FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas had the perfect plan for Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral last season on their way to a 33-21 victory.
Barry Odom’s defense forced seven Ole Miss turnovers including six interceptions. It was a big win for the Hogs and Sam Pittman. This year, Pittman, Odom and the Hogs once again will face Corral and a talented Ole Miss squad ranked No. 17 in the nation while Arkansas comes in at No. 13.
“We’re really excited to play Ole Miss,” Pittman said. “They have a lot of returners starting on their offense. Eight. Of course, everyone knows about Matt Corral and all the wonderful things he’s doing and all the respect he’s getting. They have a really good group of running backs in (Jerrion) Ealy and (Henry) Parrish and (Snoop) Conner. They’re rushing the ball about 250, a little bit less than that, per game. Great wide receivers. They have a veteran group on offense.
“On defense, the portal has been really good to Ole Miss. Otis Reese transferred in from Georgia, and Chance Campbell went from I believe Maryland. Both of those two kids are their top leading tacklers, and they brought in some nice pass rushers from a couple junior colleges. Their defense is playing extremely well, physical, run to the ball, and we’re looking forward to going over there. We know we have a great challenge and a really good football team we’re getting ready to play.”
Last season, Corral completed 20 of 38 passes for 200 yards, two touchdowns and the six interceptions against the Hogs. Pittman talked about how the Hogs will try to limit Corral on Saturday.
“That’s a really good question because he is fast,” Pittman said. “They’re not running as many designed runs for him as what I thought they might. I’m sure the reason is the way he throws it. There’s a lot of yards gained. We’re going to have to set the edge on him. He can obviously take off running up the middle on us, as well. We’re going to have to push the pocket and set the edge to where there’s really nowhere to go. If we can do that, we’ll have some success.
“We have to move him. If he stands in the pocket, he’ll pick us apart, and we know that. He’s just a fine, fine player. I went back and watched his interview after our game, and I’m sure he’s going to be really excited to play us because in his words he didn’t play very well. So, we’re looking for his best effort like he’s been giving each and every game, but he’ll probably have a bit more on this one because of last year.”
This season, Corral has completed 87 of 125 passes for 1,210 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has carried the ball 43 times for 161 yards and six more touchdowns. Pittman knows to have success against Corral and Ole Miss the Hogs will have to add some new wrinkles to what they did last season.
“We’ll certainly have some new things that we’ll do this year with what we did last year,” Pittman said. “We’ve got that in the plan, and we’ll see how it looks today in practice, but we can’t do identically what we did last year because if we do, he’ll pick us apart. We’ll certainly put some wrinkles in there on defense.”
Something that gets forgotten in all the Corral talk is Ole Miss led the SEC in rushing last season. They rushed for 242 yards against the Hogs. Pittman was asked if this is something many overlook when talking Ole Miss’ offense?
“I think so just because Corral is so good, you know, and their wideouts,” Pittman said. “But they have really good backs. They break tackles and they’re fast. They led it last year. I don’t know where they are, as far as in the SEC, this year. But they have to be high because they’re right around 250 yards a game. I believe that’s the number. They run a very similar offense, running wise, that we do. A lot of zone fills. A lot of nakeds off that. A lot of stretch plays. And they run gaps like we do, so very similar running style of runs.”
Ole Miss uses all three of the running backs mentioned by Pittman. Parrish leads the team with 36 carries for 223 yards and a touchdown, Ealy 40 rushes for 204 yards and one touchdown and then Connor 26 for 137 yards with four touchdowns. When that is mixed in with what Corral has done on the ground it’s easy to see why Pittman is concerned about that part of Ole Miss’ offense.
But Pittman also has seen an improved Ole Miss defense this season.
“If you go back and watch the Louisville game to start the season, they were much, much better than at any point that they were last year,” Pittman said. “Now I’ll say this, they improved each and every week last year on defense. They ended up having a pretty defensive ball club by the end of the year. But you can see their transfers – and sometimes new people coming into your program bring a different edge to the program as well. And I don’t know if this was the case or not, but I know that Campbell and Reese have really added, and of course their edge rush guys that they’ve added to because Sam Williams can really rush the passer, along with 96, Isaiah (Iton).”
Pittman was asked what he feels are the strengths of the Ole Miss defense?
“They’re running to the ball,” Pittman said. “To me, they’re playing really, really hard. I think they’re playing better than they were last year. Their safeties will smack you. If you look at them, they play a very similar defense that we do. Whereas if you look at our strength, the first thing you’d say (in response to) ‘Where is your strength?’ Well, probably in that safety area, guys that can go run to the ball. Then you go, ‘Well, maybe linebackers.’ For them, it’s their safeties and they’re doing a really good job. I like their nose. He was good against us last year. A guy that is playing faster. He’s stronger, it looks like. He’s locking up centers that he’s playing against. I think Campbell at linebacker makes them better. He’s leading the team, but if you look through that V, you’ve got 55 (KD Hill), then you’ve got Campbell then you’ve got (Otis) Reese. Those are the three, in my opinion, that are three of the better players, better leaders, on their team right now. And it’s right down the middle, where they can go either direction. I think that’s what made them a little bit better. That, and they’re playing extremely hard. They’re confident.”
Despite Arkansas losing to No. 2 Georgia 37-0 and Ole Miss falling to No. 1 Alabama 42-2, after trailing 35-0, neither team dropped much in the polls. Pittman talked about that on Monday as well.
“I can’t speak for them, but for us, we’ve played teams that are good,” Pittman said. “We’ve beaten a couple ranked teams. I think that says everybody has that much respect for Alabama and Georgia, which they’ve given no reason not to to this point. I think that’s what it says mostly. Both of us were on the road in very intimidating, hostile environments. I don’t know how Ole Miss handled it. Obviously, I watched the tape. I know it intimidated us. We didn’t play very well, and part of it was because of the crowd. It certainly had something to do with the false starts. I think people just have a lot of respect for Alabama and Georgia’s programs. Plus, I think a lot of teams ahead of us lost, as well.”
The kickoff is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. and televised on ESPN.