The college football world caught its first clear signs last week of Arkansas's turnaround. Now it knows for sure. The Razorbacks have turned the corner, and the rest of the SEC better watch out. Bret Bielema's Razorbacks annihilated No. 8 Ole Miss 30-0 in Fayetteville for their second conference win and sixth victory of the season, a stunning turnaround that will send Arkansas to a bowl game a year after its 3-9 campaign.
The Razorbacks defense blasted the Rebels and posted its second consecutive shutout after blanking LSU in a 17-0 victory last week. Arkansas has now not allowed a point in 133:21 since Mississippi State reached the end zone on Nov. 1. The Razorbacks took advantage of rainy conditions and a sloppy, wounded Bo Wallace to force six turnovers. Wallace fumbled twice and threw two interceptions, the second of which was returned by Rohan Gaines 100 yards from end zone to end zone. Arkansas stuffed Ole Miss’ running game, holding the Rebels to 63 yards on 33 carries.
With the defense carrying the way, the Razorbacks needed little from their offense. Ole Miss outgained Arkansas 315-311, but the Razorbacks avoided costly turnovers, even after quarterback Brandon Allen left the game with a back injury. Arkansas stayed true to its roots by grinding out the game on the ground, rushing 50 times for 159 yards.
Arkansas’ improvement in Year 2 under Bret Bielema has been remarkable for a team that went winless in conference last season. After the Razorbacks started this year’s SEC campaign with five losses, it looked like they could repeat last year’s 0-8 mark. While last week’s win could be marked by mixed feelings of excitement and relief, Saturday’s beatdown oozed confidence. Arkansas has been competitive in every conference game it has played this year, except its loss to Georgia. The Razorbacks fell to Texas A&M in overtime and lost to Alabama by one. Even in its 45-21 loss to Auburn in Week 1, Arkansas played the Tigers to a tie through the first half. Now those near-misses of the first half of the conference season have been replaced by dominant victories.
For Ole Miss, the shocking defeat ends the Rebels’ outside shot at an SEC West title. Had Ole Miss beaten Arkansas, it would have needed to beat Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and had Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. A win in the SEC Championship Game, combined with the Rebels’ other quality wins could have been enough to send them to the College Football Playoff. Those hopes are squashed now, as is the momentum of the seven wins Ole Miss rattled off to begin the season.
The Rebels will need to rebound quickly with rival Mississippi State coming to Oxford next week. They’ll also have to hope Wallace can heal quickly after he suffered an apparent ankle injury Saturday. Backups DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan went a combined 2-of-7 for 18 yards with an interception and a fumble. Although Ole Miss’ conference and national title dreams are clearly over, Rebels fans would certainly enjoy playing spoiler to the Bulldogs’ aspirations.