Arkansas fought to the end against No. 16 Ole Miss, but couldn’t get a win falling 27-20 in Oxford.
Once again Arkansas shot itself in the foot with penalties (10-70 yards) and no running game (29 carries for 36 yards). Arkansas has now lost four games in a row and in three of those games they had double-digit penalties. Sam Pittman was frustrated with the Hogs inability to run the ball.
“Offensively, we’ve got to find a way to run the football,” Pittman said. “Until we do that, we’re putting way too much pressure on our quarterback, our offensive line to protect during those times, and our wideouts to get open. It’s hard to win a game when you can’t run the football. We’ve got to figure out a way to do it. Obviously, we’re trying. But what we’re doing is not working, so we’ve got to figure that part of it out. We can’t, the way we’re built, we can’t win games not having success rushing the football.”
Pittman also was surprised by the penalties once again after having none against the Aggies last week.
“Man, isn’t that crazy,” Pittman said. “We had zero last week and then we come back and basically at practice we did the same thing we did the week before and I don’t think it would be any different. It was loud last week too. They stemmed on us last week too. But I mean nobody can win doing that. I’m the head coach and that’s my responsibility to get it fixed. We’re trying but we just haven’t got it fixed.”
The defense played well, but a roughing the passer penalty was deadly on Ole Miss’ last scoring drive. The Rebels led 24-20, but faced a third-and-15 play. Arkansas jumped offsides. Then, on third-and-10, Jaxson Dart threw a 17-yard pass to Jordan Watkins and a roughing the quarterback penalty added 15 more yards to the play. Ole Miss had a first-and-10 play at the Arkansas 35. Ulysses Bentley IV then rushed for 31 yards to the Arkansas four. Arkansas’ defense did limit Ole Miss to a 22-yard field goal from Caden Davis.
Arkansas had one last chance with 2:43 remaining in the game and down seven points. However, on a second-and-10 play at their own 35, KJ Jefferson was intercepted sealing the for the Rebels. It was his second interception of the game. Jefferson finished with 25-of-39 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 17 times for 11 yards. Jefferson’s game seemed off on Saturday.
“I think he’s just like everybody else on the team, he’s got to get better, as well,” Pittman said. “I know he played extremely hard and he certainly, just like everybody on the team, I know it was special for him coming back. Wanted to win, but I think he played his heart out. I think if you asked him, he’d probably want a couple, two, three or four throws back, but that’s part of the game. I felt like he led extremely well tonight and played really hard.”
The game started well for Arkansas. On its first drive of the game, Arkansas ended a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to Ty Washington. The drive took 7 minutes, 46 seconds off the clock.
Ole Miss, after a three-and-out series the first time it had the football, answered Arkansas’ touchdown with a 27-yard field goal from Caden Davis to pull within 7-3 with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Ole Miss’ Ashanti Cistrunk then picked off a Jefferson pass and returned it to the Arkansas 3-yard line. On fourth down, Quinshon Judkins powered in from the 1 for a 10-7 lead with 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Dart and Ole Miss went up 17-7 when Dart found wide receiver Dayton Wade for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:34 left in the first half.
Cam Little continued his outstanding season on Arkansas’ first drive of the second half. Little blasted a 56-yard field goal to pull Arkansas within 17-10 with 10:07 remaining in the third quarter. Little then hit a field goal from 26 yards out with 2:46 left in the third quarter pulling the Hogs within 17-13.
The Razorbacks weren’t finished. Jefferson once again found Washington for a touchdown. This one covered 17 yards and the Hogs led 20-17 with 13:11 remaining in the game. The drive was a 6-play, 72-yard one. Washington had seven receptions for 90 yards and the pair of touchdowns.
“Man, wasn’t that something?,” Pittman said. “I’m so happy for him. I took him aside just right before I walked in here and told him how proud I was of him. Seven catches for two touchdowns, I mean, he never griped, never complained. He was playing behind Luke (Hasz) and he came in and had that type of game. I believe he blocked well, too. That’s certainly going to do something well for his confidence and our confidence in him. But for really his first start, to do that was really outstanding. Really happy for him.”
Ole Miss then went on its own 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Bentley rushing for a 7-yard touchdown. The PAT gave the Rebels a 24-20 lead.
Arkansas finished the game with 288 yards of total offense. Ole Miss was held to 349, including 153 passing, after rolling up over 700 yards against LSU last week.
“Well, I went into the game feeling like we really had a good plan on all three phases,” Pittman said. “I felt like we were going to run the ball a little bit better. We don’t have to run the ball for 200 yards, but we gotta run for 100-something, to get people off the throwing game. But I really felt strong that we were going to have a really good defensive performance, even though I know Ole Miss is a really good football team. I keep talking about all these… Ole Miss beat us and all that, give them the credit, but if we just play smarter football, we can go in there and celebrate instead of feel like this for the fourth week in a row.”
Arkansas lost several players to injuries in the game. Among them linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul, cornerback Jaylon Braxton, defensive tackle Cameron Ball and safety Alfahiym Walcott. Pittman asked if all the injuries were concerning?
“Yeah, it’ll be concerning for next week,” Pittman said. “I don’t know how much further than that. I don’t think any of them that are in there are season-ending or anything, but there are three or four of them that are concerning whether we’re going to have them next week or not.”
Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) will be at Alabama (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday at 11 a.m. and televised on the SEC Network.