If the last few outcomes of Ole Miss-Arkansas football have taught viewers anything, it’s that approaching this matchup with calculated reasoning is about the dumbest possible thing you could do.
So far this season, the Razorbacks look nothing like what offensive-minded Chad Morris had planned to deploy in Fayetteville. They’re 1-5, the low point being a 41-17 home loss to North Texas. Still, there’s plenty of prior evidence that suggests Morris is in fact a very good coach, and they could very well form an identity mid-season. Before last week, no team had scored more than 23 points against Alabama this season—the Hogs put up 31.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, remains as fragile as ever against Power Five competition, but their season-opening win over Texas Tech shows they’re capable of taking out teams with less firepower.
As two of the SEC’s most volatile programs give it another go on Saturday, expecting the unexpected has become the norm.
Arkansas has won four straight vs. Ole Miss, and it’s getting harder and harder to explain away these losses.
It’s not that the Rebels have played poorly against the Hogs. The past three matchups have been decided by a total of six points and in each case Ole Miss played objectively better football. I can say that rather definitively using Bill C.’s win expectancy, which takes the most important stats of a game and says how often you could have expected to win. Think of it this way: based on your statistical performance, you could expect to win this game X percent of the time.
Ole Miss vs. Arkansas Results, 2015 - 2017
Based on post-game win expectancy, the Rebels should have won each time, but they’ve found new and exciting ways to disappoint fans every time.
The heartbreak of November 7, 2015 was the game of the year.
Everyone remembers the 4th-and-25 lateral in overtime that cut off Ole Miss’ path to Atlanta, but the stats suggest the Rebels should have sealed the deal in regulation. Fueled by an otherworldly game from Chad Kelly, a ruthlessly efficient Rebel offense posted a 61 percent success rate, compared to Arkansas’ 48 percent.
To make up for their relative inefficiency, Arkansas enjoyed 12 gains of 20 or more yards that evening. The Razorbacks were consistently backed up, but Brandon Allen completed 14 of 18 for 194 yards on passing downs. Dave Wommack’s defense had countless opportunities to kill drives in these situations, but remained helpless through four quarters.
The 2016 loss was the last time Ole Miss was relevant (on the field, at least).
The following October, Hugh Freeze’s team rolled into Fayetteville ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll after convincing wins over Georgia and Memphis. This would be the start of a three-game skid that felt a lot longer, and the Rebels haven’t been ranked since.
Given how poorly the Ole Miss offense performed in the second half (five of their seven drives were scoreless), they probably deserved to lose this one. It certainly didn’t help that they gifted Austin Allen’s squad an average starting field position of their own 33-yard line, while Kelly and friends had to start at their 25 on average. Their win expectancy of 70 percent was rooted largely in their edge in gaining chunks of yards at a time (5.8 yards per play compared to Arkansas’ 5.1), but the Hogs’ plodding, ball-control approach won the day.
Last year’s tilt was supposed to be Jordan Ta’amu’s coming out party. Instead, it was remembered for a blown lead.
With Ta’amu making his first start in the wake of Shea Patterson’s season-ending injury, Ole Miss raced out to a 31-7 lead midway through the second quarter. But a pair of quick turnovers spotted the Hogs two touchdowns heading into halftime and a mind-melting fumble in the fourth quarter polished off the collapse: Razorbacks 38, Rebels 37.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo had built the lead with four explosive touchdown drives that lasted an average of 59 seconds. The big plays weren’t always there later in the game, but they were just functional enough that they could have held on to win, had they taken care of the ball. Instead, they turned the ball over three times, and Arkansas scored a touchdown immediately following each of them, including on a scoop-and-score that brought them to within two points. All things considered, the defense did their part in holding off the Razorbacks, forcing a turnover on downs, interception, and fumble in the second half — too bad it didn’t matter.
To win it, Arkansas’ kicker drilled a 34-yard field goal, despite Matt Luke using all three timeouts in an attempt to ice him. The game didn’t really need this ending to make it memorable, but it bolstered the case that you can consistently rely on this clash to be hilarious and dumb.
Vegas is confident in an Ole Miss road win on Saturday, spotting the Rebels a full seven-point line. Recent history says to throw out the odds.