Improbable turnaround gives Hogs a breath

Posted: October 31, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema leads the team onto the field for the Ole Miss game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

No doubt social media was buzzing.

The press box was unusually quiet as the media were stunned at what they were watching. Many were wondering where was Arkansas defensive lineman McTelvin Agim.

Or if Bret Bielema would be the head coach for the Coastal Carolina game.

Ole Miss had just taken a 31-7 lead with 10:51 to play in the second quarter. In less than 20 minutes, the Rebels had 332 yards of offense and scored on all five possessions.

These were the same Rebels who lost to Alabama 66-3. The same program that lost its head coach July 20 and had self-imposed several penalties, including no bowl this season, for recruiting violations on Hugh Freeze's watch.

The Rebels starting quarterback had been lost the week before in a loss to Auburn.

All the joy in the Magnolia State was on the Ole Miss sideline, and all the gloom and doom in the land of Razorbacks were hanging heavy on the sidelines of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

No one in the joint bothered to do the math. If the game continued at the same pace, it would have just been too ugly.

At that point, with little to no pressure on Ole Miss backup quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, the Rebels had six plays of 26 yards or more, including a 64-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game and a 49-yard touchdown run by Ta'amu.

But momentum was about to swing hard. It was almost as if Arkansas put in its turnover team on defense.

Maybe the biggest play of the game was after a 31-yard pass completion when Santos Ramirez forced a fumble that he recovered. The completion would have put the Rebels at the Arkansas 36 up 24 points midway through the second quarter.

Instead of potentially going up 38-7, the Rebels suddenly were on their heels.

No one knew at the time, but Ole Miss had scored its last touchdown. Playing conservative the rest of the way -- a nice way of saying playing not to lose -- they would settle for two field goals.

The Hogs' offense thanked Ramirez by driving 70 yards in 10 plays to score a touchdown on a 15-yard run by Cole Kelley.

Only 2:44 remained in the first half, but it would be more than enough time after Josh Liddell intercepted Ta'amu at the Razorbacks 25 -- yes, the Rebels were driving -- and returned it 54 yards to the Ole Miss 21.

On third and 12 from the Rebels 23, Kelley and Deon Stewart hooked up for a touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining in the half.

The 31-21 score was like a sign from Hog heaven.

As everyone knows, the Hogs scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the second half to win 38-37.

The Hogs got a third turnover when Ta'amu was hit and fumbled, and Arkansas' Kevin Richardson scooped and scored with 6:01 to play.

Arkansas converted three turnovers into 21 critical points.

The decision that will haunt Ole Miss and its coaching staff came early in the fourth quarter. Leading 34-28 the Rebels got great field position when Kelley was intercepted, giving the Rebels the ball at the Arkansas 42. They got 31 yards on a pass completion to the Arkansas 11.

Three running plays netted 8 yards. Faced with a fourth and 2 from the Arkansas 3, they took a field goal instead of gambling. Those decisions win or lose games.

It has been a much welcomed victory for the Hogs and the Razorbacks Nation, and with Coastal Carolina coming to town for homecoming and a 3 p.m. kick Saturday, the Razorbacks have the opportunity to pick up some steam before heading into three conference games.

They need to win two of three to become bowl eligible, and on paper they all look like tough games.

Sports on 10/31/2017