Gaines got rid of a twitter handle he couldn't match and now the Hogs might be the only 6-5 team worthy of a top 25 ranking after a 30-0 thumping of No. 8 Ole Miss.
Gaines was taking heat from roommate Trey Flowers for not living up to his twitter handle: Pick Six Two Six. The junior with the 26 on his jersey had to miss the first half of the Ole Miss game because of a targeting penalty the previous week in the shutout of LSU.
“I dropped that handle,” Gaines said. “Trey was giving me crap, but that wasn't the reason. I just decided to go a different direction. But, I will say he was right. I hadn't had a pick six. Well, I hadn't even had an interception for my career here.”
All of that changed when Gaines joined the turnover festival against Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace. Gaines galloped 100 yards with a pick six to end the suspense. It turned what could have been 20-7 into 27-0 at the 3:38 mark of the third quarter.
The Hogs were coasting to yet another shutout, sending everyone deep into the Arkansas media guide for the list of back-to-back shutouts of conference opponents. You have to go back to the 22-game winning streak of 1964 and 1965 when the Hogs did it in both years. There were five straight to end the '64 season, then two more, both by 31-0, in '65.
There's also this: it was the first time for anyone to shutout ranked opponents in back-to-back games since 1942, when the North Carolina Pre-Flight team helped coached by Bear Bryant and Johnny Vaught posted six shutouts against college opponents. LSU entered at No. 17 and went down, 17-0.
So where should this 6-5 Arkansas team be in the top 25? It was at least fun to ask UA coach Bret Bielema that kind of question Saturday night.
“We are playing as good as anyone,” Bielema said. “We were even with No. 1 with 11 minutes left. We gave up a big play against No. 4. You put us in a room with anyone and we could hold our own.”
These Hogs are 20 away from what they did in 1964-65, but they are bowl eligible. It's a far cry from where they were just three weeks ago when the records were about near misses and losing streaks.
“It's big time to know I've got another game with these guys,” Flowers said. “We will have another game, a bowl game. We wanted to show that last week's shutout wasn't a fluke. We wanted to show that we are still hungry. To get a shutout is big time for a defensive player.
“We've known for a long time that we belonged on the field with anyone, but now everyone knows it.”
Flowers was part of the convoy leading Gaines the length of the field after he sailed across the field to grab another floater by Wallace.
“I'd given Rohan heat about that Twitter handle,” Flowers said. “How could he have a Pick Six Two Six account and he had never intercepted a pass. So when I saw him get one, I wanted to make sure to get him to the end zone. We all got to blocking and made sure he got there.
“That was big-time. He had sat out the first half, but he was mentally locked in when he stepped on the field.”
Gaines said he changed to Hit Man Gaines 26. He's satisfied with that even after the pick six.
“Naw, I don't want it back,” Gaines said. “It was great to get it. I saw a lot of red in front of me pretty quickly. I saw Martrell (Spaight) first. I put my hand on his back and then it all just opened up.
“We saw some tendencies with Wallace on tape. Down on the goal line, he will go outside and we wanted to attack it when it did. Actually, I had to wait on it a little bit.”
The Hogs finished the night with six turnovers and were plus six with only a bad snap costing Austin Allen a lost fumble for the Hogs. The Rebels had entered with a plus 13 in turnover ratio with the Hogs at zero.
If the game had gone any longer, Arkansas might have passed them in turnover ratio. Ole Miss limped home at plus eight with the Hogs now at plus five. Flowers said it was all about attacking Wallace.
“We wanted to get after him mentally and physically,” Flowers said. “You have to play well against a quarterback of that caliber.”
Along with the turnovers, the Hogs stopped Wallace twice on downs, once with a Flowers sack on fourth-and-3 at the UA 31 early in the third quarter. That came after a Jared Collins interception was wiped out by an offside penalty.
The die was cast early. Bielema knew what he had on defense on a rainy day, electing to defer after winning the coin toss. The Hogs stuffed three straight Wallace keepers and a short punt left them only 52 yards away on their opening possession.
“The thing that was cool about today, that we decided as a staff to defer if it was bad weather,” Bielema said, noting that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had a great opening sequence scripted.
“We had some explosive plays right at the start and that was a great catch by Keon (Hatcher).”
Hatcher made 12 on the wide receiver sweep on the first UA play. Alex Collins bounced outside for 15 yards. Then, Brandon Allen hit Hatcher on a perfect post route, a 25-yard play to complete the three-play drive to make it 7-0 after just three minutes.
Two plays later Martrell Spaight splattered Wallace for a fumble that setup a 22-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead. The Rebels botched the next kickoff, with the return man stepping out of bounds at the 2-yard line. That resulted in another short field and a 49-yard touchdown drive.
Hatcher's touchdown pass was designed to go to Demetrius Wilson on senior day, but there was confusion in the substitution signals coming from the sideline.
“That was so crazy,” Hatcher said. “Demetrius was going to come in. It was his play. Thanks bro.”
The Hogs didn't throw it around much after getting the early lead. Brandon Allen played only 16 minutes, leaving with a hip injury. Austin Allen, his younger brother, attempted just five passes, completing three. There was a 33-yard wobbler to Hatcher.
“I thought it looked just fine to me,” Hatcher said. “It got there, didn't it? How about that, so here's a shout out for my little brother, Austin. He's a baller. Expect good things from him. I give him a 10 on that pass. The ball was wet and slippery and that was a good one.”
Good doesn't really describe how the Hogs are playing right now. Running back Jonathan Williams went stronger.
“It just shows how well we are playing right now,” Williams said. “The offense is clicking and the defense is playing ridiculous out there.
“I might be biased, but I feel like they're playing better defense than anybody out there in the country right now. We have played three ranked opponents these last three games and the defense has allowed 17 points in three games, so they are playing really well. This is a team effort and everybody is just gelling right now.”