After a week in which he endured possibly the most criticism of his glorious career, University of Arkansas senior quarterback Matt Jones responded in grand style in his last ever game in Fayetteville.
Jones rushed 5 times for a whopping 126 yards – including a 72-dash to the end zone that was followed by a celebratory dunk over the goal post – and also threw for 108 yards and two touchdowns as the Razorbacks hammered Ole Miss 35-3 Saturday before 63,474 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
It came after a week when Jones was criticized in some corners for going deep and being intercepted late in a 35-32 loss at South Carolina instead of settling for a potential game-tying field goal attempt.
"Matt was on his ‘A' game," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "He made the best decisions, whether it was to keep, throw or run the ball. He had great execution. He felt so bad after what happened last week."
The win ended a four-game losing streak for Arkansas (4-5, 2-4) and kept alive the program's hopes for a seventh straight bowl game – a feat it can achieve with wins at Mississippi State next week and against LSU in Little Rock on Nov. 26.
"I was so glad to see the guys smile in the locker room after the game" noted Nutt, whose team last won a game when it beat Alabama back on Sept. 28. "After last week it was just devastation. It was the toughest loss we've had. Tuesday was the turnaround day for us when we really tugged on their hearts to have the seniors go out well."
Jones' topped a Razorback running game that rolled up nearly 300 yards on the ground while totaling 452 yards in total offense against the Rebels (3-6, 2-4), who were eliminated from bowl consideration with the loss.
The Arkansas defense also played one of its better games of the season while allowing Ole Miss 343 yards and not allowing them in the end zone in the Rebels' 3rd straight loss.
Ole Miss had the only turnover of the game.
"We can't take anything away from Arkansas; they were outstanding," Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe said. "it's tough to put a finger on why we played so poorly. There have been things all year long to plague us. We lacked consistency on both sides of the ball."
Arkansas freshman Peyton Hillis, whose fumble turned into a momentum -swinging touchdown against South Carolina, also responded by adding a career-high 18 carries for a career-high 64 yards.
De'Arrius Howard added nine carries for 52 yards and DeCori Birmingham 9 carries for 34 yards.
"It was rough today," Ole Miss defensive lineman Michael Bozeman said. "They had a good game plan and we just didn't execute. We gave a lot of effort and didn't give up."
But fellow Rebel defensive tackle McKinley Boykin is afraid that is just what happened.
"I do think, personally, that some of our guys gave up early on," Boykin said.
Arkansas scored on the opening possession of the game, an 8-play, 80-yard effort that featured Jones' 23 yard dash to the Ole Miss 1.
Hillis then capped the drive two plays later by getting the final yard and the Razorbacks jumped ahead 7-0 when Chris Balseiro drilled the extra point with 12:22 remaining in the opening half.
Arkansas would expand that lead soon after its maligned defense stopped Ole Miss for no gain on consecutive downs and took over the ball at their own 47.
"At third and less than a yard and fourth and less than a yard, we needed to stay on the field and it was a risk we needed to take," Cutcliffe said. "We didn't respond and that was one reason behind our not playing well. We lacked execution in every phase."
Birmingham did the honors this time with an 11-yard dash to paydirt and Balseiro's extra point pushed the Razorbacks ahead 14-0 with 1:42 left in the opening half.
Jones then showed his speed for the next six points, outracing Ole Miss defenders the final 72 yards of a 3-play, 77-yard scoring drive. The play came on the first play of the second quarter.
The quarterback, who has also played a couple of years with the school's basketball team, took off for the goal post after he scored and rammed it over the crossbar – a move that drew a penalty but also gave his team a three-touchdown lead.
"The play opened up, it's our option play that we usually run," Jones said.
That scoring dash combined with Balseiro's PAT made it 21-0 with 14:48 left in the second quarter.
Jones, who was also 9-of-14 passing for 86 yards in the first half and finished 11 of 16, capped his sparkling first two quarters with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Hicks.
The first touchdown catch of Hicks' career followed Jones' 25-yard dash to the Ole Miss 1 on a 4th-and-1 play.
The Rebels, outgained 316-140 in total offense by intermission, got nearly half of their number on the last drive of the first half.
They avoided the shutout when Jonathon Nichols' capped that 8-play, 65-yard effort with a 33-yard field goal as time ran out.
Those points kept the defense from backing up defensive coach Bobby Allen's prediction earlier in the week - but still it was a great effort.
"Coach Allen made a statement earlier this week that we were going to shut them out," Nutt said. "When you hear a statement sometimes you don't know how to react."
Arkansas pushed that to 35-3 early on in the third quarter when Jones threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Hicks, thus doubling his career total, and Balserio connected with 7:19 remaining.
"It was great to throw my last TD pass in this stadium to Hicks, who is one of my closest friends," Jones said.
That play signaled the end of the day for Jones, who turned things over to redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Johnson.
Jones, who suffered a slight hamstring pull that was unrelated to his earlier one, went into the locker room in the third quarter.
Johnson appeared to be leading a scoring drive early in the fourth quarter when freshman wideout Monk hauled his 26-yard pass in spectacular fashion, but Balserio's 28-yard field goal was blocked – the first time the UA had one blocked in 56 games.
The defense then took over from there as it put up its first game without allowing the opponent a touchdown this season.
Vickiel Vaughn led the tackle chart with eight while safety Randy Kelly, defensive end Jeb Huckeba and linebacker Pierre Brown added five each on day when defensive line coach Tracy Rocker alternated defensive linemen on every play.
"It meant a lot to not only win this game, but to dominate the way we did," Huckeba said. "The crowd wanted to send the seniors out right. We've got two more games promised to us and hopefully we can earn another one."
Peyton Hillis fights for yardage.
Jeb Huckeba chases the Ole Miss quarterback.
Houston Nutt liked the complete effort of his squad.
Photos by Tom Ewart
Arkansas 35, Ole Miss 3
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout 2017 Rankings DirectoryThe Scout positional, state, regional, national and team rankings for the Class of 2017...
2017 Signing Day announcement scheduleComplete list of announcement times for the most high-profile uncommitted recruits in 2017.
Scout's Top 25 Recruiting ClassesA look at Scout's top 25 classes with just over a week to go to Signing Day.
Weekend Official Visit PrimerScout takes a look at the biggest visitors for the upcoming weekend in the Power 5 conferences...