The Arkansas defense has been bad this season. Really bad.
The Razorbacks entered Saturday night ranked No. 64 nationally in total defense, but No. 120 in yards per play allowed. But the 22nd-ranked Hogs (5-2, 1-2 SEC) made the plays they needed to fend off No. 12 Ole Miss 34-30 in a game that proved a worthy successor to last year’s 4th-and-25, season-changing affair.
After a furious run of offense that saw the teams combined to score six times in seven drives plus a 90-yard Ole Miss drive that needed only five snaps and 48 seconds to tie the game at 20-20 through one half, the defenses settled in to open the second half. In fact, an interception, a punt and a three-and-out allowed the Hogs to mount a 38-yard touchdown drive, punctuated by a Rawleigh Williams III two-yard reception, to reclaim its lead at 27-20 with 3:29 to go in the third quarter.
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) responded with a Gary Wunderlich field goal and, after a pressure led to an interception of Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen, a short touchdown drive going the other way. Chad Kelly‘s eight-yard scoring dash gave the Rebels their first (and only) lead at 30-27 with exactly nine minutes remaining.
The Hogs punted on their next possession, but their embattled defense forced three consecutive possessions to snuff out what could have been a game-clinching drive for the Rebels, allowing their offense to take over at their own 44 with 6:30 remaining. Arkansas methodically covered 56 yards in 10 plays and four-and-a-half minutes, culminating in a backfield hand-off to wide receiver Jared Cornelius for the go-ahead six-yard touchdown scamper with 2:20 remaining.
Presented with one final chance to mount another game-winning touchdown drive, Ole Miss forced an incompletion on first down, permitted a seven-yard catch on second, then sacked Kelly for an eight-yard loss on third down. Flushed from the pocket on fourth down, Kelly appeared headed toward first down yardage until a ferocious hit separated Kelly from the ball and effectively ended the game.
Kelly led the Rebels with 253 passing yards, 89 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. For Arkansas, Allen passed for 229 yards and three scores, while Williams carried 27 times for 180 yards and a touchdown catch.