The most bizarre losing streak is over. After Ole Miss has suffered through blowouts and blown leads against the Razorbacks, the roles reversed on Saturday. Even though he led the team to a game-winning drive against the Kentucky Wildcats a year ago, senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu now has his defining moment as Ole Miss quarterback.
Arkansas controlled the majority of the game. Ole Miss settled for field goals, two of which were missed by Luke Logan, and allowed the Razorbacks to build a commanding 17-point lead in the first half. With 2:36 left on the clock in the first half, the Ole Miss offense needed an answer.
Ta’amu proceeded to lead the Rebels on a ten-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that chewed up most of the remaining time in the half. With the exception of D.K. Metcalf, who left the game in the first quarter with what is being called a neck and shoulder injury, Ta’amu spread the wealth to all of the talented skill players. Braylon Sanders, A.J. Brown, Dawson Knox and DaMarkus Lodge all caught passes for first downs. Ta’amu used his legs to scramble for a first down to get the Rebels inside the 10-yard line. The senior quarterback would connect with Lodge in the corner of the end zone two plays later.
The defense did its part in the second half by limiting the Arkansas offense to just two field goals. Their play kept the offense in the game and Ta’amu kept the offense afloat. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo has been reluctant to call many designed runs for his quarterback through the first six games, in order to keep him healthy. Ta’amu had dealt with issues on both shoulders after taking big hits against Alabama, so the offense was not running at full capacity. Ta’amu’s legs were the M.V.P. for the Ole Miss offense.
Ta’amu rushed for 141 yards on 17 attempts, adding a score on the ground through a mix of designed quarterback draws and improvisation plays. Ta’amu’s ability to avoid pressure often bought time for his receivers to get open. On one of his best scrambles of the game, Ta’amu avoided a would-be sack to find Octavious Cooley downfield. Cooley then made a Razorback miss a tackle and sprinted down the sideline to score a 66-yard touchdown. This was the day’s biggest play, but definitely not its best drive. That came on the final drive for the Ole Miss offense.
Wesley McGriff’s defense held Arkansas scoreless on its last three possessions. With just over two minutes remaining on the clock, Razorback punter Reid Bauer hit a less-than-stellar punt that took an Arkansas-friendly bounce and saw the ball die at Ole Miss’ three-yard line. Ta’amu and Longo had to pull off the best drive of their tenures at Ole Miss to win the game. And they did.
A.J. Brown got open for a 20-yard gain to get the offense out of the shadow of its own goal post. In a season that has seen him targeted an absurdly low amount, Dawson Knox had the catch-and-run of his career. The walk-on tight end ran for 48 yards to get the Rebels near field goal range.
Facing a two-point deficit, Matt Luke could have instructed Longo to be conservative and play for the game-winning field goal. However, Luke Logan’s two misses earlier in the game had a clear influence on the play calling.
Ta’amu followed up Knox’s big play with a 15-yard scramble, getting out of bounds in the process. The offense then set up at Arkansas’ 14-yard line. Scottie Phillips had his number called a couple of times in a row, finding the end zone from five-yards away on the second carry.
Ole Miss led 37-33 with less than a minute remaining in a game in which they trailed by 17 just moments before halftime.
This is the win Matt Luke needed. This is the win the Ole Miss program needed. This is the win that the fanbase needed to see. Most importantly, this is a win Jordan Ta’amu can remember forever. His 528 yards through the air and on the ground are the second most in school history, trailing only Archie Manning. This highlight reel game is the perfect answer to last year’s meeting in which Ole Miss blew a 31-7 home lead against Arkansas. For one night, Ta’amu’s phenomenal showing silenced the demons that this matchup had created.