FAYETTEVILLE — Last week’s nationally most celebrated losers strive to be winners against each other at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
At 2:30 p.m Saturday on the SEC Network, the hosting 1-2 Arkansas Razorbacks and 1-2 Ole Miss Rebels collide in Fayetteville following a Saturday belying their records or even that they both lost their games.
Against the nationally No. 2-ranked perpetual national power inevitably defensively impregnable Alabama Crimson Tide, first-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s Rebels were tied 42-42 in the fourth quarter in Oxford.
Eventually they lost, 63-48. But the 48 points and 647 yards total offense on which the Rebels flooded the Tide had national pundits proclaiming that Kiffin out-coached the great Nick Saban even as Alabama scored 63 points amassing 723 yards.
As for Arkansas, everyone not only in the state but football fans nationwide know the Razorbacks were deprived by officiating incompetence a monumental 28-27 upset victory over the then 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers in Auburn, Alabama.
An Auburn attempt off a fumbled snap to spike the ball resulted in a backward pass, a lateral, recovered by Arkansas with Auburn out of timeouts and the Hogs a knee-down away from triumph.
But instead of ruled a turnover Arkansas recovered, it was incorrectly declared an intentionally grounded incomplete pass.
So Auburn kept the ball and with seven seconds left kicked the game-winning field goal, 30-28.
Asked about the officiating misfortune befalling first-year Arkansas coach Sam Pittman’s Hogs, Kiffin replied, “I’m sure Auburn is counting their blessings, “The ball is backwards. Knox (Lane’s 10-year-old son) knew that when he saw it. It’s really a shame for Arkansas to play that well and should have won the game.”
So both teams have gotten lots of fans pat on the back for gallant efforts in vain.
However, both will get reminders from their coaches that they did lose and must correct why they lost or be apt to lose again Saturday.
For Ole Miss, its offense led by quarterback Matt Corral, the national total offensive leader, with a run-pass team attack as equally potent as the dual threat quarterback himself, defense is the obvious flaw.
What else could it be if a team has totaled 125 points in three games but is 1-2?
Kiffin the Ole Miss offense isn’t flawless. He reminded Mississippi media of a fumbled snap when Ole Miss had an open receiver against Alabama.
And he asserts the Rebels defense can and will play better than it has looked.
“Confidence is very fragile when you’re in a run like this where we’re struggling in that phase of the game,” Kiffin said. “It’s hard. We’re playing against some great players. A lot of first round picks we’re trying to cover there. It usually takes a game or a part of a game to play well and get that back. Hopefully that happens this week. That’s why people think games are going to be one way and they’re completely different. I look for us to play much better this week on defense.”
Inheriting one of the worst defenses in the country off its performance under coach Chad Morris and defensive coordinator John Chavis in 2019, defensive coordinator Barry Odom has drawn raves with a defense keeping Arkansas leading nationally No. 3 Georgia 10-5 in the third quarter before losing 37-10 and dropping eight back in a zone defense, stifling, 21-14, Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense set a SEC record 623 yards passing upsetting LSU, 44-34.
But Auburn did rush 259 yards on the Hogs. Pittman said they must tackle better. Particularly against an Ole Miss offense he calls “incredible.”
So incredible that Pittman says his offense not only plays against Ole Miss’ defense but the Rebels’ offense, too.
“Our offense better come to play, because their offense is unbelievably good,” Pittman said. “So does it add extra pressure? Yeah it does.”
Proud as he is to his first Razorbacks team competitive each game after blown out of so many these past two 2-10, 2-10 seasons that went 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC during the Morris regime, Pittman cited all that needs improving including game-costing mistakes on special teams that included Auburn blocking a punt recovered for an Auburn touchdown and the offense stumbling to a down 17-0 start last week.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Pittman said at the week’s outset post Auburn. “We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t play special teams well. We didn’t start the game well on offense. Those things, we have to get those things fixed to win an SEC football game.”
At least they’ve won two weeks ago prevailing at Mississippi State snapping a 20-game SEC losing streak since the 1-7 SEC Hogs of 2017 won at Ole Miss.
Within Arkansas, they’ve lost 12 consecutive SEC home games since flogging Florida, 31-10, Nov. 5, 2016 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“We want to break that curse,” Arkansas fifth-year senior defensive tackle and defensive co-captain Jonathan Marshall said. “Everybody here is working hard to break that.”