FAYETTEVILLE – Both performance no shows last week respectively routed at nationally No. 2 Georgia and at nationally No. 1 Alabama, the 13th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks and 17th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels put on a show against each other down to the last second and beyond Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
Unfortunately for second-year Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, the beyond left them one point short.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson’s too-high, well defended, 2-point conversion pass with no time left left Arkansas losing a 52-51 SEC West score-fest at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Arkansas, off consecutive SEC losses downed, 37-0 at Georgia on Oct. 2, takes 4-2 overall, 1-2 SEC records into next Saturday’s 11 a.m. SEC West homecoming game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Second-year Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin’s Rebels, beaten 42-21 at Alabama following a down 35-0 start, advance to 4-1, 1-1 and next Saturday visit SEC East member Tennessee.
Jefferson, taking the snap with one second left, pulled Arkansas to down 52-51 with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Warren Thompson.
That touchdown capping a 9-play 75-yard drive in the final 1:07, was Jefferson, sixth Saturday. He tallied three rushing and three passing and replied to Ole Miss taking a 52-45 lead on quarterback Matt Corral’s 68-yard touchdown pass with 1:07 left.
Jefferson, Corral and both offenses performed sensationally Saturday at Oxford.
“We couldn’t stop them and they couldn’t stop us,” Pittman said.
Arkansas amassed 676 yards total offense, 350 rushing and Jefferson’s 326 passing completing 25 of 35.
Ole Miss amassed 611 yards total offense, 324 rushing and Corral’s 287 passing completing 14 of 21.
For Pittman, the do or die chance to win on a game-ending 2-point try was an easy choice over kicking a game-tying PAT.
“I told the offense that if we score with little time left on the clock we’re going to try to win the game,” Pittman said on postgame radio of going for two. “And while I wish the outcome was different I’d do it again.”
Pittman reiterated the strategy when asked in his postgame press conference.
“I think I’d do it 100 percent of the time in the situation that we were in,” Pittman said. “Ole Miss was just scoring, we were too, but they were scoring easily. We had to work for a little bit of ours. But theirs were coming in bunches and in a bunch of yards.”
Jefferson credited Ole Miss for changing its goal-line coverage on the 2-point try that he said took away the option of pitching to his running back.
“They came out in a different package,” Jefferson said. “They just played great coverage on on the back end. I tried it get one of my guys a play. Just throw it and let them make a play.”
Jefferson, emotionally inspired as a Sardis, Miss. native playing against Ole Miss in Mississippi for the first time, quarterbacked a juggernaut. Not just passing touchdowns to wideouts Treylon Burks (a game-leading 7 catches for 136 yards) and Thompson, plus tight end Trey Knox, Jefferson ran for 85 yards on 20 carries. He fueled a rushing game that included running back’s Trelon Smith’s 85 yards with a touchdown on 11 carries and a game-leading 139 on 17 carries by freshman running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders.
Corral, a 2021 Heisman Trophy candidate but emotionally seeking atonement for throwing six interceptions when Arkansas beat Ole Miss, 33-21 last season in Fayetteville, passed exquisitely, played turnover free, and rushing netted 94 yards and three touchdowns among 15 carries.
Two Rebels running backs exceeded 100 yards rushing. Henry Parrish netted 111 on 18 carries. Reserve Snoop Connor, playing more since top running back Jerrion Early was injured last week, netted 110 and three touchdowns on just 12 carries.
Jefferson and Corral’s running abilities enhanced their running backs “a lot,” Pittman said.
“Obviously on both sides running backs had big, big games,” Pittman said. “When you have to hold and hang it freezes you on the back side a lot of times for quarterback runs that when you hand it off you can get some big ones because the linebacker can’t close the gap. That’s what happened to us a few times today and then it happened to them, as well. I think that’s a big, big key.”
Neither defense could grasp a 103-point game with 1,287 yards total offense.
“Obviously we made way too many mistakes on defense,” Pittman said. “The ball got behind us several times. We didn’t tackle. Any open-field tackle, we couldn’t get the guy on the ground. That was by far our poorest day tackling. Then when we had some busts in the secondary, guys were wide-open and we couldn’t fill the gap from the safety area on a simple little stretch play.”
Field position didn’t matter to the Rebels Saturday in Oxford.
Corral threw touchdown passes of 67 and 68 yards to Dontario Drummond and Sanders. Conner’s three touchdown runs included 51 and 34-yarders plus one 1-yard plunge.
“The bottom line is we had too many mistakes defensively, and we couldn’t tackle,” Pittman said.
Or net a turnover.
Ole Miss’ defense netted two. One didn’t hurt Arkansas, a Jefferson Hail Mary in the end zone just before half.
The wind, and a potential kick-six returning, looming against freshman kicker Cam Little on what would have been a plus 55-yard attempt so Pittman opted for the Hail Mary.
Little missed wide on a 50-yard attempt in the second quarter.
Ole Miss kicker Caden Costa succeeded on his lone attempt, also from 50.
Little did kick a 31-yard field goal tying it 24-24 after the offense failed to touchdown capitalize on the defense stopping Ole Miss for a third-quarter loss on fourth and one from its 33.
Sanders, fighting for extra yardage, fumbled to Ole Miss linebacker Chance Campbell ending a 9-yard run to the Ole Miss 27.
“Obviously disappointed we couldn’t convert right there and score a touchdown, but at least we tied it up,” Pittman said. “Basically, the difference in the game was we put the ball on the ground once and missed a field goal, and they didn’t. Obviously, we didn’t convert on the 2-point. But I’m proud of our kids. I liked the grit and the fight that they had offensively, coming back to score there at the end of the game.”