Jim Harris: Razorbacks Look for Validation Today Against Ole Miss Rebels


Not long ago, when televised golf would reach the silly season of “skins” games between four recognizable stars for big money, the organizers introduced a new wrinkle to the game called “validation.” The idea was, a player who won a skin with a birdie on one hole would have to come back and “validate” that skin on the following hole with a par or better to officially win the money that was available on the hole he birdied.

What that meant was, Lee Trevino couldn’t bogey a bunch of holes in a role, suddenly beat everybody with a birdie, and then get go back to bogeying holes and that birdie still mean anything to his wallet. He had to follow it up with another good hole to prove his worth, so to speak.

It’s that scenario  of validation that the Arkansas Razorbacks under Bret Bielema now find themselves in.

Nobody’s taking away that much longed for win last week over LSU. That’s always in the record books, and a 17-game losing streak in the Southeastern Conference is over. The celebration after the game, the storming of the field by jubilant fans joining the joyous players around the Boot trophy — that was well-deserved for all involved. It was cathartic, no doubt.

But the Hogs would go a long way toward proving themselves worthy of the acclaim and truly on the right path to eventual contention in coming seasons by beating the Ole Miss Rebels at home today on national TV.


There is at least one person, maybe two, who vote in the national polls who believe a 5-5 Arkansas belongs among the Top 25 college football teams.

It may be Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. He said so himself earlier this week that the Hogs were a Top 25 worthy club and like the other members of the SEC West. The rest of the SEC West has spent some time this season in the Top 10.

Ole Miss sits at No. 8 in the college football playoff rankings this week. The Rebels reached a high of third until losing at LSU and at home to Auburn, when they also loss their amazingly talented sophomore receiver, Laquon Treadwell.

The Rebs still have plenty to play for, much more than what LSU had left after the Tigers had lost their heartbreaker to Alabama and then had to journey to Fayetteville seven days later.

Of course, Ole Miss needs some help in the form of an Auburn upset at Alabama next  Saturday to win the SEC West with the tiebreaker, but the Rebels could still win out and ease their way up the playoff standings without doing a whole lot over the next three weeks. Plenty of believable scenarios exist among the seven teams in front of them (and Ole Miss has No. 4 Mississippi State at home on Saturday) than any or all of them could stumble before the final four teams are set for the playoffs.

Freeze’s squad knows that. The Rebels have also had two weeks off, for all practical purposes, destroying an outmanned Presbyterian (First or Second, we’re not sure) 48-0 and then resting totally last weekend.

Much more plays in Ole Miss’ favor than it did for LSU against the Hogs. Yes, the Rebels are without Treadwell, but wideouts Vince Sanders and Cody Core have been on the receiving end of many of Bo Wallace’s passes and made big plays all season. He used the tight end the way Arkansas does, as well. Meanwhile, the stout Ole Miss defense has allowed about 10 points per game this year, about six points less than LSU was surrendering before the Tigers gave up close to their average, 17, last weekend.

We’re not sure 10 points for Arkansas would win the game today. It seems another 17 spot would be closer to what’s needed.

Arkansas may be able to rediscover its potent ground game today if its offensive front can stay on blocks against the quick, smaller Rebels front seven. Robert N’kemdiche seems more suited for being the Rebels’ version of Jadaveon Clowney at end, but he’s having to play a tackle (three technique), and he’ll be lined up over Arkansas guard Sebastian Tretola much of the game. Ole Miss also is yet another team that wants to take away the Hogs’ running game to make them pass, but not for the same reasons most teams do. With the Rebels, they want their fast secondary led by Cenquez Golson to have a chances at picking passing and turning it over to the offense: Golson is second in the nation in interceptions with 9 and has another 13 passes broken up.

It’s Golson who is maybe the only reason Alabama isn’t undefeated today. The Tide was driving for the winning touchdown and tight end O.J. Howard was open in the end zone for a Blake Sims throw before Golson came out of nowhere, leapt and stole it away from Howard in the back of the end zone. The play was so fast, the back judge originally called Golson out of the end zone before the review corrected the call.

So, Arkansas is basically having to ask junior quarterback Brandon Allen to duplicate last week, which was by far Allen’s best total game in the SEC in 15 starts. We constantly heard how Allen wasn’t needed to win games for the Hogs, but win it he did with some big-time throws to move the offense when LSU took away the Razorbacks running game. Arkansas found a way to move Allen out of the pocket, letting him use his feet to get outside the pass rush and hit receivers on the move. It was shades of Hog quarterback performances of yesteryear, the way the Razorbacks would use the skills of Billy Moore, Jon Brittenum and Bill Montgomery, and later Kevin Scanlon, to negate an opponent’s pass rush.

The biggest thing Allen did was hit on most of the throws, and often on third down. Keon Hatcher at receiver came through with the biggest catch in the red zone on Arkansas’s second touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. A.J. Derby, meanwhile, is living up to Bret Bielema’s preseason forecast to the SEC media in Hoover, Ala., that he would be the surprise of the league. Well, the league is pretty stretched out and a lot around here doesn’t get noticed out east, but Derby has certainly been a surprise in these parts. His three straight catches were key in Arkansas’ first touchdown drive, turning a 3-0 lead to 10-0.

And Tretola just destroyed a couple of guys on the first Razorback touchdown versus LSU. The Tigers in short yardage (you can also see it on third-and-1 when Alex Collins scores the second Razorback touchdown) like to have their down-linemen drive to the ankles of the offensive line, clogging things up and letting the linebackers make the short-yardage stops in a pile. Tretola and the Hog line were well-coached to expect it, and on Jonathan William’s 1-yard dive over the top, his 340-pound left guard stepped over the diving lineman and took out LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith.

Tretola, he of the touchdown pass on fourth down to his snapper on a fake field goal against UAB, is so light on his feet for such a massive frame, he’s probably headed to “Dancing With the Stars” some day, when he’s playing on Sundays.

These guys are having fun and playing with more confidence each weekend.

That includes a defense that has gone from a total joke in 2013 to a team that pitched an unheard-of SEC shutout over LSU last week. Granted, the Tigers seemed to leave their offensive focus in Baton Rouge and Anthony Jennings was not a serious passing threat (certainly not Bo Wallace), though he had beaten the Hogs last year on a late deep throw. But what coordinator Robb Smith and his assistants have done with this unit in a year is nothing short of amazing. If Smith were coaching one of the contending teams for the playoff, he’d be a shoo-in for the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach. He still might be, though the finalists tend to come from the upper echelon of the polls.

And so, like Allen at the controls on offense, all Arkansas is asking is that Smith’s troops limit Ole Miss’ scoring to 14 or less this week. In these days of high speed offense, that would almost be as good as a blanking.

That would just about do it, 17-14, and a sixth win for the Razorbacks, which means all kinds of plusses besides a bowl appearance (boost in recruiting, more practice time for the reserves, etc.). Were this in Oxford, we wouldn’t think it possible. But in Reynolds Razorback Stadium against every foe (including blowing out Northern Illinois, which typically doesn’t get blown out, 52-14) Arkansas has been a different team. Mike Anderson, the UA basketball coach, can probably relate.

Does Arkansas keep its winning streak alive and beat Ole Miss?

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hogs look for validation with win over Ole Miss Rebels



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