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A new SEC streak begins

Ole Miss improved to 5-3, one win shy of bowl eligibility, with a 30-27 win against Arkansas on Saturday.

The Ole Miss Rebels defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 30-27 on Saturday on the foot of senior Bryson Rose’s 31-yard field goal as time expired. While Rose was carried off the field in triumph, the Rebels’ second-straight Southeastern Conference victory was much more than a one-man job.
“Our character trait this week in our program was courage,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said in the postgame press conference. “I thought our football team, every facet of it, made a play at some point that really meant a lot to the outcome of the game.”
The Rebels (5-3, 2-2 SEC) started in 10-0 hole after the Razorbacks’ (3-5, 2-3) first two drives as Arkansas senior Tyler Wilson shredded the Ole Miss defense, which included a 42-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Chris Gragg. Ole Miss moved the ball well on its second drive, but a fumbled quarterback-running back exchange by sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace and senior running back Randall Mackey turned the ball over to Arkansas. The Rebels’ defense held and forced a three-and-out, their first stop of the game.
Ole Miss finally got on the board with a four-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to sophomore wide receiver Vince Sanders, the first touchdown of his career, to cut Arkansas’ lead to 10-7.
The next drive, Wilson and Arkansas were driving again until junior cornerback Charles Sawyer intercepted a pass from Wilson at the Ole Miss 5-yard line. Wallace threw an interception just five plays later, giving Arkansas the ball on the Ole Miss 34-yard line.
Pressure from senior defensive end Jason Jones forced an intentional grounding penalty, moving the Razorbacks back to the Ole Miss 46-yard line. The Rebels held and forced a punt, which Sawyer blocked, recovered and returned to the Arkansas 22-yard line.
“I just saw the ball, honestly,” Sawyer said of the blocked punt. “We ran (that play) the first time, and I just told (Freeze), you know, ‘That man’s blocking down.’ That (play) was designed.”
Ole Miss carried the momentum from the blocked punt and found the end zone four plays later on a one-yard quarterback keeper by junior quarterback Barry Brunetti to give the Rebels a 14-10 lead.
Arkansas answered with a long touchdown drive, making the score 17-14 with 1:21 to play in the first half. In a drive similar to the one before the half against Auburn two weeks ago, Ole Miss moved the ball quickly and effectively in its two-minute drill. The Rebels ran 10 plays in 61 seconds, capped by one-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jeff Scott, to take a 21-17 lead into halftime.
“We’ve (scored right before halftime) in the last two weeks,” Freeze said. “I thought both were critical. I thought for us to get that touchdown there was really big.”
In the second quarter, the Rebels outscored the Razorbacks 21-7, but Freeze and his staff were still very upset about the defense’s effort in that first half.
“We made some missed assignments,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said of the defense in the first half. “We were trying to focus on (senior wide receiver Kobi Hamilton) and (senior tight end Chris Gragg) and some guys got their eyes tied up the wrong way and they hit a couple big plays. We just settled the kids down at halftime and did a couple things differently and just eased into the game.”
Both defenses came out of the locker room strong, forcing a combined five punts to start the third quarter. Then on Arkansas’ third drive of the second half, redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche intercepted Wilson’s pass at the 50, and returned it 18 yards to the Arkansas 32-yard line.
“The pick was awesome,” Nkemdiche said. “I just wanted to make a play for my teammates, and when I saw the ball coming and I made that play, I was like, ‘Alright, we’re going to win this game.’ I got everyone up and we had the momentum shift.”
That momentum shift could be felt by the 55,378 in attendance at War Memorial Stadium, which was just 535 people from breaking the all-time attendance record in Little Rock. Ole Miss turned Nkemdiche’s interception into three points on Rose’s first field goal of the game, a 27-yarder, to extend the lead to 24-17 — a score that would hold through the end of the third quarter.
Arkansas entered the red zone early in the fourth quarter, but Ole Miss held the Razorbacks to a field goal. On their next drive, the Rebels drove to the Arkansas 25-yard line, but the drive stalled, and Rose came on for a career-long 53-yard field goal. He drilled it through the uprights, and Ole Miss had a 27-20 lead with 10:06 left to play in the game. The Rebels forced punts on the Razorbacks’ next two drives, but the Arkansas defense got the offense the ball for one last drive with 3:07 left.
After a nine-yard completion from Wilson to Hamilton to start the drive, senior running back Dennis Johnson accounted for the final 46 yards on three carries, including the five-yard touchdown run, to tie the game at 27 with 2:09 on the clock. Johnson led all rushers with 161 yards on 27 carries.
Wallace said he felt great pressure on the final drive, even thinking about the interception he threw on the final drive of the Texas A&M game.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Don’t make one mistake that will cost us this football game,’” said Wallace, who completed a career-best 29 passes on a career-high 37 attempts for 278 yards and touchdown. “It was in the back of my head. That (Texas A&M) drive really helped me out with this drive.”
Wallace completed three of four passes and rushed for another 13 yards to the Arkansas 14-yard line with three ticks left on the clock. Freeze called a timeout, and the field goal unit trotted onto the field.
When asked what he told Rose before the kick, Freeze answered, “I didn’t get around him. That’s one of my no-no’s.”
After an Arkansas timeout to try to ice the kicker, Rose nailed the 31-yard field goal as time expired, the first game-winning kick of his career.
“It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think about it,” Rose, who was a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals from 27, 53 and 31 yards, said with a smile after the game. “I hit it, and I looked up and had everyone jump on me. (The 53-yard kick) gave me a lot of confidence going into this one.”
With this win, Ole Miss is just one win away from bowl eligibility, and plays at No. 7 Georgia next Saturday in Athens, Ga. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS, the Rebels’ first SEC game on CBS since the 2010 season.
“Well, I won’t talk about bowl eligibility,” Freeze said. “The people that pick all that before the season can’t judge the heart or soul of a kid, a team or the chemistry. Attitude for us is not what other people say about us, but it’s what we choose to believe about us. If you don’t have chemistry, sometimes talent doesn’t win. I think we have good chemistry right now.”