Step Back in Oxford

Arkansas lost by just two touchdowns, but coaches and players called it a "step backwards" and a "whupping"

OXFORD, Miss. - Just when it looked like Arkansas was ready to step forward in the SEC West, Ole Miss forced "a step back."

The Rebels made basic plays on both sides of the ball -- while the visitors did not -- to throttle what was supposed to be a rising Arkansas team.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was the first to call it a backwards move. His assistants agreed, as did his players in the post-game interviews Saturday after the 30-17 loss to Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino called it "a whupping." Just like the head coach, Paul Petrino started by taking the blame. Both said the Hogs were outstanding in Thursday's workout, but didn't match that performance against the Rebels.

"We didn't catch it, we didn't block, we didn't throw it very well," said Paul Petrino. "All the way around, it was a poor effort."

There were missed opportunities by the Razorbacks. Jarius Wright dropped a sure touchdown. Greg Childs had another big pass go through his hands. There might have been six drops altogether.

Ryan Mallett called it just bad "execution." He said, "I'm going to say it about 20 times before I'm done. It's execution."

Or, perhaps it was just blocking. Arkansas could not block the Ole Miss front. The Rebels handled in stride what was thought to be an improved Arkansas front to spring scatback Dexter McCluster for 11 plays of 10 yards or longer.

Mallett was sacked four times, but often he had to scramble or throw the ball away. The Hogs had 16 first down plays of less than 2 yards.

"They brought pressure, blitzed the linebackers," Paul Petrino said. "But we were in maximum protections on some of those. We didn't block their ends and they got to us with the linebackers, too."

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson wasn't surprised by anything in the Ole Miss plan. It came down to tackling McCluster and the Hogs couldn't.

"We took a major step backwards," Robinson said. "We knew they were going to try to get the ball to him more this week. We had chances at him, but we tackled poorly."

Defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said there were times he couldn't find the 5-9, 170-pound McCluster.

"You were in a gap, he was coming at you, then he wasn't in that gap anymore," Sheppard said. "He'd take another crease, another angle and was just gone. He was so fast. He may be the fastest back we've seen in the SEC. I guess we didn't close all the holes fast enough."

The Hogs had six sacks against Tim Tebow, zero against Snead.

"We were trying to get there, but he was quick on his feet," Sheppard said. "He'd move in the pocket, get away."

The UA head coach said the Hogs didn't "match" the Ole Miss intensity at the start. It put them in a 17-0 hole.

"Some might say that the loss at Florida took something out of us, but that isn't true," Sheppard said. "It just didn't."

Safety Matt Harris said the Hogs were "excited" for the game all week.

"We have no excuses," Harris said. "It's frustrating. Emotionally, we were going forward all week. We were ready, no excuses. They just beat us and we took a step back. My head is still a little clouded on what happened.

"This was a critical game. We knew it. They are in the SEC West and we needed this game to go up. We dropped a big one."

The Hogs didn't have the complaints about the officials this time. Instead, the few penalties called were obvious. They had delay of game mistakes on offense and also on a 52-yard field goal that might have been the lucky break they needed, Alex Tejada's boot that went over after hitting the cross bar.

"We killed ourselves," Mallett said. "They are a good team, but we have to execute in a game like that. The play clock? We were just trying to get in the right play. That's what our system is for, but I took too long.

"Speaking for the team, we took a step back."

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