LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas came to Little Rock looking for redemption, determined to wipe out the memory of its season-defining loss to Louisiana-Monroe in September.
The only thing Arkansas left War Memorial Stadium with Saturday afternoon, though, was more frustration. And more disappointment.
The Razorbacks’ two-game win streak came to a an end with a 30-27 loss to Ole Miss in front of an announced crowd of 55,378 in War Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Arkansas jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but squandered it in the second quarter and could never get back on top.
Ole Miss place kicker Bryson Rose kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired to ruin Arkansas’ plans, giving coach Hugh Freeze’s Rebels the surprising win.
“Little Rock has been good to me,” said quarterback Tyler Wilson said, who was part of Arkansas teams that went 8-0 here from 2008-11 and also led Greenwood to three state championships in high school in War Memorial Stadium. “Unfortunately, not this year.”
Instead, the Razorbacks suffered another loss that led to more historical woes.
Arkansas (3-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) dropped its second straight game in War Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1997. The Razorbacks also finished a season winless in Little Rock for the first time since 1993, when they went 0-2-1 under former coach Danny Ford.
Worse, Saturday’s loss in Little Rock may have been a crippling blow to Arkansas’ hopes of reaching a bowl game this season. The Razorbacks aren’t eliminated, but must go 3-1 or better over their final four games in order to reach the six-win mark, and three of those four opponents — Mississippi State, South Carolina and LSU — were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 heading into Saturday.
Arkansas can pin its problems against the Rebels (5-3, 2-2) on a passing game that never seemed to be in sync with Wilson under center and a punt blocked by Ole Miss’ safety Charles Sawyer that led to the go-ahead touchdown in the first half.
Penalties also stalled Arkansas drives after the break, and the defense, which did an admirable job most of the day, couldn’t stop the Rebels during the final two-minute drill Saturday.
“It really would have been nice to get this one in Little Rock,” Arkansas safety Ross Rasner said. “The last two trips down here have just been miserable.”
Wilson — who was knocked out of the Sept. 8 loss to ULM in this season’s previous trip to War Memorial Stadium because of a concussion — completed 24 of 43 passes for 297 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw a 42-yard strike to tight end Chris Gragg in the first quarter to give the Hogs a 10-0 lead, but it was his biggest play of the game.
The quarterback took a hard hit on the touchdown pass and bruised his hip. It didn’t force him from the field, but Wilson missed targets for much of the rest of the game and had several other passes glance off the hands of Ole Miss’ aggressive secondary.
“We can’t have the two interceptions,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. “He missed a couple guys on the first drive that maybe could have been a touchdown. But he battled his butt off. He competed hard. Obviously, we all need to play better and we need to coach better, because we lost.
“But I thought he played hard, battled, competed, but obviously we needed to make a few more plays.”
Arkansas thought they had one early in the fourth quarter, when Wilson appeared to throw a game-tying touchdown pass to tight end Austin Tate. But the touchdown was nullified by an illegal formation penalty, which the Razorbacks vehemently argued.
Arkansas had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Zack Hocker, cutting Ole Miss’ lead to 24-20.
The Razorbacks still found a way to move the football late, though, thanks to running back Dennis Johnson. With Knile Davis watching from the sideline because of a leg injury, Johnson rushed for a career-high 161 yards on 27 carries.
Johnson carried Ole Miss defenders on 21- and 25-yard runs late in the game, moving the Razorbacks inside Ole Miss’ 5-yard line. He then helped Arkansas tie the game on his next carry with a 5-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 27.
“You can tell the way he was running he wasn’t going to lose this game,” receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “You can tell he wasn’t going to let his team down.”
The problem? Ole Miss and quarterback Bo Wallace still had 2:09 left on the clock.
Wallace quickly guided Freeze’s no-huddle offense downfield, getting the Rebels close to field goal range. His 12-yard pass to receiver Randall Mackey put Ole Miss at the Arkansas 27 in the final minute. His 13-yard scramble was even more important, pushing the Rebels into chip shot range for kicker Bryson Rose.
Rose didn’t miss, putting a 31-yard field goal through the uprights.
It gave Ole Miss its first SEC win on the road since 2009.
“I’m thrilled,” Freeze said. “Offensively, we sputtered the whole second half, but made a drive when we had to and the game was on the line.”
It left the Razorbacks — with their heads down — walking off the War Memorial Stadium turf for the second time this season with a loss. But coach John L. Smith said he has no doubt Arkansas will bounce back despite another setback in Little Rock.
“They have to this point shown great character, great class,” Smith said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked and they’ve continued to battle and they are going to do the same. They’re not going to start pointing fingers and any of that stuff.
“They’re going to do exactly what they’ve been doing. They’re going to handle this with character and class and we’re going to move on to the Tulsa game.”