By KURT VOIGT/The Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Bo Wallace knew all too well how a crushing late defeat felt.
The Mississippi quarterback, like the rest of his teammates, was accustomed to gut-wrenching losses such as a 30-27 setback to Texas A&M on Oct. 6.
It was a loss in which the Rebels blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and failed to capitalize on six Aggies’ turnovers — extending their Southeastern Conference losing streak to 16 games. For a team that was 1-15 in the SEC the last two seasons, letting a lead slip away under first-year coach Hugh Freeze was a difficult reminder of the recent past.
All of the disappointment of the Texas A&M loss — as well as the last two years of frustration — was nowhere to be found Saturday following Ole Miss’ 30-27 win over Arkansas. The win was the Rebels (5-3, 2-2) second straight in the SEC since the loss to the Aggies, the first time they’ve won back-to-back league games since late in the 2009 season.
“The feeling is totally opposite,” Wallace said. “I’m so high right now, and after the A&M game I was so low. It’s great to be on the other side of it.”
Times have changed, indeed, for Ole Miss and its native son, Freeze. The former Memphis prep coach who was thrust into the national spotlight for his role coaching Baltimore Ravens tackle Michal Oher in “The Blind Side” has made nearly everyone a believer in his first season.
Freeze guided Arkansas State to a 10-2 record and the Sun Belt Conference championship last season. He was hired to replace Houston Nutt last December and now has the former SEC doormat one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 — with games at Georgia and LSU as well as home games with Vanderbilt and rival Mississippi State remaining.
“You’ll never hear me say we’ve arrived,” Freeze said. “We’re still on a journey. We’re still young and inexperienced but I’ll tell you this, our coaching staff, our strength staff, our support staff have done a great job of building relationships with these kids, the trust what they’ve built.”
While Ole Miss stormed the field inside War Memorial Stadium following Bryson Rose’s game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired, the Razorbacks were left to once again to consider what might have been this season.
Arkansas (3-5, 2-3) was on the opposite end of the Rebels’ spectrum the last two seasons, finishing a combined 21-5 and enjoying the national spotlight with trips to the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl. That success, however, came under former coach Bobby Petrino — who was fired in April for hiring his mistress to a position in the athletic department and initially lying about her presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident.
The Razorbacks were No. 8 in the preseason but fell out of the rankings following a then-shocking overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock. After the four-game losing streak that followed, Saturday’s setback was just another reminder that no loss is shocking these days at Arkansas.
It also was a crushing blow to a Razorbacks team that had professed renewed confidence during a recent two-game winning streak, one they hoped would lead them back to at least a bowl game — any bowl game — for a fourth straight season. The margin for error is slimmer than ever now, with Arkansas needing three wins in four games — against teams (Tulsa, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU) that are a combined 28-5.
“It’s going to be hard,” Razorbacks interim coach John L. Smith said. “Well, life is hard. We’re going to battle. These guys are going to go to the field and they’re going to get better and we’re going to continue to work, work, work.”
Arkansas led 10-0 early against Ole Miss before a blocked punt and two interceptions of Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson led the way back for the Rebels. The loss secured Arkansas’ first winless season in Little Rock since 1993 and kept the Razorbacks from earning the redemption they sought for the earlier loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
“You want to win here to finish things out,” said Wilson, who won three state high school championships in War Memorial Stadium. “Little Rock has been good to me, unfortunately not this year.
“But we’ve got a lot of games to play. There’s still a lot left this team can accomplish and salvage, and I think we can do it.”