It’s hard to find a ton of battles in recent history between Arkansas and Ole Miss that either had a national impact or involved both teams putting together a special season. Still, this sub-rivalry has made its case as one of the more underrated matchups in the SEC, whether it’s the 2015 soulcrusher that decided the SEC West, or Hooty Dale’s return to Fayetteville in 2008.
This matchup’s undying ability to overcome historical insignificance with unforgettable weirdness just might be best defined by the seven-overtime thriller in 2001, which ended in a 58-56 defeat for the Rebs. Arkansas went on to finish that season 7-4, only to lose to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss, which came into that game at a solid 6-1, missed out on a bowl invitation despite having the same regular season record as Arky and was apparently so meh that no one felt the need to maintain a Wikipedia article on that year’s team.
Though the seven-OT game ended up being inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, it remains one of the most memorable games in SEC history. Let’s take a look back on it.
Seven NCAA and SEC records were set that night.
At that point in time, the 80 combined points in overtime was an NCAA record, dwarfing the previous Division I-A mark of 49 set by Georgia and Auburn in 1996. Arkansas felt the need to outdo itself and break that record again when it combined with Kentucky for 86 overtime points in 2003, because why not.
The 198 total plays between both teams beat out the 196 set by San Diego State and North Texas in 1971, and was then later broken by 209 plays between Houston and Louisiana Tech in 2012. Arkansas’ 41 points in overtime was another national record for a single team, which is really, really neat for them. SEC records include the Hogs’ 106 offensive plays and the 114 total points scored between each team.
For the world’s worst consolation prize, Ole Miss tied the NCAA record for most points scored (56) by a losing team, an accomplishment that I’m sure overpowered the heavy despair brought on by losing in seven overtimes (this still stands as the record for most overtime periods in a game).
The game flow took a turn late in the third quarter.
Looking back at the game, the steady excitement that this game has evoked in fans over the years didn’t really come to life until toward the end of regulation. This graph is a way of looking at the contest’s sequence of events without having to stare at a typically wordy drive chart or play-by-play summary.
After Ole Miss scored on their first offensive drive, they didn’t get into the end zone again until just under five minutes left in regulation on a throw to Jason Armstead. In a game that ended in 114 total points between both teams, there was a scoreless period that took up more than 22 minutes of game clock, putting the score at 7-7 at halftime.
There was a bit of call and response pattern going on throughout the game, the more thrilling part of which didn’t really start until Arkansas fullback Mark Pierce ran for a touchdown later in the game. With the exception of the Razorbacks’ fourth quarter punt and the scoreless second overtime period, it turned into a back-and-forth scoring affair that ultimately came down to getting a two-point conversion at the right time.
In a way, this game marked Eli Manning’s arrival.
Unfortunately, Bill C.’s stat profiles weren’t around in 2001, but the Simple Ratings System had Ole Miss as the fifth best offense in the country. I’m a little skeptical, but as much as that may conflict with one’s intuition, they were also 13th in offensive points per game.
Eli came into this game riding an impressive road victory over LSU, a team whose only other losses that season came to #2 Florida and #7 Tennessee. He took advantage of a leaky Arkansas defense that had Dave Wommack on the staff (lol), and set a school single-game record with six touchdown passes (OK, five were in overtime on a shortened field). He didn’t necessarily put up the most efficient numbers in his first year as the starting quarterback at just over seven yards per attempt, but he led what was overall a very productive offense with 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions and gave eager fans a preview of his 2003 Heisman campaign.