'Nobody can win doing that': Penalties, turnovers undo Hogs' upset bid at Ole Miss

Arkansas tight end Ty Washington walks toward the sideline after the Razorbacks committed a turnover late in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Oxford, Miss. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Arkansas tight end Ty Washington walks toward the sideline after the Razorbacks committed a turnover late in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Oxford, Miss. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

Arkansas held the SEC’s top offense in check for a while Saturday, but Ole Miss answered in crunch time.

Running back Ulysses Bentley ran for a 7-yard touchdown with 7:49 remaining to give the 16th-ranked Rebels a 24-20 lead, and Ole Miss held on to win 27-20 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 

The Rebels (5-1, 2-1 SEC) won on their home field for the second consecutive Saturday night, but in a much different manner than a 55-49 victory over LSU the week before. 

Ole Miss had 706 yards against LSU — a program record for an SEC game — but was held to 349 by the Razorbacks.

"Well, not really pretty but we won the game on defense and made some runs there at the end," Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin told SEC Network. "It’s the SEC, so to be 5-1 headed into a bye [week], it’s pretty good. 

"You love to be able to win some on offense and some on defense like that. That’s what a team is."

Each of the Rebels' last two wins have included a fourth-quarter comeback. They rallied from down three points against Arkansas and rallied from down nine to beat LSU. 

Ole Miss has outscored its opponents 82-37 in the fourth quarter. 

Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) lost its fourth consecutive game, and third game by one possession. The Razorbacks are scheduled to conclude a four-game road trip at No. 11 Alabama next Saturday at 11 a.m.

"Even with the woes we're having running the football and protecting, we had a chance to win the game if we play smart," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. 

"They're continuing to fight. You don't fight if you don't believe in something...or you don't believe that you're going to win. That's when you stop fighting. I don't think we'll have that problem ever with this team." 

Bentley’s touchdown run capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive that began after Arkansas took a 20-17 lead with a 17-yard touchdown pass from KJ Jefferson to tight end Ty Washington with 13:11 to play. 

Quinshon Judkins’ 34-yard gain to the Arkansas 27 was the biggest play in the game-winning drive, but not the only key play. Judkins’ 3-yard gain moments earlier converted a fourth-and-1 from the Ole Miss 34, and the Rebels converted third-and-8 when quarterback Jaxson Dart connected with Jordan Watkins for a 9-yard gain to the Arkansas 16. 

Bentley’s touchdown run came on third-and-1. The Rebels failed to convert their first 10 third downs before the pass from Dart to Watkins. 

On the following drive, Dart converted another third down on a 17-yard pass to Watkins with a little more than four minutes remaining. 

Bentley ran 32 yards to the Arkansas 3 on the next play, but the Razorbacks held the Rebels to a 22-yard field goal by Caden Davis with 2:43 to play.

The Rebels were facing third-and-15 when Arkansas defensive lineman Eric Gregory jumped offsides. Dart hit Watkins to midfield, and 15 yards were tacked to the end of the play when Arkansas’ Trajan Jeffcoat was flagged for roughing Dart. 

The Razorbacks were flagged 10 times for 70 yards. Arkansas is averaging 64 penalty yards per game. 

"Nobody can win doing that," Pittman said. "I'm the head coach. That's my responsibility to get fixed. We're trying, but I just haven't got it fixed." 

Jefferson was intercepted by John Saunders with 1:42 remaining to clinch the Rebels’ win. Playing about 30 miles from his hometown of Sardis, Miss., Jefferson threw two touchdowns and was intercepted twice on his side of the field. 

"We had a chance to drive the ball down and score and we didn't do that," Jefferson said. "That's on my part. I take full responsibility of it and we've got to get better." 

Jefferson’s first interception set up Ole Miss’ first touchdown. On third-and-11 from his own 24, Jefferson was intercepted by Ashanti Cistrunk, who returned the ball 28 yards to the Razorbacks’ 3. 

Arkansas held Ole Miss out of the end zone on first, second and third down, but the Rebels scored on Judkins’ 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal. Judkins took a direct snap and scored standing up to give Ole Miss a 10-7 lead with 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter. 

The Rebels added a 6-yard touchdown pass from Dart to Dayton Wade to go ahead 17-7 with 1:34 before halftime. Ole Miss nearly added to its halftime lead, but Davis missed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right as time expired in the second quarter. 

Arkansas’ Cam Little kicked a pair of third-quarter field goals to pull the Razorbacks within 17-13. Little’s 56-yard kick early in the quarter was a career long, and he added a 26-yard field goal later with 2:46 remaining in the quarter after Ole Miss failed on fourth down from its own territory. 

Facing fourth-and-5, Dart was sacked for an 11-yard loss by blitzing Arkansas defensive back Malik Chavis at the Ole Miss 38. The Razorbacks reached the Ole Miss 4 after runs of 11 and 3 yards by Rahsod Dubinion, but a false start by offensive lineman Brady Latham pushed the drive back to the 9. Jefferson threw incomplete on second down and ran for a short gain on third down. 

It continued a season-long trend in which Arkansas has struggled to finish drives with touchdowns. The Razorbacks have 14 touchdowns in 21 trips to the red zone. 

"As hard as it was up front on offense, if we just play smart, I've just got to believe that one of those field goals would turn into a touchdown," Pittman said, "and you'd have a different ballgame." 

Trailing 10-7, Arkansas opted to punt from the Ole Miss 38 instead of try for a game-tying field goal in the second quarter. An attempt from that spot would have been around 55 yards for Little, who twice made from 50 yards or longer the week before against Texas A&M. 

Little has made 9 of 10 field goal attempts this year.

The Razorbacks led 7-0 in the first quarter when Jefferson capped a 15-play, 80-yard opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Washington. Playing extended snaps due to an injury to tight end Luke Hasz, Washington had 5 catches for 56 yards on the first drive and finished with 7 catches for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead all receivers. 

"That's certainly going to do something well for his confidence and our confidence in him," Pittman said. "For his first start, to do that was really outstanding."

Andrew Armstrong added 8 catches for 86 yards on 9 targets for Arkansas, which finished with 286 yards on offense. 

Jefferson completed 25 of 39 passes for 250 yards. He rushed for 44 yards on 12 carries when adjusted for sacks, but he lost 33 yards on 5 sacks by the Rebels. 

"I think the wear and tear of him getting hit back in the pocket, I think that has worn on him a little bit mentally," Pittman said. "I don't think he's as calm back there in the pocket as he was a year ago. I don't know that anybody would be as calm back there if you're getting hit. I think he did the best he could do under the circumstances." 

Arkansas' run game was almost nonexistent for the second week in a row. The Razorbacks' 36 rushing yards on 29 attempts came on the heels of a 42-yard effort on 39 carries against Texas A&M.

During those games Arkansas averaged 1.1 yard per rushing attempt, or 2.7 yards per carry when adjusted for 12 sacks. 

"It's hard to win a game when you can't run the football," Pittman said. "We've got to figure out a way to do it. Obviously we're trying, but what we're doing is not working."

Dart completed 16 of 25 passes for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, and did not commit a turnover. Kiffin said Dart played through an injury. 

"Obviously he was hurt and his game was off today," Kiffin said. "We didn’t play well at all in the passing game today. We gave [Arkansas] a lot of opportunities, but the defense came up big."

Bentley had 94 yards on 13 carries and Judkins added 65 yards on 18 attempts to lead Ole Miss' rushing attack, and Watkins caught 7 passes for 86 yards to lead the Rebels' receivers. 

The home team has won the past five games in the series. 

Arkansas was attempting to win its first game in six years when trailing by double digits at halftime on the road. The last time it happened was at Ole Miss in 2017 — the Razorbacks' last win in Oxford. 

Note: A change in official stats after the game resulted in two less total yards and passing yards for Arkansas.