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Ole Miss squeaks by Arkansas 27-20 ahead of bye week

Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart (Photo courtesy of UM Athletics)

The No. 16 Ole Miss football team continued a trend of thrilling victories, defeating Arkansas 27-20 Saturday night in Oxford.

Following last weekend’s offensive shootout against LSU, the Ole Miss defense showed up and joined forces with running back Ulysses Bentley IV to secure another conference win.

The Rebels opened the game against the Razorbacks on the wrong end of the scoreboard after quarterback KJ Jefferson and company marched down the field and found the end zone to take a 7-0 lead. Ole Miss kicker Caden Davis split the uprights from 27 yards out to put the Rebels on the board and make it a 7-3 game.

A Jefferson pass intercepted by Ole Miss linebacker Ashanti Cistrunk gave the Rebels a short field late in the first quarter. All-American running back Quinshon Judkins then took advantage and gave the Rebels their first lead of the game at 10-7.

Both teams’ offenses hit a scoring hiatus throughout most of the second quarter. With just under two minutes left in the half, Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart ended the scoring drought with a short pass to Dayton Wade to give the Rebels a double-digit lead.

After a missed field goal attempt by Davis to close out the first half, Ole Miss went into the locker room with a 17-7 lead as questions surrounding Dart’s health filled Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels’ signal caller began limping early in the first half after taking a big hit and threw several incomplete passes that were either short or behind the targeted receiver.

“He’s not looking great, but he’s got to make these throws,” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said at halftime.

Arkansas struck first in the second half with a 56-yard field goal by Cam Little to put the Razorbacks back within one score. Kiffin rolled the dice on fourth down during the Rebels’ opening drive of the third quarter but to no avail as Dart was sacked near mid-field.

The Razorbacks made the Rebels pay for the turnover on downs with a 26-yard field goal to pull within four. Ole Miss, on its next offensive possession, was forced into a punting situation. Jefferson moved Arkansas into scoring territory and found Ty Washington in the end zone to give the Razorbacks a 20-17 lead.

Bentley IV provided much-needed life in the fourth quarter after a rather anemic start to the second half. The senior back worked his way into the end zone to reclaim the lead at 24-20 with just under eight minutes left to play.

The Ole Miss defense responded to the offense’s score with a stop, setting up a Davis field goal to take a touchdown lead.

It appeared that a repeat of the 2021 match versus Arkansas — one where the Razorbacks scored as the clock expired but failed to convert the two-point conversion, securing a 52-51 Ole Miss win — was brewing in Oxford. However, Rebels’ defensive back John Saunders stepped up and picked off a Jefferson pass with just under two minutes remaining.

Bentley then secured an essential first down to put Ole Miss in a position to kneel out the remainder of the clock.

“It’s hard for an offensive coach to say, but I really like how we won today,” Kiffin told reporters afterward. “The team needs that long term — to be able to win on defense — because there’s going to be a weather game. There’s going to be times the offense is off and the defense has to win.”

Pete Golding’s defense, after giving up 637 yards and 49 points against LSU, held Arkansas to just 288 total yards and a mere 36 rushing yards. Trey Washington led the team in tackles with 10.

On the offensive side, Dart completed 16 of 25 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Bentley amassed 94 yards on 13 carries — an average of 7.2 yards per attempt — and a touchdown to complement his performance.

The Rebels  (5-1, 2-1 SEC) will get some rest as the team approaches its bye week. Next up for Ole Miss is a Saturday, October 21 match at Auburn.

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