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Defense prepares for balanced offensive attack

The Ole Miss defense has a tough task this weekend going against one of the Southeastern Conference’s top offenses in Arkansas.
Austin McAfee/The Daily Mississippian

 
Ole Miss will be facing off with one of the Southeastern Conference’s most powerful offenses in Arkansas this weekend. The Rebels (4-3, 1-2 SEC) will be forced to stop senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in passing yards per game (326.2 ypg), and senior receiver Cobi Hamilton, who leads the SEC in receiving yards per game (107.7 ypg).
 
“He can read coverages,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said of Wilson. “He can understand what you’re trying to do with your defense. You step one way, and he’s going another way. He knows where to go with the ball, and he has great presence on the field. I don’t think he gets flustered.”
 
Despite a lackluster start to the season, the Razorbacks have won two conference games in a row with wins over Auburn and Kentucky before heading into their bye week last weekend, and a large part of the turnaround has been their offense, which has scored 24 and 49 points in those two wins, respectively. 
 
“I think they do a really good job with their offense,” he said. “They are very organized. They know what they are doing. They get that across to their players and that is why they’ve been successful on offense.”
 
The Arkansas running game has also stepped things up the past two weeks with junior Knile Davis and senior Dennis Johnson carrying the load. Davis has rushed for 337 yards this season with two touchdowns, while Johnson has rushed for 328 yards and five touchdowns.
 
“Davis has played better,” Wommack said. “That is the biggest thing. They were turning the ball over a bunch. I think they lost confidence in Davis for a while, but I think it has come back.”
 
Wommack is stressing to his players this week not to focus on the Razorbacks’ record (3-4, 2-2 SEC), but to realize that the team is still filled with playmakers on offense.
 
“They’ve got NFL players all over the place,” Wommack said. “The tight end, the wide receiver Hamilton, the quarterback, the running back — they’ve got NFL players. If they think this is going to be even close to being easy, then there is no way. Our guys practiced extremely well today, and we just have to get better tomorrow.”
 
Hilton stepping up at huskie
 
True freshman Mike Hilton has seen his playing time increase dramatically over the past few weeks after turning in solid performances in his recent appearances. On the year, Hilton has recorded 14 tackles and two sacks and forced a fumble.
 
“He is like a lot of these young kids that have gotten better,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I think he has continued to improve, particularly in practice, thus his playing time has been elevated and he’s given us a little flexibility there to make some moves on the back end and give us some more depth. I’ve been real pleased with the way he is progressing.”
 
Hilton said he has tried to take advantage of every opportunity he is given to play and has worked hard to receive playing time.
 
“I’ve been taking my time and learning the whole system,” Hilton said. “I’ve trusted the coaches most importantly. I’ve been making my plays when I get the opportunity. I had to sit back and wait my turn, but now, I’ve got my opportunity, and I just have to make the best of it. I just worked hard, watched a lot of film and asked a lot of questions, so I could learn the scheme just like that.”
 
Sawyer and Elston sit out
 
Junior cornerback Charles Sawyer and freshman safety Trae Elston sat out Tuesday’s practice with minor injuries. Freeze said Sawyer and Elston could have practiced, but the staff decided to sit them.
 
“We want to make sure they are ready to go,” Freeze said. “I fully expect them to be full go tomorrow. They probably could have gone today, but just trying to make sure we are healthy for this last stretch.
 
“Charles has a sore ankle, and Trae has a sore knee. Nothing structural, just a little inflammation.”
 
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