OXFORD, Miss. - Arkansas continued to show some improvement on Saturday, but it still wasn't enough as the Razorbacks tied a school record with their seventh straight loss.
Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace was 26-of-33 passing for a career-high 407 yards and three touchdowns and Ja-Mes Logan and Donte Moncrief both had over 100 yards receiving to lead Ole Miss over Arkansas 34-24 before 60,856 fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The loss was the 10th straight in SEC action over the past two years for the Razorbacks (3-7, 0-6). It was the 13th in last 15 league games for Arkansas, which had not had a seven-game losing streak since 1990 and is 0-6 for the first time since entering the SEC.
"Obviously, getting very frustrated," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "Anytime you put yourself in position to win a game and can't pull it out because of some things that fundamentally just break down for us.
"...Obviously, we want wins and it is hard to say that a 3-7 football team is in the right direction, but I think it is," Bielema added. "It reminds me so much of different things that I have seen and experienced with programs. It's going through some really dark days to get to where we really want to be and I hope that day comes sooner than later."
The win made Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3) bowl eligible for a second straight year under head coach Hugh Freeze, who was the head coach at Arkansas State for one year before taking over in Oxford.
"We're very excited to be bowl eligible with three games left," Freeze said. "We knew this would be a tough game for us. It's good to get guys healed up during an off week, but we seemed a little sluggish. It's a great sign for our program in year two that we're able to win an SEC football game and not play our best."
The loss eliminated Arkansas' slim hopes of going to a bowl and is something new for Bielema, who has been in a bowl in his seven previous seasons as a head coach.
"I just addressed that in the locker room," Bielema said. "Obviously we eliminated ourselves from going to post-season play. I have never been in this position as a head coach. It's very frustrating and it is frustrating because I know what this team needs and it needs practices. And that's what (a bowl) allows you to do and that's to get extra practices. It allows you to do some more things in your program before spring practice."
Arkansas has a bye next week and then finishes the season with a game in Little Rock against Mississippi State and a road game at LSU.
"We have two games to show what kind of pride we have and I think our seniors will lead the way," Bielema said.
Senior Julian Horton led Arkansas' receivers with four catches for 64 yards and voiced how he wanted to finish the season in the right direction.
"It's just about being prideful about our program," Horton said. "We are Arkansas and we are trying to get back to the way it used to be, so each and every week we're going to keep trying to do better and keep being motivated to go out there and get wins."
Arkansas had a chance to cut it to 34-27 with just under a minute left and try an on-sides kick, but Zach Hocker – who had earlier hit a 51-yard field goal – came up just shy on a 58-yarder with 48 seconds left.
Eric Bennett had intercepted a Wallace pass at the Arkansas 1 and returned it to Ole Miss 23, but a questionable block-in-the-back penalty called on freshman middle linebacker Brooks Ellis – who had a team-high 11 tackles – cost the Razorbacks 73 yards.
Bielema was asked his opinion of the call and he made it clear that he didn't want to get in trouble with the SEC for commenting on it.
"I am not doing this, but I am just going to say next question," Bielema said. "You know what I mean. That is what I have got to do."
He did allow that the call made a big difference in his team having a chance to possibly win at the end.
"We pick that pass off and he is scurrying down our sideline and we have the ball on the 20 yard line with a minute and 48 or 50 seconds left, but again a critical penalty called with a block in the back," Bielema said. "That's momentum. That's what it is."
Wallace had a touchdown pass of 14 yards to LaQuan Treadwell to close out the first half and then a pair of third quarter plays of 75 yards to Logan (5 catches, 110 yards) and 52 yards to Moncrief (7 catches, 149 yards) – the latter putting Ole Miss up 34-17 with 1:05 left in the quarter.
"We obviously can't give up long pass plays," Bielema said. "Those two pass plays absolutely and positively killed us. And right before the end of the half to give up that touchdown right after the penalty on the kickoff return. Just so many things that can be easily corrected."
Wallace said a big key was protection for him to wait on receivers to pop open.
"The coaches gave us a great game plan, the offensive line played well and the receivers caught the ball," Wallace said. "Overall we had a great game."
Freeze noted that Wallace – who surpassed both Jevan Snead and Archie Manning to move into the top five of career total offense (5,933 yards) with his effort on the day - is helped by the trio of wideouts he tossed touchdown passes to on the day.
"I haven't had receivers to this level at other schools," Freeze said. "I've followed Ole Miss football for a long time and our group could arguably be one of the top receiving corps throughout history."
Moncrief broke a tackle attempt by Tevin Mitchel and raced away for the score – something that has happened to Mitchel four times this season.
"We do tackling drills every day and we try to get creative, but Tevin is really struggling in that department," Bielema said. "That's why we went with (freshman) D.J. Dean and we are just going to have to get some other guys in there and rotate through. That's part of recruiting.
"I knew it was going to be a position that we didn't have a lot of depth and guys were breaking down, but unfortunately we don't have a lot of answers right now," Bielema added.
Still Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen (18-of-32 for 193 yards, 2 TDs) hit Horton with a 20-yard TD pass to cut it 34-24 with 4:57 left in the game, but the Razorbacks could get no closer.
"I'm thinking our kids are fighting, don't give up and are going to be rewarded for it," Bielema said. "But it didn't happen."
The Razorbacks drew first blood and went up 3-0 on Hocker's 51-yard field goal on the game's first possession, but the Rebels answered by scoring points on each of their first three possessions.
Andrew Ritter booted a 42-yard field goal and Barry Brunetti added a 1-yard run late in the first quarter before the Rebels took a 13-3 lead on Ritter's 19-yard boot with 10:18 left before halftime.
"We are maturing and heading in the right direction," Freeze said. "We're still young in a lot of places. I was concerned about how we would react to the first early game. We didn't have quite the energy early in the game, but still won the game."
Arkansas' young players did show some life and potential on a second-quarter possession that cut its deficit to 13-10 with 2:43 left in the half.
True freshmen tailbacks Korliss Marshall and Alex Collins ripped off runs of 30 and 13 respectively and then sophomore Jonathan Williams dashed 17 yards.
That set up sophomore Brandon Allen's 17-yard touchdown pass to true freshman tight end Hunter Henry.
Ole Miss answered with the help of an unsportsmanlike penalty against Jeremy Sprinkle that negated Hocker's touchback. Sprinkle was pulled from the game at halftime by Bielema and stood on the sideline in street clothes for the second half.
The Rebels thus started at the 40 and raced down field with Wallace hitting Treadwell on the 14-yard scoring toss and Ritter's PAT making it 20-10 with 45 seconds left before halftime.
After Alan Turner picked off Wallace to start the second half, Arkansas cut it to 20-17 on Kiero Small's 1-yard touchdown plunge with 11:29 left in the third quarter.
The Razorbacks actually had the ball at the Rebels' 39 on the next possession with a chance to tie or take the lead for the first time in the second half of an SEC game this season, but a failed trick play stifled that.
Arkansas tried a halfback pass that would have gone to Allen, but it failed miserably and lost 11 yards and the Razorbacks ended up having to punt away.
"Obviously, J-Will, who we know can throw the football, threw a couple to the same side and a sweet play," Bielema said. "We wanted to throw a throwback to Brandon and obviously didn't break or execute as clean as we wanted."
Does he second guess that call?
"I don't second guess any calls," Bielema said. "You make the call. You live with it or die with it and obviously we didn't have the execution. If it hits, you are going to be happy."
Bielema talked about Allen's day, which also included a pass into triple coverage that was picked off.
"He is a sophomore quarterback that needs to get better and he knows it," Bielema said "He is hard on himself, but by the same account he is a real tough kid scrambling for those first downs. Right there at the end of the game he is executing the two-minute pretty cleanly. I get it. I want him to get better and he does, too."
Ole Miss out gained Arkansas 531 yards total offense to 393.
Arkansas tailbacks Williams (14 carries, 76 yards), Collins (10-57) were joined by Marshall (3 carries, 42 yards) on this day.
Bielema said that Marshall hurt his shoulder or would have gotten more snaps.
"He is obviously a very explosive player and I would have went back to him more, but unfortunately he got hurt," Bielema said. "He kind of goes at a different pace than everybody else. The great news is that he is true freshman."
Julian Horton caught a touchdown pass and had four catches on the day.
Rohan Gaines delivers a hit.
DeMarcus Hodge brings pressure.
Jonathan Williams fights past a defender.
Mitchell Loewen hauls in a pass.
Korliss Marshall showed off his explosiveness.
Hunter Henry is congratulated after a touchdown catch.
Chris Smith gets into the Ole Miss backfield.
Alex Collins uses a stiff arm for extra yardage.
Brooks Ellis made a tackle.
Darius Philon makes a tackle.
Brandon Allen looks down field.
Bret Bielema makes a point with a referee.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Ole Miss 34, Arkansas 24
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