Disastrous first half dooms Ole Miss football against Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Call it an Alabama hangover or an Egg Bowl lookahead if you'd like. Or just call it what it was: a beatdown.
The Rebels suffered a 42-27 defeat to Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night. The outcome was decided by halftime, with the Razorbacks (6-5, 3-4 SEC) handing the Rebels (8-3, 4-3) a 35-6 thumping in the game's first 30 minutes.
The defeat marked the fifth time in six trips to Fayetteville that the Rebels have returned home with a loss. It also gave them a second consecutive defeat for the first time since Arkansas and Auburn beat them in back-to-back weeks in October 2020.
Rebels can't cope with Arkansas run game
With its offense struggling to finish drives early on in the game, the Ole Miss defense could not do enough to keep the Rebels in it.
In fact, the 35 points surrendered in the first half by the Ole Miss defense were the most since they gave up 37 points in the second half against the Razorbacks last season.
KJ Jefferson, who returned from injury to start after sitting out the LSU game the previous week, was superb. But running back Raheim Sanders stole his spotlight.
Sanders marched all over the Ole Miss defense, and the Razorbacks had 205 yards of rushing before they went into the locker room at halftime.
If there was any thought that the Rebels might make some halftime adjustments, Sanders quickly dispelled them with a 68-yard touchdown less than a minute into the third quarter.
Jaxson Dart's interception an early nail in the coffin
Through much of the first half, there was an argument to be made that the Rebels had been slightly unfortunate. They'd broken off some big plays and moved the ball efficiently. They just couldn't finish drives.
Quarterback Jaxson Dart was playing well, too, delivering accurate downfield passes that never quite materialized into points.
Then, late in the second quarter, he failed to account for Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders, who was lurking underneath as Dart looked to fire the ball over the middle of the field.
Sanders intercepted Dart near midfield, and the mistake converted a big Ole Miss opportunity to draw closer into a Sanders touchdown that made it a 29-point halftime deficit for the Rebels.
It turned a difficult mountain to climb into an impossible one, and the Rebels never put the Razorbacks under any real game pressure.
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KJ Jefferson sets the tone early, Ole Miss can't recover
Lane Kiffin noted in the leadup to this game that Jefferson had made life miserable for the Rebels in last season's matchup between these two teams, scoring six all-purpose touchdowns.
Returning from injury, Jefferson didn't take long to put his stamp on this meeting, too.
With the Rebels converging on him on a third-and-9 play in Arkansas territory, Jefferson sidestepped would-be tacklers and fired 20 yards downfield to his tight end Trey Knox. Jefferson then picked up 23 yards on a quarterback keeper, which set up his short touchdown pass to Matt Landers.
Thanks to a drive carried by Jefferson's creativity and athleticism, the Rebels found themselves down 7-0 early.
On the very next possession, Jefferson made Ole Miss suffer again.
He threw a perfect downfield pass to Landers in one-on-one coverage for 26 yards, extending the Arkansas lead to 14-0. By the end of the first quarter, the Razorbacks held a 14-3 lead.
Quinshon Judkins makes more history
There were few reasons to smile for Ole Miss fans Saturday.
Quinshon Judkins provided one.
The true freshman broke the single-season rushing record held since 1949 by Kayo Dottley with a 60-yard burst in the third quarter, surpassing Dottley's previous mark of 1,352 yards.
It's a quick turnaround for Ole Miss. Kiffin and the Rebels will now prepare for their annual Egg Bowl rivalry game against Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN).
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.