It was a quick turnaround for the Arkansas Razorbacks with a get-the-kinks-out practice Sunday less than 24 hours after paying their best game of the season.
The Hogs (6-5, 3-4 SEC) blew out the No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels, 42-27, on a frigid Saturday evening in Reynolds Razorback Stadium to become bowl eligible, but there was little time to celebrate, beyond giving Larry the Bowling Ball a roll in the locker room Saturday night.
With a short week ahead of them, the Razorbacks are already deep into prepping for Friday’s 2:30 p.m. regular-season finale against the Missouri Tigers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo. The game will be televised by CBS.
With a team as healthy as it has been since the season opener, the Razorbacks celebrated one of the best Senior Nights in recent memory with starting quarterback K.J. Jefferson (17 of 22 foe 168 yards 3 TDs) back in action, and the Razorback defense playing opportunistic football that kept the Rebels out of the end zone until the game was well in hand. The Hogs led 42-6 after scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Ole Miss did rally for three touchdowns and a massive 703 yards in total offense to the Hogs’ 503, after the Razorbacks took their foot off the pedal and attempted to burn clock, but the only stat that truly matters is on the scoreboard.
No doubt Rebel fans left Fayetteville upset. The Rebels had two early touchdowns called back on penalties, and three turnovers to aid Arkansas’ dominance. A holding call also called back a 63-yard Arkansas touchdown run by Rocket Sanders (24 carries, 232 yards 3 TDs) early in the third quarter, but the sophomore found the end zone again for keeps just two plays later.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Missouri
When: 2:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25
Where: Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
“It’s very discouraging, to come up here with a lot on the line, potentially nine wins trying to get to 10,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “I know it’ll probably sound crazy because of the score, but I didn’t think we came out flat. We didn’t play well, but we were moving the ball we just played poorly in the red zone.”
The Rebels tallied 12 penalties for 116 yards in losses, while the Hogs suffered 7 for 61. Maybe, Kiffin’s and his Rebels’ minds were wandering with his name being connected to Auburn’s open coaching position, or possibly it was a hangover from their close loss to Alabama last week. Or maybe the Razorbacks just rolled them up, while the Hogs’ raucous crowd messed with their concentration?
Whatever the case, Kiffin was classy after the game, crediting Arkansas for playing well.
“Got to give those guys credit,” Kiffin said. “It was senior night and those guys played real hard, ran the ball really well. Whatever it was, we were eight and seven a carry and they were seven and eight a carry. Unusual SEC numbers. I give them a lot of credit, we kind of reverted back on defense, unfortunately, after playing decent last week doing some good things against Alabama.”
Kiffin pointed to his squad’s critical mistakes in the red zone.
“I don’t like the penalties, very critical penalties,” Kiffin said. “Obviously, a fourth and nine touchdown and another touchdown. You get those two touchdowns, and the game is very different. … Very discouraging this late in the year to have discipline issues like that, bad decision-making issues like that.”
Ole Miss’ performance should be an object lesson to the Razorbacks as they prepare for their final game of the season at Missouri. The Hogs haven’t won at Columbia since the Tigers joined the SEC, and no doubt coach Eliah Drinkwitz and his Tigers would like to keep it that way.
All of the factors that energized the Razorbacks against the Rebels will be in play for the Tigers this Friday. It will be Senior Day for them, and a victory will put them in a bowl game.
Ironically like Kiffin, Drinkwitz and Arkansas talked in 2017 before he accepted the Missouri job, and Hunter Yurachek changed directions and hired Sam Pittman, then Georgia’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
Pittman’s Razorbacks’ aren’t having the type of season Arkansas fans envisioned in the summer when it became fashionable to expect a 10-win season, but the Razorbacks’ program is as stable as it has been in a decade or more.
I’m not close enough to the Missouri situation to comment on their program, but this season has been an up-and-down affair like Arkansas’. The Tigers have played great defense at times this season and have otherwise been average.
Arkansas has been explosive offensively when Jefferson was healthy, and the defense has been mediocre to poor with a high concentration of injuries in the secondary for the bulk of the season.
That sets up an interesting game as a post-Thanksgiving treat.
The Hogs will go bowling whatever the outcome Friday, but a win could place them a bit higher in the pecking order. The SEC has 10 bowl eligible teams with three — Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Auburn — that could become so with a victory this week. Only Texas A&M is out of the bowl picture.
The bowls in play for Arkansas are the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Texas Bowl in Houston, the Las Vegas Bowl, the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Fla.; Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.; and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.
The bowl destinations for SEC teams will be set by the SEC office in consultation with ESPN after the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Liberty or Texas bowls seem to be the Hogs likeliest destinations.