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Another week, another top-10 opponent for Ole Miss

Alex Edwards/The Daily Mississippian

 

Coming off a deflating 52-7 loss to Alabama just a week ago, the Ole Miss Rebels (2-4, 0-3) look to bounce back this weekend against the visiting No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks (5-1, 1-1).

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said it is important for his guys to keep fighting to have a chance against the Hogs, who are also No. 9 in the year’s first BCS Standings.

“The University of Arkansas is a very good football team,” he said. “I think we are facing the best quarterback in the SEC in Tyler Wilson. He is an excellent quarterback and is very accurate. He can throw every ball and has excellent receivers.”

Wilson leads the SEC with 1,779 passing yards to go along with 12 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Behind Wilson, the Razorbacks rank eighth nationally in passing offense (336.8 ypg), 17th in scoring offense (39.2 ppg) and 23rd in total offense (466.2 ypg)

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said he knows the Ole Miss defense will need to be ready to stop the Razorbacks’ air attack to be successful Saturday. When asked what Wilson does well, Nix summed it up with just one word: “everything.”

“I keep saying we’ve seen the best quarterback so far, but I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe this guy is the best. They’re in the top in all offensive categories — passing, scoring.”

The Ole Miss secondary will be put to the test against the potent offensive attack of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, and the season-ending ankle injury to senior cornerback Marcus Temple will not help. Wilson’s favorite target, senior wide receiver Jarius Wright, leads the SEC in receptions (6.6) and receiving yards (110.8) per game this season. This Saturday, Nix will look for freshman cornerback Senquez Golson to step up, as well as freshman two-way player Nickolas Brassell getting more playing time on the defensive side of the ball.

Sophomore Charles Sawyer, who played all last season at corner before making the move to safety this season, may also get some snaps at corner Saturday to fill in for the lack of depth. The Miami native was banged up with a minor back injury in practice this week but is expected to be ready to go Saturday.

“Ultimately, what it does is it presents an opportunity to some other young player to step up and rise to the occasion,” Nix said. “Every week is a learning experience in the SEC. I think every week those guys will get better. None of the guys played well last week, but I think they’ll do better this week. We have a lot of confidence in them.”

Even if the defense can contain the Arkansas offense, the Ole Miss offense will need to be able to move the ball and put points on the board for the Rebels to have a shot at the upset. The Razorback defense is not the caliber of Alabama’s defense last week, but it is no slouch either. The unit ranks 34th in scoring defense (21.3 ppg) and 64th in total defense (389.5 ypg), but 95th in run defense (188.7), so this is an opportunity for the Ole Miss running game to get on track with the return of senior running back Brandon Bolden from suspension.

“It’s great to have him back,” offensive coordinator David Lee said. “He’s had some time to get well, and he looks fast.”

Junior quarterback Randall Mackey will get his third straight start this weekend. He will need to continue to control the offense and not make mistakes. If he can have time to get the ball into the hands of the young receivers like Brassell and fellow freshman Donte Moncrief, it could be a big day for the Ole Miss offense.

“We’ll see it all,” Lee said. “Randall will have to know what he’s doing and where he is going with the football.”

In addition to Bolden, junior center A.J. Hawkins, senior offensive guard Alex Washington and sophomore wide receiver Philander Moore will return from suspension. Earlier this week, however, junior wide receiver Melvin Harris was dismissed from the team. 

Reshuffling on the offensive line continues with sophomore Evan Swindall earning his second straight start at center while freshman Aaron Morris will start his second career game at left guard in place of sophomore Patrick Junen. 

On the injury front, sophomore safety Brishen Matthews is still nursing a back injury while freshman safety Cody Prewitt, who broke his hand this week, is expected to wear a club and play this Saturday.

Kickoff between Ole Miss and Arkansas is set for 11:21 a.m. from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and will be televised on the SEC Network.