Half of the 2018 football season is over for the Ole Miss Rebels. The final six games are against SEC opponents only. And the first of those six is against a team in Arkansas that has provided a lot of misery for Ole Miss fans the past four seasons.
The Razorbacks may have struggled with other teams in the SEC West the past few years, but they have found new ways of defeating the Rebels. Last season, the Razorbacks found a way to pull out a 38-37 win at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, kicking a last-second field goal to secure the victory. The last three games have been decided by a total of six points. Ole Miss had an opportunity win all of them, and yet let each slip through.
“It has been some different games. I think we’ve got to focus on this team and this year, but it has been kind of a different series,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “They’ve come out ahead the last few times but it’ll be important for us this year to go play good football, to not turn the ball over, to do the little things it takes to win those games. Even though those games are quirky, it still comes down to two or three plays either way. You’ve got to make sure you handle your business so those plays go your way.”
Some good news, related to the series, is that the game is inside War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock Saturday night. Ole Miss won its last trip there in 2012, and own three straight wins in Little Rock overall dating back to the 1990 season. Despite those stats, playing on the road in the SEC is no picnic.
“It’s always a huge challenge to go on the road and play. Any time that you’re in this conference and you go on the road, you have to have that mental toughness enough to be able to block out the distractions and do your job over and over again regardless of the circumstance,” Luke said. “I think we saw some more of that this past week. I just want to build on that and take it on the road, and be able to just lock in and focus and be able to do our job for four quarters.”
Ole Miss is 4-2 overall heading into the matchup with the 1-5 Razorbacks. The Rebels looked amazing on offense in their 70-21 win over Louisiana-Monroe last week. Ole Miss has been great at scoring points and putting up a lot of yards against non-SEC opponents. In both of its losses to Alabama and LSU, the Rebels have been held to just 23 points overall.
“No matter what defense you play against, you want to go out there and put up big numbers against whoever you’re playing,” Luke said. “It doesn’t matter what the game is or who you’re playing, you want to go out there and live up to your standard. It’s not so much about who you’re playing, it’s about wanting to play as good as you can possibly play. If we take that approach, we’ll be better off.”
The Razorbacks’ offense has improved as the season has gone on, even if they haven’t piled up wins. This is the first season under new coach Chad Morris, who has done a good job of developing prolific offenses in prior stops as an assistant coach.
I think they are trying to settle in. They have settled in on their quarterback, using Ty Storey as their starter and having a package for Cole Kelley,” Luke said about Arkansas’ offense. “I think they have kind of settled in with that. They did a really good job with shifts and motions last week. I think they did an outstanding job with shifts and motions, keeping Alabama off balance and keeping their tight ends involved. They did a good job with some screens to slow the pass rush down and things like that, so I think they are settling in to who they are, but I think they did an outstanding job last week.”
Kickoff Saturday is set for 6:30 p.m. The game can be seen locally on the SEC Network. Ole Miss currently trails Arkansas, by its records, in the series 35-28-1. The game in dispute is the 1914 matchup that was also played in Little Rock.