Defense collapses late in stunning loss to Ole Miss

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2018
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris (8) waits for Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu to take a snap during a game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.
( Ben Goff)
Arkansas linebacker De'Jon Harris (8) waits for Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu to take a snap during a game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK — Despite allowing Ole Miss to move the ball 84 yards for a score in just under three minutes to pull within two points with 4:15 to play, Arkansas’ defense still had a chance to make one final stand Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.

Razorbacks punter Reid Bauer, whose previous career-long kick was 50 yards, set the stage with a remarkable 64-yard roll-aided punt that pinned the Rebels at their own 3 with just more than two minutes remaining.

Ole Miss’ collective back was against the wall. Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s back, standing in the shotgun in the end zone, was mere feet from an Arkansas crowd sensing a breakthrough and at near fever pitch.

Seven plays and 80 seconds later, the air was let out of War Memorial Stadium, and Arkansas’ defensive miscues were amplified.

Ole Miss, who trailed by as many as 17 points late in the second quarter, scored on running back Scottie Phillips’ 5-yard touchdown run to put the Rebels ahead 37-33 and hand the Arkansas its sixth consecutive loss.

The loss also marked the seventh time in Arkansas’ last 21 games it blew a lead of at least 14 points.

“I thought all year long if you asked me what unit I wanted on the field with 97 yards to go … definitely, defensively, we’d been playing very well,” Arkansas coach Chad Morris said. “They made some plays on that last drive and picked up some key third downs throughout the second half, which was critical.”

Ta’amu finished the game with 387 yards through the air, including a pair of touchdown passes, and one interception. He also gashed the Razorbacks for a game-high 141 yards and a score on the ground. But on the Rebels’ final drive, he accounted for 84 yards, 68 on passes to receivers A.J. Brown and Dawson Knox to set up Phillips’ score.

Knox’s grab went for 48 yards, the fourth pass play of at least 20 yards allowed by Arkansas’ defense and third of the second half, and moved Ole Miss to the Arkansas 29. The Razorbacks were spent, and an old, familiar feeling began to set in even as they led in the game’s final minute.

“It’s tough in any game when you play well in the first half and don’t finish in the second half,” said junior linebacker Scoota Harris, who totaled a game-high 13 tackle and a sack in the loss. “You always want to start the game fast and finish strong.”

Ole Miss out-gained Arkansas 189-61 in the fourth quarter and averaged nearly 10 yards per play after entering the final 15 minutes trailing 33-24. Not long ago, Arkansas’ defense was considered a bright spot and a team strength. Now, with five games to play, it is searching for answers.

Perhaps its chief concern is tackling. Razorbacks defenders almost routinely bounced off of Ole Miss ballcarriers and failed to bring them to the ground. Most notably, safety Santos Ramirez whiffed on a would-be tackle on Octavious Cooley on the Rebels sideline in the third quarter, allowing the tight end to scamper 66 yards for a score to pull Ole Miss within 30-24.

Though it seems difficult, Harris said the unit, which has given up 1,250 yards of offense and nearly 100 points in its last two games, has to keep a positive mindset with Tulsa - coming off a close loss to South Florida on Friday night - and Vanderbilt on the horizon.

“The growing pains, you know, some of us older guys have been through it before,” he said. “We have to keep the younger guys positive. This is really nothing new, really.”


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