogs wouldn't just be one win away from clinching bowl eligibility. They'd be in the drivers seat for a potential New Year's Six berth.