Welcome to Upset Alert, a weekly column about a Saturday favorite liable to get knocked off by the underdog.
This is getting tough. The past four weeks have given us precious few big-time upsets, and three of my picks in that time span (Missouri over Georgia, Florida over Tennessee and Georgia over Tennessee) went the way of the favorite in amazing fashion. Two of those games literally came down to a 4th-and-15 true freshman touchdown pass and a Hail Mary miracle.
Basically, I’m trying to prove I know what I’m talking about. My most recent pick was an ugly miss, so maybe I don’t, but let’s just ignore that.
The options are slim once again this week. Tennessee, injury-riddled as it is, isn’t striking down the Alabama overlords on this third week in October. So how about Arkansas, a 7.5-point home underdog, bouncing back against high-flying Ole Miss?
Here’s a case for the Hogs:
3. A weakness that won’t be exploited
It’s no secret at all: Offensive line play has been a big-time woe for the Razorbacks this season, especially in pass protection. The struggles were never more evident than last Saturday, when Alabama racked up 6 (six!) sacks and basically abused quarterback Austin Allen all game.
But few are the teams that can throw an army of 5-star pass rushers at a line like the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss has one very good edge defender in junior Marquis Haynes, who has 3 sacks, but the team as a whole only has 9 sacks (tied for second-fewest in the SEC). There aren’t many ways this Rebels defense can really pressure you.
That should make game planning a little easier for coordinator Dan Enos, offensive line coach Kurt Anderson and Arkansas. No need to constantly leave a running back in to pass block or call for a tight end to chip block coming off the line. Allen should have more options on passing plays and more time to choose the best one.
Austin Allen was pressured on 68.8% of his dropbacks against Alabama on Saturday. He's been the most pressured QB in the nation this season.
— Vinnie Ronca (@PFF_Vinnie) October 12, 2016
2. Getting the ground game going
While Allen has been on point this season, the Arkansas rushing attack hasn’t really taken off outside of the Texas State and Alcorn State blowouts. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs only managed a combined 193 yards on 76 rushes.
The good news? Ole Miss has been pretty bad defending the run. In fact the Rebels have the 105th-ranked run defense in the FBS, allowing 215 yards per game.
Rawleigh Williams has become the workhorse back Bret Bielema wanted this season, and promising freshman Devwah Whaley is getting more touches as the season wears on. And what better way to keep Ole Miss honest defensively than running it well between the tackles?
Allen’s job only gets easier if that happens.
1. Time of possession
The advantage here falls heavily in Arkansas’ favor. The Hogs hold the ball an average of nearly 35 minutes per game, the second-best mark in the SEC, and they have the conference’s most red zone touchdowns at 21.
In short, they keep drives alive and can keep pace with potent offenses by being efficient.
Which brings us to the obvious question: What if Arkansas’ defense, which just lost standout linebacker Dre Greenlaw to injury, cannot even slow down Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss aerial assault?
The Rebels, like most fast-paced spread teams, score quickly and don’t hang onto the ball a long time. Theoretically, Arkansas’ ball-control offense can keep Kelly off the field and limit the total number of possession Ole Miss gets. The Rebels defense will eventually wear down in a game like this, as well.
And if the game evolves into a shootout, we’ve already seen Allen and the Arkansas wideouts keep pace with the likes of Kenny Hill and TCU. They’ve been here before.
This should be an edge-of-your-seat, high-scoring thriller, just like last year’s meeting. Give the edge to the Hogs at home.