FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas earned its first SEC triumph of the season as the Hogs pulled off a dramatic 34-30 victory over Ole Miss in a battle of Top 25 teams.
The Razorbacks (5-2, 1-2 SEC) needed a touchdown and key defensive stop late in the fourth quarter to prevail against the Rebels (3-3, 1-2).
Here’s SEC Country’s weekly film session breakdown of the Hogs’ win:
The 6, then the stick
Two plays late in the game Saturday night currently stand as defining moments for the 2016 Razorbacks.
First, it was the 6-yard rushing touchdown by wide receiver Jared Cornelius. The play gave the Ole Miss defense a look it hadn’t seen from Arkansas that night or on film as Cornelius motioned into the backfield. Cornelius then took the handoff on a sweep play and showed impressive vision to get into the end zone and pull the Hogs out of a 30-27 deficit.
Notice how the Ole Miss defense overpursues the play, which Cornelius notices and promptly cuts the run back inside to find the end zone. There’s also an outstanding block from tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who did a lot of that Saturday night, to help set the point where Cornelius cuts upfield.
Jared Cornelius' game-winning touchdown. Hogs beat Ole Miss 34-30. pic.twitter.com/05qCc2rmXv
— Trent Shadid (@Shadid13) October 16, 2016
Arkansas’ safeties have been criticized for missed tackles and bad angles against the run so far this season, helping turn average gains into big ones. That wasn’t totally remedied against Ole Miss, but more on that later.
The biggest play in the game provided a bit of redemption for the much-maligned position as starter Santos Ramirez laid a big hit on Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly on fourth down to force a fumble. The ball eventually landed out of bounds short of a first down and the Hogs took over in Ole Miss territory with 1:40 to play. Three kneel-downs later, Arkansas had the upset clinched.
Hogs win and lose at safety
As mentioned already, the safeties haven’t been good for most of the season. Saturday provided reason for optimism, and not just because of the hit by Ramirez.
Both Ramirez and Josh Liddell made some crucial tackles against the Rebels’ run game. They are relied upon heavily in this defense, because the Hogs rarely bring pressure and play a base, assignment-reliant defense. As a result, the blocks are often taken on by the defensive linemen and linebackers, with the safeties left to make tackles.
However, it wasn’t a perfect day for the safeties. Both Santos and Liddell failed to make tackles on touchdowns runs by the Rebels. But at least they were in the right position to make plays most of the night.
Here are some examples of the good and the bad from Arkansas’ safeties Saturday night:
Running game has a resurgence
The running game made a triumphant return for the Hogs against the Rebels, led by a 180-yard performance from starting running back Rawleigh Williams III. Arkansas had struggled to run the ball against Alabama a week earlier, but the Hogs got things rolling on the ground early against the Rebels.
Here are two runs from the first quarter that set up the entire offensive game plan. The first is a first-down run by freshman running back Devwah Whaley. The offensive line, particularly right tackle Brian Wallace (No. 60) and pulling center Frank Ragnow (No. 72), was outstanding on this play. The second is a 53-yard run by Williams with perfect execution from the offensive line and freshman fullback Hayden Johnson.
Backs improving in pass protection
Overall pass protection was another area Arkansas improved against Ole Miss. The offensive line was better, but more noticeably was the blocking improvement of the running backs and tight ends. The best example came from Whaley on a 13-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Watch how Whaley jumps out to meet the defensive end and create a clean pocket for Allen to throw from.
Don’t throw at Collins
It’s rare any opponent has chosen to challenge Arkansas senior cornerback Jared Collins this season. He’s been arguably the best player on the team and undoubtedly the most impressive on defense. He broke up a potential touchdown in the fourth quarter while in one-on-one coverage against standout receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow.
Reed shows the speed
Senior wide receiver Dominique Reed showed why he keeps getting opportunities to display his immense talent with a 51-yard touchdown reception for the Hogs’ first score. Reed is considered one of the fastest players in the SEC, but he has struggled to remain a viable option with drops, missed assignments and an apparent overall lack of commitment at times.
Consider the touchdown a bright spot in an otherwise subpar season for Reed, who had a key drop later in the game.
McFain is the man
Arkansas has found its kicker in senior Adam McFain, who was exceptional Saturday with made field goals of 43 and 36 yards. McFain has made all 3 of his field-goal attempts and is also perfect on extra points since replacing Cole Hedlund as the starter.
Coley’s targeting ejection the right call
Safety De’Andre Coley was ejected for a controversial targeting call in the third quarter following an impressive one-handed interception by cornerback Henre’ Toliver. The good news for the Hogs was the interception stood, but the bad news is Coley missed the remainder of the game and will miss the first half at Auburn this week.
The call in question, while unpopular, was a good one by the officials. It was reviewed, as all targeting calls are, and upheld. Coley clearly lowers his shoulder and head before making helmet-to-helmet contact with the receiver after Toliver had made the pick. The frustrating part of the play for Arkansas is how unnecessary the hit was. But make no mistake, it was the right call.