Friday, November 03, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Ole Miss win gives Hogs new fortitude

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE — It’s been 14 months since Arkansas’ football team won back-to-back games.

The Razorbacks will have a decent chance of snapping that streak on Saturday when Coastal Carolina arrives in Fayetteville for a 3 p.m. contest that will be televised on the SEC Network.

There’s been a sense of a renewed confidence around the Fred Smith Football Center this week after the Hogs pulled off a memorable comeback 38-37 road victory at Ole Miss last Saturday.

And whether the staff or players admit it during press conferences or not, it’s no secret that the Razorbacks are fighting for bowl eligibility and likely even their head coach’s job.

If Arkansas (3-5, 1-4) is to ride the wave of momentum to postseason play for a fourth straight season, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads’ bunch will need to look more like it did in the second half against the Rebels and less like the club that gave up 415 yards and 31 points in the first half alone.

“Through 26 plays, we gave up a boatload of that yardage and 31 of the 37 points,” Rhoads said. “We analyzed why we gave it up. We showed the film and critiqued it as to why we gave it up.

“Then we looked at plays 27 through 59 and we talked about how we met our objectives and goals. We showed the film and critiqued it and showed the reasons why. Then you set out to do the mental work. We just met on Sunday changing those 26 plays.”

Ole Miss score four touchdowns and a field goal on its first five possessions, but a Santos Ramirez strip and recovery with 8:28 left in the second quarter completely swung the momentum to Arkansas’ favor.

“There’s always a handful of plays that you can point to, but certainly Santos’ caused fumble and recovered fumble changed the momentum of our fortunes, and it changed our energy as a defense,” Rhoads said. “I think it changed the energy of the offense, as well, as they went down and capitalized and scored on it.

“When we crept back and we knew we were in the game, the next thing you know, we’re down two scores and we were on defense. It probably wasn’t as high hopes for us at that point. To go out there and get that fumble, get that turnover and get that touchdown changed it right back again. We were playing at a higher level.”

In addition to Ramirez’s key turnover and a scoop-and-score from Jacksonville native Kevin Richardson, the Razorback defense also benefited from a big performance from outside linebacker Randy Ramsey.

Ramsey was recognized as the team’s Defensive MVP after recording nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass break-up against the Rebels.

His latest showing has head coach Bret Bielema excited for what’s to come.

“He’s very long, he’s very athletic, and he’s got a great burst,” Bielema said. “He can do some things better than other guys at that position, just athletically. When he’s playing extremely hard, he’s a very big athlete that can run.”

Ramsey isn’t likely to be pushed for his starting job this season, but the Hogs will have a deeper collection of linebackers beginning this weekend.

That group includes three who are returning from injuries at the same time in Alexy Jean-Baptiste, Junction City native Jamario Bell, and Watson Chapel’s own Josh Harris.

Jean-Baptiste, a redshirt-freshman who was highly-touted as a recruit, could add valuable depth down the final stretch of the regular season.

“It’s nice to see some guys coming along, getting some depth in the room,” Arkansas outside linebackers’ coach Chad Walker said. “I can see (Jean-Baptiste) being a slash guy where he can play RAZOR, he can play HOG. He’s a guy that has the capability to set the edge. He can play with his hands.”

The Razorbacks will be facing a Coastal Carolina team that was handled by Arkansas State, 51-17, on October 14.

The Chanticleers have played as many as four quarterbacks this season but are led by 5-9, 200-pound senior Tyler Keane, who completes 57 percent of his passes and owns a 10-5 touchdown-interception ratio.

Osharmar Abercrombie, a 5-9, 210-pound senior, leads the Chanticleers’ ground attack with 495 yards and five touchdowns.

Malcolm Williams, a junior from Shreveport (La.), paces the receivers with 24 catches for 482 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Shane Johnson and junior safety Fitz Wattley, who own 59 total tackles apiece leads coastal Carolina’s defense.