In an effort to break out of a three-game losing streak, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he tried to keep things simple and stick to a mantra of starting fast and finishing strong.
One out of two proved to be enough.
Connor Limpert made a 34-yard field goal with 4 seconds left and Arkansas rallied from a 24-point deficit for an improbable 38-37 victory over Mississippi on Saturday.
“Obviously, we didn’t start as fast as wanted,” Bielema said. “But we definitely finished strong.”
The Razorbacks (3-5, 1-4 SEC) trailed 31-7 in the second quarter and the Rebels were driving down field again when Arkansas’ Santos Ramirez stripped the ball from Ole Miss tight end Octavious Cooley and recovered the fumble.
It was the first of two Ole Miss turnovers that would be crucial in helping Arkansas pull within 31-21 by halftime.
“It just takes one play,” Bielema said. “I have been coaching defense and been on that side of the ball for so long, that Santos (Ramirez) strip-fumble changed the whole momentum, not just for the defense, but for our whole team.”
Ole Miss (3-5, 1-4) pushed ahead 37-28 in the fourth quarter, but a costly fumble on an exchange between quarterback Jordan Ta'amu and running back Eric Swinney was scooped up by Arkansas’ Kevin Richardson and returned 22 yards for a touchdown to make it 37-35.
“We just had to find a way to finish it,” Richardson said. “We never quit.”
Ole Miss had to punt on its next drive and Arkansas methodically drove down the field to set up Limpert’s game-winning field goal. The sophomore missed a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, but didn’t have any trouble on the game-winner.
Bielema said the comeback was the result of a few adjustments and hard work. The Razorbacks have won four straight against the Rebels.
“It’s nothing magical,” Bielema said. “It’s guys making plays.”
Arkansas’ Cole Kelley threw for 189 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He was cool under pressure during the Razorbacks’ final drive, leading the 12-play, 62-yard charge that resulted in the game-winning field goal.
Ta'amu – who started his first game in place of the injured Shea Patterson – completed 20 of 30 passes for 368 yards. But his interception and fumbled exchange proved costly.
“He came in there as his first start in the SEC and he did a lot of good things,” Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke said. “I think a lot of people are going to point to mistakes, but those are to be expected. There is enough blame to go around, they don’t need to just put it on him.”
Ole Miss lost despite gaining 566 total yards.
The Ole Miss offense looks like it can still be productive, even after quarterback Shea Patterson’s season-ending knee injury. Ta'amu was very good in his first start and Jordan Wilkins added 118 yards rushing and a touchdown. But three brutal turnovers cost the Rebels a victory.
“You have to pick yourself up off the mat and go back to work,” Luke said. “There is no easy answer on this one, you just have to go back to work.”