Running Rebels to rumble with Razorbacks
By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
Oct. 24, 2003
For the first time in several years, Ole Miss is overpowering teams instead of the other way around.
After several seasons of trying to survive the tough SEC West on speed and finesse, the Rebels are playing physical football. They are running the ball between the tackles. They are running through defenders. They are disrupting backfields.
And they are about to find out if they can do it against one of the toughest teams in the country.
The Razorbacks' offensive front, led by All-American offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, has opened gaping holes all year long for their talented stable of running backs. Led by senior tailback Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas is averaging 225 rushing yards per game best in the SEC and 8th-best in the country.
And while Cutcliffe expects a healthy dose of the Razorbacks' ground attack, Arkansas may have to go without their top two running backs. Cobbs and De'Arrius Howard are both questionable, and Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said the possibility of rain would "definitely" affect his decision to play or sit the two players.
The Rebels' own running game continues to show improvement, and Cutcliffe said his team is moving the ball better on the ground than it has in years.
In fact, the Rebels are averaging 176 yards per game 30 yards more than the team averaged during Deuce McAllister's senior season in 2000.
Nutt said that Rebels quarterback Eli Manning has always been a threat, but the running game makes Manning even more dangerous.
Against Arkansas last year, Manning completed 42-of-56 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns, but his passes were the only thing connecting for Ole Miss. The Rebels fumbled six times, losing three of them, and Manning threw two interceptions. The Razorbacks scored 24 points off Ole Miss' turnovers on their way to a 48-28 win.
The difference this year, Manning says, is the balance brought to the offense by the Rebels' ability to move the ball on the ground.
And it is that running game that will be the focus of an Arkansas defense that has defended the run better than only three SEC teams.
If the Razorbacks do stack the defensive front, Manning said they will do so at their own peril.