Dexter McCluster may not have run the Wild Rebel much on Saturday afternoon, but he definitely ran wild on the Razorbacks.
McCluster rushed 22 times for 123 yards and caught 7 passes for 137 yards to lead No. 25 Ole Miss over Arkansas 30-17 before 60,622 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Jevan Snead also passed for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns as former Razorback coach Houston Nutt got his second win over new UA coach Bobby Petrino in as many years.
"That is about as disappointing as it gets," Petrino said. "They beat us in all phases. They beat us in defense. They beat our offense up. They won the special teams. We didn't match their intensity. We didn't come out and execute on offense. We had a hard time protecting the quarterback and running the ball. That's about as disappointing as t can get after having a great battle last week (with No. 1 Florida), then taking a huge step backwards."
Petrino was quick to blame himself for the poor play of the Razorbacks (3-4, 1-4).
"I have to do a better job of getting us ready to play," Petrino said. "We have to do a better job of being physically ready to play and emotionally ready to play. That falls on me."
Nutt had the home crowd chanting his name and got a Gatorade bath near the end of the game and then spent a lot of time meeting with a ton of Arkansas players that he recruited after the conclusion of the contest.
"The players gave their heart and soul and everything they had and our crowd was definitely a factor, a 12th man today," Nutt said. "They were outstanding."
The Rebels (5-2, 2-2) - off to their best start since the 2003 season - put up two first-quarter touchdowns, led 17-0 right before halftime and never led by less than seven throughout the contest.
McCluster, a 5-9, 170-pound senior speedster who had just 54 touches (38 rushes, 16 catches) in the first six games, got 29 different ones on Saturday.
He has spent a lot of time at flanker, but was placed in the backfield for this game.
"I knew I had to be patient," McCluster said. "My time would come. Today, it came and getting the ball that much is a dream come true. When I am out there I am just running. I didn't know how many yards I had. I am just trying to fight for every inch."
He is the first Ole Miss player in the modern era - since 1965 - to both rush for over 100 and catch passes for over 100 in the same game.
"Dexter McCluster was the key today," said Nutt, who has taken some heat over not using him enough. "You line him back at seven yards and they have to defend that. Now our passing game takes off. That's the game we wanted to play. He's a true weapon. It helps when the quarterback can turn and hand the ball to him and he can stretch the field. He's a difference maker."
The Razorbacks failed to build off a close loss at No. 1 Florida last week with the Arkansas defense giving up 298 yards total offense in the first half and 553 total in the contest.
"They did a good job of getting him (McCluster) the ball," Petrino said. "We knew that going into the game. They talked all week long about him not being involved in their offense. They lined him up at tailback. He made great runs. He played with tremendous effort. We didn't tackle well and we didn't match his effort. He had a great game."
As did Snead, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate who has struggled this season. He was 22 of 33 for the 332 yards passing with two TDs, two picks and no sacks.
"Other than one decision today, I thought Jevan was perfect," Nutt said. "On the out route he took a shot at the post corner and it got tipped up and intercepted. Other than that, he threw the ball away and was very accurate. He is a wonderful quarterback. He's a competitor and a winner. Our offensive line gave us time to throw today and the receivers executed."
UA quarterback Ryan Mallett was just 12-of-34 passing for 254 yards with a plethora of drops along with his own misfires and was sacked four times in a game where Arkansas had just 299 yards total offense.
"We knew going in, it was going to be a difficult task blocking those defensive ends," Petrino said. "It seemed like anytime there was a critical play, they won the battle. We committed a few times, committed to max protect, but they won the battle.
"I think there were a few plays where we could have got the protection, we had guys open, we could have made the plays, but every time in the game when we had a chance to get back in it, their defensive line and linebackers got to our quarterback," Petrino added. "They rushed him or hit him."
Childs had 3 catches for 83 yards, Jarius Wright 3 for 51 yards and Carlton Salters a 58-yard TD catch, but the Razorbacks had at least seven dropped passes.
Ole Miss' defensive strategy under coordinator Tyrone Nix was to be very physical with the UA wideouts.
"We got in the faces of the wide receivers," Rebel defensive back Marshay Green said. "Coach Nix had a good gameplan. We bumped them all game."
Mallett refused to accept that his team was flat off of the Florida game.
"We weren't flat, we just didn't come out and execute," Mallett said. "I'm going to tell you that 20 times today. We got beat, but we have a good football team. They controlled the ball because they didn't want our offense to have the ball.
"We had a couple of miscues out there," Mallett continued. "We killed ourselves. They are a good football team, but if we execute the game isn't like it turned out to be."
On a day when Arkansas was just 3-of-10 on third down conversions, Ole Miss was an efficient 7-of-12 and had 31 first downs to Arkansas' 13.
"That was the biggest thing we talked about at halftime," Petrino said. "That was the difference in the game. Their converting all their third downs and stopping us from completing our drives. We haven't been good on third down all year."
Mallett stated the obvious.
"I speak for the team when I say we took a step back today," Mallett said. "We have to regroup and come back together and get it done next week."
Ole Miss blew through the Arkansas defense on two of its first three possessions.
The Rebels took a 7-0 lead on their opening possession with a 10-play, 73-yard jaunt.
Snead, McCluster and Bolden accounted for all of the yardage via the air and ground.
Snead, who had two big 3rd down passes on the drive, capped it with a bootleg play-action bootleg that he ran in from 1 yard out when the entire Arkansas defense got sucked in.
It grew to 14-0 later in the quarter when Ole Miss went 80 yards, 49 of which were covered by McCluster on the ground.
The drive culminated when Snead hit Shay Hodge with a perfect 26-yard touchdown pass after which Joshua Shene added his second PAT of the game with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
"We knew they had a couple of weaknesses in the secondary," Ole Miss wide receiver Shay Hodge said. "We tried our best to exploit them. Putting Dexter back there was a game-changer. Jevan played really good and did a good job of throwing the ball out of bounds when he was supposed to."
The Rebels had a shot for a three-touchdown lead at the half, but the Arkansas defense forced a field goal after the home team had a first down-and-goal at the 4.
Shene's 22-yarder made it 17-0 with 4:12 left before intermission.
To that point, the Razorback offense had not gotten much accomplished and that was a goal for the Rebels according to defensive end Greg Hardy.
"We can get on the edge and pressure the quarterback, so he can't make accurate throws," Hardy said. "Our goal was to get back there and get after him. We had a lot of energy and poise."
Arkansas finally got off the deck with its own 80-yard drive in just under two minutes with the big plays being back-to-back passes to Reggie Fish and Greg Childs for 31 and 32 yards.
Freshman tailback Knile Davis then scored the first touchdown of his career on a 3-yard run and Alex Tejada's PAT cut it to 17-7 with 2:15 remaining.
Ole Miss did get down the field and had a shot to get more points, but Jerico Nelson's interception on the last play of the half kept that from happening.
Although Arkansas failed to get anything going on its first possession of the third quarter, Andru Stewart's first career interception eventually resulted in points.
After his 30-yard return, Tejada booted a 44-yard field goal to cut it 17-10 with 9:40 showing in the third quarter.
After the two teams both came up empty, McCluster ripped off a 64-yard screen for a score to surge the Rebels ahead 24-10.
"Coach called a screen play to me and told me to lock the ball up," McCluster said. "Once I caught it, I saw nothing but green. I got some key blocks from my offensive linemen. It was off to the races from there."
But Arkansas got its own big play when Mallett's pass went off the hands of Childs and into the ones of Carlton Salters.
Salters' first catch of the year and the first touchdown of his career thus resulted in a 58-yard TD pass that cut the deficit to 24-17 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
"It was just a deep route to Greg and I knew that if Ryan got some time he was going to throw it deep to him," Salters said. "When I was coming off my route, I felt the safety stay on top of Greg and I had a feeling Greg wouldn't be able to jump and catch it. I just tried to hustle over there and get in position and hoped he tipped the ball in the air to me."
Arkansas now has 15 drives under three minutes and 12 under two minutes and are 25-of-26 scoring once entering the red zone.
Shene missed a 34-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but illegal procedure wiped that out and he drilled a 39-yarder to give Ole Miss a 27-17 advantage.
Tejada's 52-yard field goal hit the crossbar and went through, but a delay of game penalty wiped it out with just over 11 minutes left.
Shene's 19-yard field goal with 4:13 remaining capped the scoring.
Brandon Bolden, who had 14 carries for 62 of Ole Miss' 221 yards rushing, then helped run out the clock.
Michael Smith, who returned after not playing at Florida last week due to injury,had 35 of Arkansas' 45 yards rushing.
"I was proud of our defensive front," Nutt said. "They held their gaps and played hard. The linebackers did a good job of bottling up Michael Smith. Everyone did a good job of just doing their job. It was fun to watch."
After playing four of their last five games away from Fayetteville, the Razorbacks will play their next four inside the state's borders.
They will host Eastern Michigan for homecoming next weekend in Fayetteville, follow that up with games against South Carolina and Troy in Fayetteville and then battle Mississippi State in Little Rock.
Greg Childs fends off Cassius Vaughn after catching a 32-yard pass from Ryan Mallett to set up Arkansas' first touchdown.
Michael Smith tries to pick up some rushing yardage in the first half.
No. 25 Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 17
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Arkansas' first-round drought continuesOnce again, no Razorbacks heard their name called Thursday night.
Hawgs Daily7:28 AM
Arkansas, Ole Miss to play doubleheaderWeather has forced Arkansas and Ole Miss to tweak their weekend schedule.
Hawgs DailyYesterday at 12:02 PM
Memphis, Arkansas in talks about gameArkansas and Memphis could potentially renew their basketball rivalry.
Hawgs DailyYesterday at 11:53 AM