Report card: Ole Miss football's excellent offense makes up for defensive dud vs. Arkansas

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — The score tells the story.

No. 17 Ole Miss squeaked past No. 16 Arkansas on Saturday with a 52-51 win in a shootout to remember. The Rebels (4-1, 1-1 SEC) pushed ahead with a 68-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Corral to receiver Braylon Sanders with 1:07 remaining and then held off an Arkansas 2-point conversion attempt with no time remaining to win. Arkansas scored a touchdown as time expired to set up the winner-take-all final conversion attempt.

Both teams scored four touchdowns and a field goal in the second half, but Ole Miss' defense held on one last time to secure the win.

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Here are the Clarion Ledger's grades for Saturday's game:

Offense: A-

It wasn't the offensive performance you'd expect, but it's one that worked. Ole Miss responded to Arkansas' drop-eight defensive strategy by leaving its pass plays on the other side of the playbook. Quarterback Matt Corral only threw 21 passes and connected for more than half of his yardage on three long completions. 

By contrast, the run game was electric. Even without starter Jerrion Ealy, the Rebels ran for 324 yards and five touchdowns, including a 111-yard day from sophomore Henry Parrish and a 110-yard day from junior Snoop Conner. 

When Corral did need to throw, he was efficient. But the story of the day was the run game. Parrish had 33- and 19-yard runs in the third quarter. Corral ran for two touchdowns. 

Defense: D

Let's not sugarcoat it: This defense isn't ready to stop SEC rushing attacks. Arkansas ran 58 times for 350 yards and four touchdowns, averaging six yards per carry. The Hogs are the fourth team in the last season and a half to run for more than 300 yards in a game against Ole Miss.

The scheme didn't look good, leaving too many open lanes against empty boxes. Tackling was a problem, with Arkansas runners evading and dragging Rebels defenders. And between a facemask, an illegal hands to the face penalty and a horse collar tackle, penalty discipline was an issue as well. 

It's not as if the game was devoid of positives. Linebacker Chance Campbell played well again, forcing a fumble and making a sack. The defense got one key stop in the fourth quarter, giving the offense a chance to put the game away. 

But this just isn't a defense competitive enough against SEC foes. When a team runs as much as Arkansas does and your defense has multiple defensive backs with double-digit tackles, that means you're struggling. Things are better than they were last year, but at a certain point that stops being a justification.

All said, getting the stop on a 2-point conversion erases a lot of bad memories.

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.