OXFORD, Miss. (AP) It's been a long grind for No. 19 Mississippi's football team, which will play its 10th game in 10 weeks on Saturday when it hosts Arkansas.
But if the Rebels can find a way to beat the Razorbacks, some much-needed rest awaits, along with the program's best opportunity to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division in more than a decade.
Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1 SEC) has recovered nicely since a surprising 37-24 loss to Memphis on Oct. 17, beating Texas A&M and Auburn over the past two weeks. The Rebels' defense, which was shredded against Memphis, has played much better and some key players have returned to the field for a November push.
''We are right in the thick of things,'' Ole Miss fourth-year coach Hugh Freeze said. ''I think that's what the Ole Miss people wanted a few years back, and we are there. Now we need to build on them.''
A good next step for the Rebels would be handling the Razorbacks (4-4, 2-2), who crushed Ole Miss 30-0 in Fayetteville last season. The Razorbacks have won two straight games after a rough start to the season, including a 54-46 four-overtime thriller against Auburn on Oct. 24.
Freeze has said several times that he doesn't really talk about ''revenge'' games, but acknowledged last year's loss against Arkansas in Fayetteville on a cold and rainy day was a miserable experience that was embarrassing for his offense.
''I'm a competitor and an offensive coach,'' Freeze said. ''As soon as we were able to turn our attention from Auburn, (the Arkansas game) was on my mind. I like getting another shot at that. It motivates me.''
The Ole Miss offense appears to have found some balance after some pass-heavy games the season's first half.
The return of All-SEC left tackle Laremy Tunsil - who was suspended for the first seven games after the NCAA ruled he received improper benefits - has solidified the offensive line. The Rebels had 558 total yards against Auburn on Saturday.
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche returned against Auburn after he missed one game because of a concussion suffered against Memphis. Freeze is hopeful that starting safety Tony Conner can return against Arkansas after missing the past six games with a torn MCL in his right knee.
One of the few concerns right now is quarterback Chad Kelly. He's had a great season - his 2,856 yards passing and 20 touchdowns both lead the SEC by a wide margin - but he's also had a problem with turnovers.
He's thrown seven interceptions over the past three games and is now tied for the league lead with 12. Kelly said that most of his mistakes are ''correctable'' and that he's working on shaking off early mistakes and making better plays later.
''You can't get too high or too low because you just never know,'' Kelly said. ''You've got to stay focused and have confidence in the guys around you that they're going to make plays.''
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