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Ole Miss upset bid falls short against No. 10 Arkansas

Addison Dent/The Daily Mississippian

Ole Miss played, perhaps, its best game of the season and held a 17-0 lead halfway through the second quarter but could not overcome an Arkansas second half comeback as the Rebels fell to the Razorbacks 29-24 on Saturday afternoon. With the loss, Ole Miss has now lost 10 straight SEC games, dating back to last season’s 42-35 win over Kentucky.

“I’m really proud of our guys’ effort today,” head coach Houston Nutt said. “I thought we played extremely hard. I wish we had the third quarter back.”

It truly was a tale of two halves Saturday. In the first half, the Rebels outgained the Razorbacks 250 to 128 yards, as Ole Miss built a 17-7 halftime lead. Coming out of halftime, Nutt said the Rebels (2-5, 0-4 SEC) needed something to have happened in the third quarter to give them confidence.

Instead, the Razorbacks, at one point, scored 29 unanswered points, including 19 in the third quarter as they nearly tripled the Rebels’ output in the second half ­­— 310 to 120 yards.

“We needed to go ahead and finish it,” Nutt said. “We had some really good effort and attitude out there against a team ranked 10th. Their attitude has been awesome. I wish we were standing here with a win. We were close, but it didn’t happen.”

For the second week in a row, the Rebels scored first when junior Bryson Rose nailed a 43-yard field goal to give Ole Miss an early lead.
However, this week the Rebels stretched out their lead. Early in the second quarter, junior quarterback Randall Mackey connected with freshman wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a 31-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, the duo’s first of two scores in the game.

Later in the quarter, Mackey extended the Ole Miss lead to 17-0 on a three-yard touchdown run, the first of his career. Mackey finished the game with 30 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Arkansas finally put some points on the board right before the half on a 52-yard run from junior running back Dennis Johnson. Equally as painful for Ole Miss, the long touchdown came on a 3rd-and-14 attempt, and the teams went to halftime with the Rebels holding on to a 17-7 lead.

Just like the previous week against Alabama, Ole Miss struggled coming out of halftime with Arkansas dominating the third quarter and the early part of the fourth quarter. On the Rebels’ first five possessions of the second half, they punted four times and another ended in a safety. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks scored on four of their five possessions, and only a fumble just short of the end zone kept the offense off the board.

“We came out and played hard the first half but came out with two bad drives to start the second half,” Moncrief said. “We have to get better at keeping our heads up to play ball.”

The Arkansas scoring in the second half started with a 33-yard field goal from Zach Hocker, which capped a drive that included a fourth-down conversion on a 19-yard pass from junior quarterback Tyler Wilson to junior tight end Chris Gragg. On the next possession, Wilson found senior wide receiver Joe Adams for a 37-yard gain and then punched it in the endzone himself on a one-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game, 17-17.

“We had them off balance the first half,” Nutt said. “They came out (in the) second half and took that away. We got off rhythm a little bit and dropped some balls. We had some illegal procedures.

“All we needed was one score. I feel like we needed one score to get our confidence up and make us think we were going to win. The biggest thing was the changes they made on our motions — the wide plays.”

On the next Ole Miss drive, Mackey looked to have connected with Moncrief for another big play, but he could not haul it in and the Rebels were forced to punt.

Meanwhile, the Razorback offense continued to click in the third quarter as Wilson found Adams again for a 67-yard gain on the first play of the next drive to move the ball inside the Rebels’ 10-yard line. Adams had four catches for a game-high 124 receiving yards in the game.

After Green had a four-yard touchdown overturned and Wilson was stopped short on a quarterback sneak, Wilson scored from one yard out on fourth down to give Arkansas a 24-17 lead. For the game, Wilson completed 13 of 28 passes for 232 with two one-yard touchdown runs.

The Razorbacks’ next possession had them in prime scoring position once again, looking to take a two-touchdown lead. Back-to-back long runs from freshman wide receiver Marquel Wade and Johnson, coupled with a personal foul penalty, moved Arkansas to the Ole Miss five-yard line. Johnson finished the game with a career-high 160 yards on 15 carries, including a 52-yard touchdown run.

On the next play, senior defensive tackle Justin Smith forced a Johnson fumble that was recovered by sophomore defensive back Charles Sawyer, but the Rebels couldn’t take advantage. Two plays later, the Razorbacks tackled sophomore running back Jeff Scott for a loss in the end zone for a safety to extend their lead to 26-17.

In the fourth quarter, Hocker added a 23-yard field goal to take the Arkansas lead out to 29-17, but then Ole Miss made it interesting. Mackey used his feet to move the ball down the field and then threw his second touchdown pass to Moncrief to cut the lead to 29-24. Moncrief ended the day with five catches for 73 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Junior tight end Jamal Mosley recovered the ensuing onside kick from junior Andrew Ritter and set the Rebels up at their 43-yard line with just over a minute left in the game. Mackey, who had a great game with 219 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-30 passing, then made two critical mistakes to end the comeback attempt. With no timeouts remaining, he took a sack and then threw an interception.

Senior running back Brandon Bolden returned from suspension and finally found some running room Saturday, rushing for 68 yards on 14 carries to lead the Rebels’ ground attack, which finished with 151 yards on 46 carries. He was proud of the way the Rebels played in the loss and thinks this can be a game the team can build on going into the Auburn game next week.

“We can build on (this game),” Bolden said. “We came out on fire in the first half. We was up and had the lead. Then we just have to keep that fire going.”

Now the Rebels turn their attention to the Auburn Tigers in hopes of ending the conference losing streak and, more importantly, keep hopes of a bowl game alive. Kickoff next Saturday is set for 6 p.m. from Jordan-Hare Stadium and will be televised on ESPNU.

“We’re going to treat them just like another team and give them all we got,” Moncrief said.