Brought to you once more this week courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito’s Vodka, and our human ability to appreciate beauty and goodness in a time and space vacuum of our own choosing. That 1:00 a.m. double order of scattered, covered, chunked will not stop the next day’s hangover (it really won’t), but it’s still delicious. That one birdie during a round of 95 doesn’t keep you from losing your Nassau, but it still feels great. And in my case, a last second, game winning field goal doesn’t salvage a week that included a squirrel infiltrating my attic and not one but two plumbing problems prompting three separate service calls. Arkansas’ exhilarating comeback victory against Ole Miss on Saturday doesn’t change the fact that the Hogs are not a good football team, and it shouldn’t sway any opinion anyone has on Bret Bielema’s future as the Razorbacks’ head coach. But it sure was fun.
So what happened? Arkansas did everything teams like Arkansas have to do to win. While this game’s existence was, to borrow a phrase from Col. Nathan Jessup, grotesque and incomprehensible, the Razorback side of the box score is a thing of beauty. Arkansas ran 24 more plays than Ole Miss and doubled them up on time of possession. Committed only one penalty. Converted third downs at a scalding 63% clip. Scored 21 points off of turnovers, including a defensive touchdown. And still led the game for a grand total of four seconds. Incomprehensible, indeed.
Offensively, it seems that Dan Enos and Bret Bielema are finally coming around to the pleas from fans to get more speed involved. TJ Hammonds was utilized effectively for the first time all season, and he responded by leading the team in rushing. Jonathan Nance got into the mix with an explosive play of 40 yards as well. Cole Kelley throws an ugly ball with even uglier mechanics, but he’s got moxie, and he’s starting to acclimate to the speed of the SEC. The screen game was brutally effective against Ole Miss, and Kelley did a much better job of executing on those calls. The offensive line still allowed four sacks and nine hurries, and dare I say looked improved? How sad is that? But the run blocking was much, much better. The speed on the field helped, and the lack of Rebel give a damn surely didn’t hurt, but we take encouragement any way it comes.
I’m not discussing the fourth down basketball dribbling debacle. I can’t. I said enough on Twitter. I’m sorry, Lord, for those words spoken in anger. That’s not my heart.
On the other side of the football, Arkansas gave up 31 points on 25 plays over the first five Ole Miss drives, and the effort in its totality deserves scorn without caveat. Execution in all levels of the defense was pitiful, and effort was even worse. It was pathetic and embarrassing. After those five drives, though, the defense forced three turnovers and kept Ole Miss out of the end zone for the rest of the game. It was a complete 180, and one that deserves praise without caveat. There was pressure on the quarterback, the read-option game was stymied, and renewed effort materialized out of the chilly Mississippi air. Kudos to the entire unit for finding their spine and stiffening it. I never anticipated it.
Finally, it’s only fitting to toss some praise toward both Connor Limpert for hitting the game winning field goal, and toward Bret Bielema for trusting him. A kicker getting triple-iced is rare enough, but I can’t recall an instance where all four kicks were knocked through. I was terrified when Limpert first trotted out onto the field, but bizarrely confident before the final kick after watching him make three and then taunt the Ole Miss bench before the final one.
So now Arkansas sits at 3-5 (1-4) with Coastal Carolina and a new round of seat temperature discussion coming this week. 24-point comebacks are emotional, as we know all too well from being on the other side, but what does it change?
It shouldn’t change anything. It doesn’t change anything. This game is developing a reputation for showcasing the best kind of dumb, wonderfully fun football. It’s stupid every year. It’s stupidly fun every year. But try as Arkansas fans might to turn these wacky wins into some kind of bellwether, they simply are not. The Hogs’ 2014 shutout of Ole Miss was followed up with an inexplicable loss to Missouri the next week. In 2015, it was a home loss to unranked Mississippi State two weeks later. And last season’s thrilling win over the Rebels immediately preceded a 53-point drubbing in Auburn.
Beating Ole Miss is fun. Crazy, stupid fun. Not season changing fun. Not coach saving fun. Just fun. That’s all it is. And for one Saturday, that can be enough. I’ll see y’all next week.