The Ole Miss defense will be as healthy as it has been all season when the 18th-ranked Rebels face Arkansas on Saturday.
That, of course, is because of the return of defensive back Tony Conner, who has been sidelined with a torn meniscus since the Rebels’ win against Alabama on Sept. 19.
Conner began running on grass last week, and things have progressed well enough to give playing this weekend a shot, according to coach Hugh Freeze.
“He looked good in practice,” Freeze said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “Unless something happens in practice this week that says otherwise, I think he’ll give it a go. He’s arguably one of our best, most versatile football players. Putting him back in the mix I think makes others around him more confident and better.”
There’s no way to know how many plays Conner will play, but having him and senior Mike Hilton to man the Rebels’ hybrid linebacker/safety position they call Huskie will be a real factor for Ole Miss, especially against a team like Arkansas.
The Razorbacks offense is predicated on utilizing a physical running game along with a lot of play-action sets in the passing game that give Arkansas tight ends favorable matchups.
Conner will likely be matched on those tight ends, and they’ll test him early in his return.
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry is the known commodity in the Razorbacks’ passing game. Henry is the team’s second-leading receiver with 28 catches for 409 yards and a touchdown. Jeremy Sprinkle has also gotten in the mix, totaling 13 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
There’s no doubt they will be targeted early and often against Ole Miss. The tight end duo has accounted for 30.3 percent of receiving yards for Arkansas.
“I wish they wouldn’t make the trip,” Freeze joked on the teleconference. “They’re very talented. They present you a lot of problems in the way they package their ‘12’ personnel. They’re athletic enough to be flexed out, moved around and play on the ball. It’s difficult to prepare for those guys.”
That matchup between Conner and those tight ends could decide who wins the game, and should be fascinating to watch on Saturday.