Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorbacks bowling again, take out frustrations on Ole Miss
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson looks to pass during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas got its leader back on Saturday and quarterback KJ Jefferson did not disappoint.
Jefferson threw touchdown passes on three consecutive drives in the first 18 minutes and Raheim Sanders went off for 232 rushing yards and three scores as the Razorbacks hammered No. 14 Ole Miss 42-27 before a festive crowd of 71,365 on a cold night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks (6-5, 3-4 SEC) beat Ole Miss in Fayetteville for the fifth consecutive time, dating to a 23-21 loss in 2008 to their former coach, Houston Nutt.
Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3), which racked up 703 total yards, scored the final 21 points in the fourth quarter to make what had been a 42-6 early in the period look more tolerable.
“I thought our coaching staff did a really good job preparing our kids,” Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. “We had a lot to play for. … It was a top 15 team in the country. It would put us bowl eligible our first three years here. There was a lot of motivation for us.”
Arkansas got bowl eligible in its third try, following consecutive home losses to Liberty and LSU, and finished 4-3 at home. Pittman joined Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield and Nutt as the only Arkansas coaches to lead their teams to bowl eligibility in their first three seasons.
“One of our goals starting off the season is to get bowl eligible,” linebacker Bumper Pool said. “For it to come against an opponent like Ole Miss … We’ve had some games that just didn’t go our way, and we came out tonight and we were like, ‘We’re not going to leave it to chance.’
“We started fast. The offense looked phenomenal. KJ coming back — KJ is the motor to our offense and to our team.”
The Razorbacks broke out “Larry” the bowling ball in their jubilant postgame locker room, with Pittman rolling it into a lane created by defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols.
“We kind of shined him up a little bit,” Pittman said. “By the way, we’ve had him available for a couple of weeks. He looked hungry when he got out of there. But he was shined up, looked good.”
For the Hogs, it was as if all the frustrations of the last two weeks — Jefferson’s injured shoulder, a sluggish running game and a near upset of LSU without Jefferson — were wiped out in a cavalcade of big plays complemented by Ole Miss mistakes.
Arkansas won the turnover battle 3-0 on fumble recoveries by Drew Sanders and Dwight McGlothern and Sanders’ first career interception, which helped the Hogs score a dagger touchdown with 5 seconds remaining in the opening half.
The Rebels had two touchdowns in the first half wiped out by holding penalties as the Razorbacks raced to a 35-6 lead at intermission. That explosive half, coupled with the Hogs’ 37 points in the second half at Ole Miss last year, gave them 72 points in a span of four quarters in the series.
“It was very discouraging to obviously come up here with a lot on the line, potentially nine wins and trying to get 10,” Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin said. “It might sound crazy because of the score, but I didn’t feel like we were flat.
“We didn’t play well. We moved the ball, but we just played really poor in the red zone. We had two touchdown passes called back and we didn’t tackle very well.”
The Rebels got their high-powered offense cranked up in the second half, outgaining Arkansas 703-503 after racking up a 216-11 advantage in the fourth quarter. It was the third-most yards allowed by the Razorbacks in program history and the most allowed in a win.
Quinshon Judkins ran for 214 yards and a touchdown and Zach Evans added 207 yards and a score to lead the Rebels.
Jefferson improved to 15-7 as the starter the last two seasons with his second big effort against his home-state school.
The junior completed 17 of 22 passes for 168 yards and 3 touchdowns, two of them to Matt Landers. Jefferson also ran for 47 yards.
“It felt good just being back out there with my teammates and just being able to be out there on the field and actually encourage them and see what’s going on,” Jefferson said. “Just being around those guys and being able to be out there is a huge upside.”
Sanders joined Darren McFadden as the only Razorbacks to have 200 rushing yards and three scores against a ranked opponent.
Sanders had 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns by halftime and his 68-yard touchdown romp on the second play of the second half gave the Razorbacks a 42-6 lead.
The Arkansas defense had its fourth effective half in a row by holding the explosive Rebels without a touchdown in the opening half. Ole Miss scored its first touchdown at the 14:02 mark of the fourth quarter and finally found its high-tempo, big-play groove in the final period by scoring 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson did almost all his damage in the huge first half, with 14 of 18 passing for 164 yards and all his scores.
Each of the touchdown passes was artistic in different ways.
Landers put an excellent move on cornerback Miles Battle to achieve inside leverage on grabbing an 8-yard slant to open the scoring.
Ole Miss had a would-be 33-yard touchdown catch by Dayton Wade wiped out by holding, and Arkansas made the Rebels pay. Jefferson dropped a perfect lofted fade into Landers for a 23-yard basket catch touchdown, even as his helmet was being pulled back by a defender.
Jefferson’s 23-yard quarterback draw set up the next score, his 20-yard bullet down the right edge to Ketron Jackson against falling defensive back Deantre Prince, to make it 21-3.
The Hogs’ next drive was Sanders’ best, as he carried on all seven plays, had a 50-yard score reduced to 32 yards by a holding penalty, but capped it with a 20-yard touchdown to give him 85 yards on the sequence.
Ole Miss tried to go fast in the two-minute offense but it backfired when Sanders jumped up to pick off a Jaxson Dart slant pass and return it 13 yards to the Ole Miss 48 with 1:07 left in the half.
Jadon Haselwood had an 18-yard grab and Raheim Sanders a 12-yarder to set up the running back’s 8-yard scoring run with 5 seconds left in the half, signaling the rout was on.
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