Instant Analysis: Arkansas stuns Ole Miss in wild finish, resets SEC race
The craziness continues. After three straight Saturdays featuring unbelievable endings, Arkansas kept the streak going with a 53–52 overtime win over No. 18 Ole Miss that included yet another play that will appear in highlight reels for years to come.
It’s a nice win for a Razorbacks team that has begun to bounce back after starting the season so disappointingly, but it has far bigger implications for the Rebels. The crushing defeat essentially ends Ole Miss’s hopes of winning the SEC West, a bitterly disappointing outcome considering how high the team was flying earlier this season after beating Alabama.
Here are three thoughts on the Razorbacks’ win:
1. What an ending—again
As Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry began to fall to the turf following a reception well short of the sticks on fourth-and-25, the game appeared to be lost for the Razorbacks. They were down 52–45 in overtime, and the tackle of Henry seemed certain to halt their upset attempt.
But Henry made the smart decision to chuck the ball back behind him, and running back Alex Collins promptly picked it up and began charging forward. The Ole Miss defense, out of position and apparently not expecting a lateral, couldn’t get Collins on the ground until he had a first down. Just like that, yet another astonishing play had occured, the likes of which the sport hasn’t seen in recent memory in that type of situation.
But Collins’s salvation of Arkansas from the jaws of defeat was hardly the only bit of madness in the game’s final stages. After the Razorbacks scored two plays later, they elected to go for two and the win. Quarterback Brandon Allen was sacked on the attempt, ending Arkansas’s upset hopes for a second time—except Ole Miss was flagged for a facemask. The Razorbacks made good on their second chance as Allen dove into the end zone.
But before Collins’s miraculous fourth-down conversion and Allen’s game-winning two-point score, Ole Miss was the beneficiary of a wild play. With 16 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze curiously elected to go for it on fourth-and-six from the Arkansas 49-yard line. When Ole Miss failed to convert, the Razorbacks got a chance at a winning field goal on the game’s final play of regulation. The attempt, of course, was blocked, because a conventional game-winning field goal wasn’t crazy enough to decide this contest.
Add it all up and it makes for another mind-boggling finish to continue a streak that began with Michigan State’s wild win over Michigan. Though it wasn’t the game’s final play, the Henry-Collins lateral conversion joins the ranks of the Spartans’ return of a fumbled punt, the Georgia Tech-Florida State blocked field goal return and the Miami-Duke lateral-filled kick return on the list of the season’s bafflingly amazing plays.
2. This hands the SEC West on a silver platter to the winner of LSU-Alabama
The Rebels’ season quickly turned into something of a disappointment when they were blown out by Florida and then upset by Memphis at home. However, they still controlled their destiny in the SEC West thanks to their win at Alabama on Sept. 19. After a nice bounceback victory over Texas A&M, it was certainly feasible that Ole Miss could win out, which would include a home victory over LSU, and head to Atlanta as the division champ.
Those hopes have been shattered with this loss. The winner of LSU-Alabama on Saturday night will almost certainly win the West. The Tide would finish with one conference defeat if they win out, rendering Ole Miss’s tiebreaker over them moot now that the Rebels already have two SEC losses. If the undefeated Tigers beat Alabama, they could lose to Ole Miss in the regular season’s penultimate game and still win the West as long as they take care of business in their other games. (If they were to beat the Tide and the Rebels, they could lose to both Arkansas and Texas A&M.)
Ole Miss’s playoff hopes were already on life support entering Saturday—its only hope was to sneak in as a two-loss SEC champ. This loss ends those hopes for good. It’s bad news for Memphis, too. The Tigers, with their win over the Rebels, could have presented a compelling case to the playoff selection committee had they gone undefeated and Ole Miss won the SEC.
The Razorbacks’ win was good news for the SEC as a whole, though. Ole Miss winning the conference with two losses and getting shut out of the playoff was the SEC’s worst-case scenario. Now the league is basically assured a playoff spot if LSU, Alabama or Florida finishes as a one-loss champ.
The Rebels, of course, couldn’t care less about the ramifications for other teams. They’re likely instead wondering how they’ve fallen so far after their upset of the Tide earlier this season had them dreaming of an undefeated season.
3. Brandon Allen and Chad Kelly led dueling offensive clinics
Saturday’s game was plenty entertaining even before things heated up a notch at the end. That’s because Allen and Kelly played like stars all afternoon, leading their respective offenses up and down the field and always mounting a response when the other came up with a big play.
Allen threw for 416 yards and six touchdowns, both of which were career highs, while completing 33 of his 45 attempts. Kelly was stellar through the air and on the ground. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 368 yards with three touchdowns and tallied 110 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries, several of which resulted in key first downs on scrambles.
While there’s little upshot for the future with Allen since he’s a senior, if he plays like this the rest of the year the Razorbacks might be able to pull a couple more upsets and turn their season into a success. Meanwhile, with Kelly just a junior, the Rebels can hope this kind of all-around play is a sign of things to come next season. Their offense will take on a new dimension if his legs can be a weapon.
Of course, on the other side of the quarterbacks’ star turn was less-than-stellar play from both defenses. For Ole Miss, that will be the more lasting memory from this game. Just like against Florida and Memphis, it let the opposing quarterback turn in an excellent performance. And just like against Florida and Memphis, that resulted in a disappointing upset loss.