FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ defense has been improving in recent games and that’s a good sign, but No. 14 Ole Miss’ high-powered offense will prove to be a big test.

Sam Pittman was pleased with how Barry Odom’s defense played its best game of the season on Saturday in a 13-10 loss to No. 7 LSU. Pittman knows Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss will present a new challenge.

“Ole Miss, obviously very explosive on offense,” Pittman said. “They’re running the ball as well as anybody in the SEC. Pretty balanced still though with about 265 to 225, somewhere in there. Very explosive. Have great skill. (Jonathan) Mingo, (Quinshon) Judkins the running back, (Jaxson) Dart, really, really fine talent skill-wise. That’s not saying (Malik) Heath, (Jordan) Watkins… They’ve got really good wideouts.

“Defensively, disruptive. They run a 3-2-6. Can get after the quarterback and have been blitzing more of late I think more for the run game trying to slow down opponent’s runs against them. They’re playing extremely well. Obviously, lost a close game Saturday, but they played extremely hard. Well-coached. We are looking forward to having a night game here. I think it’s our first night game of the year. I know it is our first night game at home. We’re looking forward to another opportunity.”

Ole Miss is currently averaging 485.7 yards of total offense each game. That is third in the SEC and No. 13 in the FBS. Ole Miss is particularly good on the ground averaging 259.8 yards each game which is tops in the SEC and third in the FBS. Ole Miss is averaging 36.1 points per game which is fourth in the SEC and No. 19 in FBS. Arkansas is giving up 28.9 points per outing which is No. 13 in the SEC.

That is pitted against Arkansas giving up 427.1 yards of total offense each outing which is No. 13 in the SEC and 106 in FBS. After the way Alabama ran on Arkansas, the Ole Miss rushing game has to be something concerning to Odom. The Hogs have allowed 146.6 yards each game on the ground which is No. 7 in the SEC and ranks 65 in the FBS.

Hogville’s Dudley E. Dawson reported on Monday that backup tailback Zach Evans suffered a concussion against the Tide and his status for Saturday is uncertain. Evans, a TCU transfer, has rushed 114 times for 602 yards and seven touchdowns. That is second to Judkins. He has 205 carries for 1,171 yards and 15 touchdowns. Judkins has passed Arkansas’ Rocket Sanders, who has rushed 185 times for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns, to take the rushing lead in the SEC.

Dart has provided some consistency at quarterback for Ole Miss after transferring in from USC. He has completed 150 of 247 passes for 2,123 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Dart has rushed 96 times for 508 yards which is third on the team.

“He’s a better runner than I want him to be,” Pittman said. “He’s smart, accurate, not afraid to throw back-shoulder throw. I mean, he’s good at that. I mean, he’s got some really good receivers that can catch the ball as well, but he seems to me like be very comfortable in the offense. I’m really concerned about his running ability, because he’s good at that.”

Pittman talked more about Judkins and also the Ole Miss offensive line that includes freshman Jayden Williams, 6-5, 300, from Conway.

“They’ve got huge…well one’s from Conway, but they’ve got two really good tackles,” Pittman said. “(Micah) Pettus (6-7, 360) is a huge man. I’m kind of interested to see how big he is when I walk…you know I’ve had some big linemen, but this guy’s a mountain. They’ve got the three interior guys, played together a long time. Jeremy James is a guy I recruited at Georgia and he ended up going to Ole Miss. He’s played tackle. But I think they really are in sync. They’ve got those three veterans in there. Really are in sync together timing wise and they pull really well. Run a lot of different offense. They just spread you out and they flood zones and different things.

“Judkins is a really good running back. Really good. Freshman. Can make you miss. Catches the ball extremely well. I think he’s a really big-time threat coming out of the backfield and got really good speed, but he’s probably, well Dart, you know, transferred in there, it certainly helped them big time. He’s probably the guy right now. Him and Zach Evans, but he makes them go, now. They’re hard to tackle. They run downhill, they remind me a lot of, you know, that attack of what Mississippi State does.”

Arkansas held LSU to 284 yards of total offense on Saturday with only 86 of that coming through the air. That was by far Arkansas’ best defensive showing statistically all season. But the next best was in the previous game when they only allowed Liberty 315 yards of total offense.

The Hogs have gotten better on defense each game since a two-game stretch against Alabama and Mississippi State. The Tide rolled up 555 yards of offense against Arkansas, including 317 on the ground. Against the Bulldogs, Arkansas allowed a season-high total of 568 yards. Mississippi State torched the Hogs secondary for 406 yards.

But following that two-game stretch, Arkansas allowed 471 yards to BYU and then 468 to Auburn prior to the Liberty and LSU games. So for four games the Hogs have made strides defensively. That has allowed the Hogs defenders to gain some confidence.

“Again, the game is a lot about matchups, but it’s also about the demeanor that you play,” Pittman said. “I felt like over the last game and a half that we have played like, I’m talking about chasing the ball, the physicality, we played like what I thought our first two years were. I don’t know why we didn’t earlier. A lot of it has to do with we might not have been comfortable with the guys around us, because there was a lot of shuffling going on. Regardless, we’re playing much better now.

“Our kids have … you kind of saw from the loss at Liberty, the way that they played I thought was really good. I just think we’re playing faster and we’re swarming to the ball better and we’re getting after the quarterback a lot better.”

Pittman talked about the improvement coming once Odom moved from the press box to the sideline. He talked about the benefits of having Odom on the sideline.

“I think part of that certainly is being present,” Pittman said. “The kids have a lot of respect for him. If he’s up there (in the box), he’s away from them. Now, we won nine games last year with him upstairs. To be perfectly honest with you I think we decided that with him on the sideline, he could explain the changes. Like, we changed our unbalanced formation Saturday, what we were going to do. What we went into the game [doing], and it didn’t work, and we changed it.

“I think we thought that his presences on the sideline and his ability to make changes himself — besides through the headsets — I thought we needed that. And we felt like it would help us. So that was probably the original reason why we asked him to come down.”

Pittman went more into the reasons for moving Odom down to the field.

“If it’s not working, you can be bull-headed or you’ve got to try to fix it,” Pittman said. “So I believe that was the BYU game I think maybe. And it worked. And it has worked. So he’ll stay down there. Obviously the advantage is you can see things a little bit better up there. You can see what’s going on. But we have really good communication over the headsets from up there down and we believe in the guys up there, so we’re going to be in good shape I think.”

In the season opener against Cincinnati, Arkansas gave up 438 yards of total offense. South Carolina had 417 and Missouri State 409. South Carolina rushed for 40 yards while Missouri State had 52 on the ground. The Bearcats finished with 113 yards on the ground.

There’s no doubt Arkansas’ defense has made strides this season, but the run defense will get its biggest test of the season Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.