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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss Rebels Visit Arkansas on Saturday

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The cold deep freeze of Razorbacks Stadium on Saturday night will be in stark contrast to the hot rumors that suggest that Ole Miss’s Lane Kiffin will become the next Auburn Tigers coach at the end of the season.

Older Razorbacks fans like myself may remember the Lou Holtz era and the childhood days of Lane Kiffin, son of then Razorbacks defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, roaming the sidelines along with Holtz’s son, Skip Holtz. Saturday’s game with Ole Miss, on a personal note, will be a sort of homecoming for the Kiffin family. Most recently, Kiffin came to Fayetteville as offensive coordinator for Alabama and in 2020 as head coach of Ole Miss.

During the past week, several names have emerged as rumored candidates for the Auburn job, but the Kiffin rumor is growing bigger by the day. In the meantime, Kiffin brings his Ole Miss Rebels to Fayetteville to battle Arkansas after a disappointing loss the week before in Oxford to Alabama. LSU has wrapped up the SEC West division title, and Ole Miss will be playing to finish as high as possible in the standings and be in line to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

For Arkansas, the Razorbacks who once had high aspirations a few months ago, will still be playing to become bowl eligible with a sixth win of the season. In fact, the Razorbacks have just two tough games remaining to get the job done, and Saturday’s game with Ole Miss will be the final home game. The Razorbacks will travel to Missouri for the final regular season game of 2022.

And I know it is something the players, coaches, and fans don’t want to hear, but, it may be time to turn the focus to 2023. It may be time to get younger players on the field for experience that will help their development for the upcoming season, and, if they win a game and the Hogs reach a bowl game, then it happens. If not, the investment into next year will have begun.

A bowl game could benefit the Hogs in both recruiting and in giving them extra practices on the season to further the younger players’ development. In effect, the bowl practices are a second spring practice going into next season.

As awful as this all seems, it is a hard dose of reality for Arkansas fans. Coach Sam Pittman, in just his third season, inherited a bare cabinet, both on the player roster, and on the coaching staff. He literally is building the program from just him in the office to every aspect of the program. I know Arkansas fans are tired of hearing the word “patience”, but that is reality. Success will come in time, but to compete at a high level in the SEC, one cannot expect a program to immediately (within three seasons) begin to compete with the top tier teams. Arkansas’s recruiting history has never been able to bring in a roster full of 5-star recruits, and it is unrealistic to have immediate success. But with that said, it is time to win, and I believe no one understands that better than Sam Pittman. The 2023 season will be a critical season for the Hogs’ head coach. I look to see major changes on the coaching staff once the season has ended.

Here are game notes on Saturday’s game with Ole Miss as provided by the University of Arkansas:

AP/Coaches/CFP Poll: 14/14/TBA
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (Fresno State, ‘98)
Career Record: 84-44 (11th season)
Record at Ole Miss: 23-10 (3rd season)

• The Hogs and Rebels will meet under the lights at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the penultimate game of the 2022 regular season. Arkansas, looking to reach the six-win mark for the second year in a row and become bowl eligible for the third straight season, hosts No. 14 Ole Miss
at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, on SEC Network.

• With a win against Ole Miss, Sam Pittman would become the fourth Arkansas head coach to earn bowl eligibility in each of their first three seasons, joining Lou Holtz (1977-79), Ken Hatfield (1984-86) and Houston Nutt (1998-00).

• The temperature at kickoff for Saturday’s home finale is projected to be 30 degrees. It would be coldest game played in Fayetteville since Nov. 2, 1991, when the temperature at kickoff between Arkansas and Baylor was 29 degrees.

• QB KJ Jefferson does his damage through the air and on the ground. Jefferson has completed 148-of-222 passes (66.7%) for 1,981 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions while rushing for 425 yards and six scores in eight games. Despite missing two contests, Jefferson, who
has eight career games with both a passing and rushing touchdown, is one of two SEC quarterbacks with 15 passing touchdowns and at least five rushing scores this season.

• RB Raheim ‘Rocket’ Sanders is the Hogs’ leading rusher through 10 games, totaling 1,147 yards on 185 carries (6.2 avg.) with seven scores on the ground. Sanders, who ranks second in the SEC in both rushing yards (1,147) and rushing yards per game (114.7), only needed eight games this
season to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark, matching RB Madre Hill’s program record of eight games set in 1995.

• WR Jadon Haselwood leads Arkansas with a team-high 49 catches for 592 yards (12.1 avg.) and three touchdowns through 10 games. A transfer from Oklahoma, Haselwood has caught three or more passes in each of his first 10 games as a Hog and has tallied at least one reception in 26
consecutive games played dating back to the 2019 season.

• LB Drew Sanders has emerged as one of the top defensive playmakers in college football this season, racking up 86 total tackles with a team-leading 12.0 tackles for loss and a team-high 8.5 sacks through 10 games. His 8.5 sacks are the most by a Razorback defender since DE Chris Smith totaled 8.5 sacks in 2013, which is tied for eighth most in a season in school history. Sanders leads the SEC in sacks, sitting a half-sack ahead of Alabama LB Will Anderson Jr. (8.0).

Temperature at kickoff on Saturday is forecasted to be around 30 degrees, and with a nighttime kickoff time, the temperature may be around 25 by the end of the game. Dress warm, drink lots of coffee / hot chocolate, and cheer on a great group of Hogs seniors in their final home game.

And from all of us at RNN Sports, we wish all of you a very safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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