LITTLE ROCK — The answer to where Arkansas fits in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference came three weeks earlier than expected and it won’t sit well with Razorback fans.
I thought it would be Nov. 17 in Starkville, Miss., before Arkansas’ niche in the division was clear-cut. That scenario was based on Arkansas completing an October of improvement by outscoring Ole Miss on Saturday and getting to 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference.
Instead, quarterback Tyler Wilson had an off day and Arkansas’ defense did not defend Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace late in either half.
Way too often, Wilson zeroed in early on his intended receiver and the Rebels converged on his target. Two of his throws were intercepted and Ole Miss missed out on three or four other picks.
In his defense, Wilson suffered what might have been a bruised hip early on, and was often under pressure. The offensive line that had allowed only one sack in the three previous games gave up one to the Rebels and two others on grounding calls, plus put Wilson in difficult situations throughout the game. On top of that, he did not have Brandon Mitchell — suspended for the all-encompassing “violation of team rules” — and tight end Chris Gragg, who had been out for a few weeks with an injury, for the entire second half.
Wilson was 24-of-43, a so-so afternoon for him. With barely three minutes remaining in the third period, he was 17-of-33 and his quarterback rating was 113.9 — 20 points below Wallace’s rating.
Wisely using the sideline to stop the clock late in the first half, the Rebels needed only 61 seconds to run 10 plays good for 75 yards and a touchdown for a 21-17 lead. Wallace was 5-of-6 on that drive and many of the completions were too easy.
Late in the second half, Wallace made the plays as Ole Miss responded to Arkansas’ tying touchdown. Dennis Johnson, who literally put the team on his back, had runs of 21 and 20 during the drive. He scored from the five with 2:09 and the last thing I want to hear is that he left the Rebels’ too much time.
Wallace, once at Arkansas State University with Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, completed four passes for 47 yards and then read the option correctly and kept for 13 more to the Arkansas 14. Bryson Rose kicked the winning field goal as time expired and the Rebels, who won their first Southeastern Conference game since 2010 when they beat Auburn two weeks ago, mobbed the kicker.
To rub salt in Arkansas’ wound, it was the Rebels’ first road victory in the conference since 2009 and the first time since 1993 that Arkansas failed to win a game in Little Rock.
Ole Miss was supposed to be a barometer of Arkansas’ progress since bouncing back from a 48-point loss to Texas A&M by beating up on Auburn and Kentucky. Instead, the loss underscored the fact that Auburn and Kentucky — 0-10 in the SEC when the day began — are the worst teams in the league.
The idea that Arkansas could win six and make a bowl game was deflated by the loss. It is difficult to imagine that the Razorbacks could somehow win two of three remaining SEC games against teams that were 22-4 at the end of Saturday’s play. In fact, there is no guarantee that the Razorbacks will beat Tulsa in Fayetteville.
Although there was plenty of ebb and flow, one of the biggest plays of the game occurred early in the fourth quarter when Arkansas had third-and-5 at the Ole Miss 15. The Razorbacks rushed to the line of scrimmage and Ole Miss failed to cover tight end Austin Tate. The yellow circles on the TV replay proved that Arkansas did not have enough men on the line of scrimmage and the Razorbacks had to settle for a field goal.
When teams are evenly matched, three points instead of seven makes a difference.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.