FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Chad Morris’ best quality in his first year at Arkansas has had nothing to do with his coaching ability.
It has been his knack for keeping a sense of optimism alive with both the Razorbacks (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) and the school’s fan base despite losing five straight games after a season-opening win. The victories haven’t been there, but the improvement has for a Morris-led team that faces Mississippi (4-2, 0-2) in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks have shown promise in recent weeks. First, they narrowly lost to Texas A&M two weeks ago and then scored the most points on No. 1 Alabama this season in a 65-31 loss last week.
Compared to a September in which Arkansas blew a large fourth-quarter lead in a loss at Colorado State and lost at home to North Texas, every little bit of progress breeds hope.
“When you go through adversity, you come closer, you become better,” Morris said. “I think the staff has become better, the players have become better and closer, and that’s why you’ve seen the progress you’ve seen.”
The Razorbacks begin the second half of their season against an Ole Miss team that’s seventh in the country in total offense, averaging 540.8 yards per game. The Rebels have scored at least 70 points in a game twice this season, including a week ago in a 70-21 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Still, Ole Miss has averaged only 11.5 points per game in two SEC losses.
For an Arkansas team searching for any bit of hope it can find, it’s enough to fuel the belief that the Razorbacks can extend their four-game winning streak over the Rebels — and maybe turn around Morris’ first season.
“I feel like these last six games, we’re very capable of going out and winning,” Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez said. “It starts with this one right here.”
Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu ranks in the NCAA’s top 10 in yards passing (1,911) and yards per game (318.5). Receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge are all in the SEC’s top six in yards receiving. The only knock on the offense is it’s been much less effective against SEC defenses.
Arkansas tight end Cheyenne O’Grady was suspended for the first two games this season and played sparingly in the two after that. However, the junior has returned with a vengeance over the last two games, with 10 catches for 125 yards. Last week against the Crimson Tide, O’Grady caught a career-best seven passes, including two touchdowns.
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley is expected to return on Saturday after missing the previous two games following a concussion he suffered against Auburn on Sept. 22. The junior has rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns this season.
The Ole Miss secondary has been so hobbled by injuries that a few players from the offense have had to switch sides to provide depth. Armani Linton and Tylan Knight started the year as running backs, but are now getting substantial playing time on defense. Linton had six tackles and Knight had three against Louisiana-Monroe last week.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Arkansas will be playing its first SEC game in Little Rock since 2012. The Razorbacks have played in War Memorial Stadium on a part-time basis since 1948, and the school extended its contract with the stadium during the spring — agreeing to face Missouri there in 2019, 2021 and 2023.
“I do think it’s unique that both teams are traveling to play there,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “But I still think it will be a hostile crowd.”
AP Sports Writer David Brandt contributed to this report.
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