Ole Miss’ 34-24 win over SEC rival Arkansas in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday morning/afternoon will not go in the annals as one of the better played by the Rebels, but it will go in the books as a win and that’s what counts as they racked up their sixth win of the season with three more to play and became bowl eligible.
“We were sluggish at times,” said Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze after the 34-24 victory over SEC foe Arkansas, “but I’m excited to get that sixth win of the season and get bowl eligible with three games left to play.
“I knew this would be a tough game for us, but I take this win as a great sign that we didn’t play our best and were still able to win a conference game.”
Freeze, speaking for OC Dan Werner, said he saw some good things on offense.
“Bo’s day was phenomenal – 26-33 for 407 yards and three touchdowns. That’s hard to beat,” Freeze said. “The first pick was the receiver pulling up on a route when he shouldn’t have and the second one I instructed him to not take a sack under any circumstance.
“He had a great day and our receivers really came through big. We had two (Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan) go for over 100 yards today. They’re rounding into form.”
Two explosive plays turned the game for good in Ole Miss’ favor. Arkansas had cut the deficit to 20-17 early in the third quarter and appeared to have the momentum.
Then, the Rebs hit on a 75-yard bomb from Wallace to Logan and followed that up three minutes later with a 52-yard catch-and-run, aided by a fantastic Jordan Holder downfield block,by Moncrief.
“We drew a play up in the dirt on Ja-Mes’ touchdown. The way they were playing our bubble screens and inside runs with a safety, they would have a hard time playing a shoot route there,” said Freeze.
“Ja-Mes got behind their secondary and Bo threw one of the best passes he’s thrown in his career here – hitting him right in stride.
“On Donte’s touchdown, he made a guy miss and then Jordan did a tremendous job with a block to spring him. Man, what a block. He made a 20-yard play into a 52-yard touchdown.”
Freeze went back to the receivers before moving on.
“I have to believe the receivers we have right now have to be near the top of the best receiving group ever at Ole Miss. We are blessed in that department and they are hitting on all cylinders now after a little mid-season slump for a game or two,” he noted.
Although the Rebels were only able to muster 112 yards on the ground, Freeze said that was enough to make the Hogs play “honest” defense.
“Our backs are a threat. Our run game is hitting pretty good. That forced Arkansas to commit another player to the box most of the day and they stopped a lot of what we were doing in the run game, but they had to keep doing that and that opened up the passing game,” he explained. “We are thrilled with what Jaylen Walton, I’tavius Mathers, Mark Dodson and I can’t forget Barry (Brunetti). He had a great game today.
“I don’t know what he stats were, but Barry was a big part of this win. He was very efficient in what we were asking him to do.”
DC Dave Wommack was 50-50 on the win.
He was pleased the Rebs came out on top and gain bowl eligibility, but he thought the Rebs could have played better and he gave Arkansas a lot of credit for some of the things that went wrong.
“It feels really good not to have to wait until the last game to get bowl eligible,” Wommack smiled. “I thought we played well early, a quarter or a quarter and a half, but then we kind of let our guard down a little, it looked like.
“At the same time, I am going to give Arkansas some credit. They started building some formations that gave us trouble. They put another guy on the edge into the boundary, doing some things we hadn’t seen them do, and they got to us a few times. If we overloaded them to that side, they’d run to the weak side and hit us with some good gainers. We made some adjustments at halftime and did a little better most of the second half except for one drive.”
Wommack was not pleased with the overall tackling, but again he reverted back to Arkansas for some of that explanation.
“Our tackling was sluggish. We had really stressed the fits and tackling because Arkansas creates so many gaps with their unbalanced looks. Overall, our tackling was poor, but again, I think Arkansas does a great job with their run game and I knew going in they would get some yards on us,” he noted.
One big defensive play came in the third quarter when Arkansas had cut the Rebel lead to 20-17 and faced a third-down near midfield.
The Razorbacks tried to run a halfback pass, but the Rebs were all over it, dropping the halfback in the backfield.
“We had worked on that during the week. They had run it four times this year. We worked on it last night at the hotel, in fact,” Wommack continued. “As I watched tape on them from this year, I thought what they were doing was simple at first, but then the more I watched, the more I realized they do a lot of things that we would have to prepare for and tune in to. The halfback pass was one of them and our recognition on that was really good.
“Our guys saw it developing and responded accordingly. It was good to see them smell that play out. It shows me that they are paying attention when we go over these things that they may or may not see and they are still able to recognize and react.”
Wommack played a lot of players against the Razorbacks and it’s something he hopes to continue to build on.
“Some of those kids got some experience when a few of our players were out with injuries and we gained some comfort with several of those guys,” he added. “You need a two-deep in this league. We have been trying to build that. It’s our biggest goal.
“I’m glad we were able to get some of those guys in some significant situations and to have them execute and make plays. It will only help us the rest of the year and in the future.”
— Chuck Rounsaville, OMSpirit.com Publisher