This was the one game all year I was certain Arkansas was going to lose.
All the way back in the preseason up through Saturday afternoon, I didn’t see it happening. With Arkansas coming off a rough outing against Alabama, Ole Miss coming off a bye week, the Rebels having a high-powered offense, Arkansas’ struggling defense, Arkansas’ inconsistent offense, I just didn’t see how the Razorbacks could keep up with the Rebels for four quarters (and however many overtimes might be necessary).
So, I was wrong. Very happily wrong.
Make no mistake, some of those issues were still prevalent. Arkansas looked pretty bad at times, probably no time worse than Ole Miss’ sub-minute drive to end the first half. But there was drastic improvement in other areas. The defense was much more physical, best illustrated possibly on the final real play of the game. Chad Kelly was running to try and convert a 4th-and-16, and was getting close to the marker when Santos Ramirez laid a hit on Kelly that blasted the ball, and Ole Miss’ dreams of victory, backwards and out of bounds - generating one of the single loudest sounds - possibly the loudest - I’ve ever heard in Fayetteville.
The Arkansas running game also made a triumphant reappearance. Raleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley combined for over 240 yards, and Jared Cornelius’ touchdown run with about two minutes left gave the Hogs their ending margin of victory. For the first time this season against good teams, Arkansas finally was balanced and looked like the team whose identity has been so well-established through the Bielema era. Arkansas held the ball for over 40 minutes and it helped limit Ole Miss’ opportunities.
Limiting those opportunities was important because Arkansas led throughout almost the entire game. It wasn’t until Kelly scored on a keeper with 9 minutes to go in the fourth quarter that the Rebels took the lead.
But the Razorbacks answered with a 10-play drive. A drive that began with a sack and a 2nd-and-18. Arkansas had to go for it on 4th down and Allen found Keon Hatcher to keep the chains moving. A few plays later, on 3rd-and-9, Allen found Hatcher again on the left sideline for 11 yards. From there, Williams and Cornelius rand the ball into the end zone.
And another demon slayed (hopefully!) is Arkansas’ goal line offense. It’s been the stuff of parody ever since the fiasco against Texas A&M, but the Razorbacks scored on a 2-yard option pitch in the third quarter and then on Cornelius’ 6-yard final score.
Oh, and also, Arkansas made some field goals! Kicks that were longer than 30 yards were made! Adam McFain, who was Arkansas’ normal kicker in 2014 but lost his job to Cole Hedlund in 2015 following an injury incurred - according to Bret Bielema in an August 2015 press conference - playing frisbee golf, finally won his job back and made 36 and 43-yard kicks in the second quarter. If that continues, it’s a nice weapon Arkansas hasn’t had in a few years.
And lest we forget, Dominique Reed was back in the game plan! Reed broke the game open on a 51-yard bomb in the 1st quarter and ended up with three receptions (he also had what could have been a costly drop late in the game, but Arkansas won so we’ll forgive it this time).
Other notables: Henre’ Toliver’s awesome interception, DeAndre Coley’s targeting penalty that will keep him on the sidelines for the first half next week, Ramirez’s other hit that caused a key incompletion in the 4th quarter, Brooks Ellis’ almost-great interception that was nullified by an odd off-sides penalty, an early 4th down stop that was nullified because Bret Bielema called a timeout just before the snap, and some really strange playcalls by Hugh Freeze like the long fade into the end zone on 3rd and 2 and the Kelly punt on 4th-and-short, followed by a failed conversion attempt later in the game on 4th-and-longer and farther away from the end zone (why doesn’t he get more criticism for some of those things?).
So, from here, Arkansas will continue to be ranked as the team heads back on the road to face Auburn next week. The Hogs sit at 5-2 and have some opportunities to make some noise this season. The Razorbacks now claim three consecutive wins over Ole Miss, in three of the best seasons in that program’s history. Hopefully, Arkansas will be able to generate some positive recruiting momentum from the win and continue to build on this.
Quite a night on The Hill.