LITTLE ROCK — Casting about for a factoid to support the prediction of Ole Miss over Arkansas, a surprising number was buried in the SEC statistics.
Sixth in the league in passing yards per game, Ole Miss is No. 2 in passes attempted, trailing only Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M. The conclusion is that the offense of Auburn and Ole Miss cannot be crammed into the cubbyhole labeled hurry-up. The approach of Arkansas’ opponent last week and the Razorbacks’ foe this week are diametrically opposed.
The Rebels have thrown 101 more passes than the Tigers and Auburn has run the ball 123 times more than the Rebels.
Auburn overdid the commitment to the run against Arkansas, throwing only nine times. Truth is, there was no reason to throw more. The Tigers completed eight and their 14.8 yards per attempt is phenomenal. For the season, Baylor leads the counry at 13.28 per attempt and Florida State, Louisville, and LSU are the only other teams averaging better than 10 per try.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who has thrown at least 25 times in games against five SEC opponenets and Texas, is bound to be salivating about the opportunities he will have today. His rating is only ninth among the top 10 quarterbacks in the SEC, mostly because he barely completed more than half his passes in losses to Alabama and Auburn.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall missed on one attempt against the Razorbacks, resulting in a completion percentage of 87.5. That might be kissed off as a one-time thing, but Manziel was 76.7, Florida’s Tyler Murphy was 72.7, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw was 67.9, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was 71.4 vs. Arkansas — a powerful indictment of a pass defense.
The only time I watched Ole Miss this year was during the fourth quarter of the heartbreaking loss to A&M so I have no idea how many times Wallace has thrown the ball away rather than risk an interception. A point of emphasis after throwing 17 interceptions last year, he’s only suffered three picks this year and Arkansas has not intercepted a pass by an SEC team.
The obvious assumption is that the Rebels will throw the ball often and with great success. If that is true, to be in today’s game in the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks must compete with the enthusiasm exhibited when Arkansas was about to reduce the Auburn lead from 18 to 11 and must do better when the opportunity presents in the passing game.
Against Auburn, glaring errors in the passing attack included Brandon Allen missing open receivers Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle and Javontee Herndon and Henry failing to hang onto well-thrown balls. The tendency is to focus on those four plays and a half-dozen others and collect them under the what-if blanket. An understandable analysis, but the down-to-earth rejoinder is that the Razorbacks had no answer for Auburn’s relatively simple attack. When it was over, there was the feeling that if Arkansas had scored 31, Auburn would have rung up 49, and I thought about something defensive coordinator Chris Ash said before the game. If you can’t tackle in the open field, he said, "… scheme doesn’t matter."
That truism will be in play with Wallce throwing to Donte Moncrief, Ja-Mes Logan, and Laquon Treadwell, who have caught more than 100 collectively.
The given is that Ole Miss will not run the ball as effectively as Auburn. The question is whether Arkansas running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins can produce against a defense better than Auburn’s unit and keep the ball away from Wallace. If not, he will have a field day and the Rebels will win big. If Arkansas strings together first downs, the winner is still Ole Miss, but the margin is 10 points or less.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.