FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas took control of the game early against No. 14 Ole Miss and won 42-27 before 71,365 fans at Razorback Stadium on senior night to become bowl eligible before facing Missouri on Friday.
The Hogs led 35-6 at halftime and then scored on the second play of the third quarter to take complete control of the game. Ole Miss scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late as the outcome of the game was never in doubt. Sam Pittman was obviously pleased to get the win in the final home game of the season.
“First of all, I thought our coaching staff did a really good job of preparing our kids,” Pittman said. “We had a lot to play for. We had our seniors. We had a dedication game. We talked all week about dedicating the game to somebody else and bringing them into our family. They had a shirt on underneath and they wrote on them in marker who they want to bring into the family, our football family. It was a top-15 team in the country. It would put us bowl eligible our first three years here. There was a lot of motivation for us. A lot to play for. Certainly, we were fortunate we had our home crowd.
“But, Ole Miss is a really good football team. They turned it over three times and we didn’t. I’m really proud of our kids and proud to be bowl eligible. Obviously, we have another game next week against a fine Missouri team. Man, it’s nice to have KJ back. We weren’t too clean on the first two drives, first two scoring drives, but he made us clean because of his athleticism. Obviously, you could say a lot of different things about a lot of different guys. Rocket, obviously. Our defense bent, a lot. Heck, they had a lot of yards, but a lot of it was after we were up 42-6. But they didn’t break. Obviously, when you get up 42-6, the defense has played really well. Just really happy. I’ll be quiet and let you ask me some questions.”
Rocket Sanders and the running backs were challenged by Pittman earlier in the week and the sophomore took it to heart. He rushed 24 times for 232 yards and three touchdowns. It was his 68-yard sprint on the second play of the third quarter that allowed the Hogs to seize complete control of the game. That was his third touchdown of the game and put the Razorbacks up 42-6. Pittman was impressed with Sanders looking like himself again.
“He was,” Pittman said. “I just think any running back that carries the ball for 100 or 150 yards, they have to have a break. Most of the time, they’ve got to have one or two that’ll be a 30 or 40-yard pop. Certainly, that’s what he got tonight. When it happens, it’s like anything confidence-wise. If you break one or two, that probably helps you break a tackle. You know what I mean. It might help your vision. You’re excited.
“But he played extremely well. I thought our line did a nice job of blocking up there for him until they knew we weren’t going to throw the football in the fourth quarter. We had a hard time because they had more in the box. I thought he played exceptionally well and ran hard.”
It was quarterback KJ Jefferson and wide receiver Matt Landers who dug the early hole for Ole Miss. On Arkansas’ second possession of the game, Jefferson took the Hogs on a seven-play, 69-yard drive that ended with him throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Landers with 8:28 remaining in the opening quarter. The big play prior to the touchdown was Jefferson racing 23 yards to the Ole Miss 8.
On Arkansas’ next possession, the Hogs drove 73 yards in eight plays. The drive ended with Jefferson tossing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Landers. The Hogs were up 14-0 with 3:44 remaining in the opening quarter.
After Jonathan Cruz hit a 45-yard field goal for the Rebels, Jefferson the Hogs struck again. Jefferson threw a 20-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ketron Jackson for a 21-3 lead with 14:03 remaining in the first half. Once again, the big plays on the seven-play, 75-yard drive were a 28-yard run by Sanders and 20 by Jefferson.
Ole Miss added another Cruz field goal, this one form 32-yards away, with 4:38 remaining before halftime.
Following the field goal by Cruz, Arkansas took the ball 75 yards again this time in seven plays. Sanders appeared to score on a 50-yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty wiped it out. But following the penalty then Sanders had successive runs of 22, eight and 20 to get the touchdown. His 20-yard touchdown run put the Hogs up 28-6 with 2:20 showing before intermission.
But the Hogs weren’t finished. Linebacker Drew Sanders picked off a Jaxson Dart pass and returned it to the Ole Miss 48. Sanders capped off a six-play, 48-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run with five seconds remaining in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, Ole Miss scored three touchdowns. The first one was a 1-yard run by Quinshon Judkins with 14:02 remaining in the game. The two-point conversion was no good.
Ole Miss followed that up with a 48-yard run for a touchdown by tailback Zach Evans on its next possession. Dart passed for two points and Arkansas then led 42-20. With 2:55 remaining in the game, Dart threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malik Heath for the final score of the game. Ole Miss tried onside kicks after its last two touchdowns, but Arkansas recovered both.
Jefferson returned after missing the LSU game. He was 17 of 22 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 47 yards on eight rushes. The Hogs finished with 503 yards of total offense including 335 rushing.
The Rebels had an amazing 703 yards of total offense including 463 yards on the ground. Dart was 21 of 36 passing for 240 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Judkins rushed 24 times for 214 yards and one touchdown. Evans also had an amazing night finishing with 17 carries for 207 yards and a touchdown. Heath had nine receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
In addition to the interception, Sanders had 10 tackles, four solo, and 0.5 tackle for loss. Myles Slusher back from a one-game suspension had eight tackles, four solo and one for loss. Pittman talked about what he said to the seniors following the game.
“It was great,” Pittman said. “Going down there and seeing their parents and visiting with them in the pregame and after the game that’s the first thing we talked about. That we did it for the seniors and they ought to be proud of themselves, their last memories to be bowl eligible and win a game like that against a Top 15 opponent. There’s a story, we talked about a story and what they are going to have after the game and they are going to have a helluva story forever. And that’s why you get in the coaching business for nights like tonight. It makes memories for a lifetime.”
Arkansas (6-5. 3-4) will travel to Missouri for Friday’s game against the Tigers. Missouri (5-6, 2-5) defeated New Mexico State 45-14 on Saturday. They will need a win over Arkansas to become bowl eligible.
“Missouri is really good football team,” Pittman said. “They are playing really well. Really good defense. They’ll be bowl eligible if they can win next week and certainly we’re aware of that. And we can set what bowls we’re available for a little bit more by winning so we want to do that. We want to win regardless. Missouri is a rival of ours and we’ll certainly be ready for that.”
The kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and televised on CBS.