FAYETTEVILLE – Minutes after No. 14 Ole Miss suffered a 42-27 loss to Arkansas on Saturday night, Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin look over the game’s stat sheet.
Kiffin saw that Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3) and it’s offense had piled up 703 yards total offense, 463 of it rushing, all while averaging a whopping 7.9 yards per play.
But he also saw 12 penalties for 116 yards – almost double what the Razorbacks had – and three turnovers while Arkansas (6-5, 3-4) – who rolled up 503 yards total offense – did not have any.
“It was very discouraging to obviously come up here with a lot on the line, potentially nine wins and trying to get 10,” Kiffin said. “It might sound crazy because of the score, but I didn’t feel like we were flat.
“We didn’t play well. We moved the ball, but we just played really poor in the red zone. We had two touchdown passes called back and we didn’t tackle very well.”
Arkansas became bowl eligible ahead of next Friday’s regular season finale at Missouri, led 35-6 at halftime and 42-6 early right after intermission.
“As an offense we rushed for 463 yards in a game we still lose by two scores,” Kiffin said. “It just shows you the value of turnovers – it was a three to nothing turnover margin.
Kiffin praised Arkansas’ effort in a contest where Razorback Rocket Sanders had 24 carries for 232 yard and three touchdowns and Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins (24 carries for 214 yards) and Zack Evans (17 carries 17 carries for 204 yards.
“It was senior night and they played really well, ran the ball really well,” Kiffin said. “We were 8.7 (yards per rush) and they were 7.8. Those are unusual SEC numbers. I give them a lot of credit, but we kind of reverted back on defense and unfortunately that hurt.
Ole Miss had two passing touchdowns called back because of holding penalties.
“I don’t like the penalties, very critical penalties,” Kiffin said. “That cost us a touchdown and then another touchdown. If we get those two touchdowns the game is very different.”
Ole Miss came into Saturday’s game off a heartbreaking 30-24 home loss to Alabama.
“There’s a recipe to not win and its being minus-three in turnover margin,” Kiffin said. “Most times you are not going to win doing that.”
The Rebels players have also had to hear speculation about Kiffin being the No. 1 candidate for the vacancy at Auburn.
Kiffin was asked about that after the game about Sports Talk Mississippi report on Thursday that said Ole Miss has offered the third-year Rebels coach a new contract and pay raise from his current $7.5 million yearly salary.
“I’m not getting into that,” Kiffin said. “I never do talk about that stuff. And I’m very happy here.”
He was pressed on it again when asked about his team maybe being distracted by the speculation.
“Fair question,” Kiffin said. “Like I said, I love being here. I mean, I don’t want to look to next year already with a regular season game (remaining), but this is not one of those years where you say we’re gonna lose all these guys.
“There’s a lot of people coming back and a lot of new guys offensively, especially. So, very excited about the future.”
He also joked about not being No. 1 for Auburn after being down 35-6 at halftime.
“I don’t know that stuff out there — No. 1 stuff,” Kiffin said. “Maybe if they watched the first half I wouldn’t be No. 1 anymore then.”
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, who missed last week’s 13-10 loss to visiting LSU with an injury, returned against Ole Miss.
He was 17 of 22 passing for 168 yards and three touchdown and rushed 8 times for 47 yards.
“It sounded like he had been banged up and not practicing much,” Kiffin said. “He looked very healthy in that game. He’s a load and he did a good job giving his receivers a chance to catch the ball in the red zone.”
Ole Miss is 18-6 in Kiffin’s last two years with a Thanksgiving night Egg Bowl home game with rival Mississippi State left on the regular season schedule.
Photo by John D. James