81F Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS
Since being overwhelmed by the nation's top-ranked defense a month ago, Arkansas' high-powered offense has responded with a pair of impressive showings.
That doesn't bode well for a Mississippi team that has been struggling mightily defensively and will be without two of its leaders on that side of the ball this weekend.
The 10th-ranked Razorbacks come out of their bye week seeking a third straight victory Saturday when they visit the Rebels, who are trying to avoid losing 10 straight SEC games for the first time in their 79-year history in the league.
Arkansas (5-1, 1-1) entered this season with an inexperienced offensive line and questions about Tyler Wilson's ability to replace Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Wilson and the line have silenced most of their critics, with the Razorbacks leading the SEC in total offense (466.2 yards per game) and second in scoring (39.2 points).
They sputtered in a 38-14 loss at then-No. 3 Alabama on Sept. 24, gaining a season-low 226 yards, but bounced back by amassing 1,019 yards and combining for 80 points in wins over No. 14 Texas A&M and 15th-ranked Auburn.
"I think we've figured out that they are willing to compete at this point," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said after the 38-14 victory over the Tigers on Oct. 8. "The one setback that we had, I questioned if we were willing to fight for what we wanted. The last couple of weeks, they have responded to me going after them.
"They have shown me that they're willing to fight for it."
They now have to show they can avoid a letdown.
Arkansas has enjoyed a heated rivalry with Mississippi since Houston Nutt left the Razorbacks following the 2007 season to coach the Rebels. Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 38-24 last season for its first win in three tries since Nutt's departure, but with the Rebels scuffling this season, some of the hype is missing.
Mississippi (2-4, 0-3) is coming off last Saturday's 52-7 loss to Alabama, its most lopsided defeat since losing 49-3 to Florida in 1981. The Rebels finished with 141 yards - their fewest since gaining 136 in a 17-0 loss to Auburn in 1998 - in losing a ninth straight SEC game, matching a school record set between the 2007-08 seasons.
"It's not fun," Nutt said. "Winning is how you spell 'fun.' So you can imagine that it's not a good feeling because you want to win. That's all you try to do each and every Saturday."
Many of Mississippi's problems stem from a defense that ranks 106th out of 120 FBS schools in yards allowed (442.8 per game) and 11th in the SEC in points allowed (29.2). Making matters worse for the Rebels, defensive end Wayne Dorsey and cornerback Marcus Temple are out for the season after getting injured against the Crimson Tide.
Dorsey (broken right arm) leads Ole Miss with five tackles for loss and three sacks, while Temple (fractured right ankle) has 28 tackles and is second on the team with two interceptions.
"Those were some key players that we just lost, so somebody has to step up and fill their positions," said sophomore linebacker Mike Marry, who leads the team with 55 tackles. "They were big playmakers and also big leaders on and off the field."
The banged-up defense will likely have its hands full trying to slow down Wilson, the SEC's leading passer with 1,779 yards, and his favorite target Jarius Wright, who is second in the conference with 554 receiving yards and tied for first with six receiving touchdowns.
The Razorbacks, though, will be missing freshman running back Kody Walker, who has a team-high five rushing touchdowns but recently underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his shin.
Arkansas still seems likely to move the ball on Mississippi, but the Rebels could do the same against the Razorbacks, who are 10th in the SEC against the run - allowing 188.7 yards per game on the ground.
Arkansas, however, doesn't believe it will get caught overlooking a seemingly overmatched opponent.
"It's the SEC," said Wilson, who has 12 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. "You can't take anything for granted. You can't say 'We're favored, so that's a 'W,' because it doesn't work like that. We know we're going to have to come out and it's going to be a battle every week."