By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD — Houston Nutt had his coaching bag of tricks ready for his former school. It wasn’t quite enough.
Ole Miss jumped out to an early 17-point lead before watching No. 10 Arkansas roar back for a 29-24 victory on Saturday afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“I wish we were standing here with a win,” Nutt said. “We were close, but it didn’t happen.”
Ole Miss took a surprising 17-0 lead by midway through the second quarter, with quarterback Randall Mackey throwing for a touchdown and rushing for another during the early flourish.
But Arkansas (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) responded with 29 straight points to beat Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4) for the second straight season. The Rebels have now set a program record for SEC futility, losing 10 straight league games. Ole Miss has been in the SEC since 1933.
Mackey completed 18 of 30 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in his third career start. Brandon Bolden rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries, but was hobbled after a second-quarter ankle injury and never looked the same.
The Ole Miss offense, which was so impressive in the first half, was equally as anemic after halftime until a late surge.
Mackey found Donte Moncrief in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown — his second of the game — and the Rebels pulled within 29-24. The onside kick was recovered by Ole Miss tight end Jamal Mosley with 1:21 remaining and the Rebels briefly had life.
But Arkansas’ Eric Bennett intercepted an errant pass by Mackey on the second play of the drive and the Razorbacks were able to run out the clock.
Tyler Wilson threw for 232 yards and rushed for two short touchdowns as Arkansas continues its best start in four years under Petrino, staying in the mix in the loaded Western Division that includes LSU and Alabama.
Dennis Johnson rushed for 160 yards on 15 carries, including a 52-yard touchdown. Joe Adams caught four passes for 124 yards.
The 11:21 a.m. kickoff had the Razorbacks looking a little groggy, but the afternoon brought much better things.
“Certainly we didn’t want to start that way, but we kept competing,” Petrino said. “We found a way to win and I’m happy with how we responded.”
Nutt fell to 2-2 against the program he coached for 10 seasons before coming to Oxford. Nutt said he was proud of how his players fought, but the Razorbacks’ 19-0 edge in the third quarter proved too much to overcome.
“I’d like to have that third quarter back,” Nutt said. “There were two series on offense and two series on defense where we just didn’t do anything.”
The Razorbacks’ league-leading passing offense was never at its best, but Wilson was effective when it mattered. He completed 13 of 28 passes and didn’t throw an interception. Arkansas had 310 total yards in the second half.
“If you watch it on TV, you know how (the game) went,” Ole Miss cornerback Charles Sawyer said. “We had a couple of plays that got away from us and we didn’t finish.”
The Rebels had been crushed the previous week in a 52-7 loss to No. 2 Alabama and had lost three conference games by a combined score of 109-27. Program morale appeared in the tank.
But Nutt emerged with a different game plan against the Razorbacks, using a heavy dose of freshman receiver Nickolas Brassell and a suddenly stingy defense. Brassell led the Rebels with eight catches for 70 yards.
Ole Miss took a 3-0 lead on Bryson Rose’s 43-yard field goal late in the first quarter and then stretched it to 10-0 on Mackey’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Moncrief on the first play of the second quarter.
The Rebels added to their lead on Mackey’s 3-yard touchdown run to go up 17-0 before the Razorbacks finally showed some life with Johnson’s 52-yard touchdown run that pulled the halftime score to 17-7.
“We knew when (Brassell) went in motion it gave them an extra speed guy on the perimeter,” Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson said. “We just made the adjustment to funnel everything back inside.”
The Razorbacks kept the momentum in the second half, buoyed by a stadium that had a neutral-field atmosphere because of the thousands of Arkansas fans who travelled across the Mississippi River for the game. The Razorbacks scored on two field goals by Zach Hocker, Wilson’s two TDs and a safety by linebacker Jerry Franklin to go up 29-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.