We got a taste of what Arkansas can do at home all season long, and it seems these last two weeks have been perfect for them to come out and show their strengths, getting a second consecutive shutout against a conference opponent, beating Ole Miss 30-0 and winning their sixth game of the season, making themselves bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
Ole Miss have now lost three of their last four games, hitting free fall mode, with their last win against an non-FCS team being back in mid-October when they faced Tennessee. Bo Wallace threw two interceptions and seems to be leaving a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth about his tenure, just when it seemed the Rebels were heading towards a historic season. Some of that impression might be rectified in a win against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, but the main damage has already been done.
For Arkansas, it was simply about not making mistakes. They forced six turnovers out of Ole Miss, three interceptions and three fumbles, while losing the ball just once themselves. Branden and Austin Allen didn’t make any mistakes when throwing the ball, the running game was persistent (yet inefficient) combined with Rohan Gaines returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown. It’s never going to be pretty with this team, but it looks impressive when the defense is so dominating.
The win over Ole Miss can be seen as a continuation of the victory against LSU. Two consecutive games of shutting out ranked teams with a combined scoreline of 47-0. Arkansas are now only the second team to shutout two ranked opponents in the same season while not being ranked themselves. They’re the first to do it in consecutive games, also making them bowl eligible after two terrible years, beginning with the Petrino and John L. Smith mess, followed by a rough landing for Bret Bielema.
The last SEC team with consecutive shutouts was Tennessee in 2002, but they did it against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Not that LSU and Ole Miss are world beaters, but they present a much bigger challenge considering how they’ve done this season up until the last few weeks. Arkansas might be just as good as them, but lost too many close games along the way to be considered for anything in the very difficult SEC West, with every single team in the division eligible for a bowl game.
Arkansas can be pleased about the future, but next season is going to be difficult: They played home games against Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss. Auburn and Mississippi State are the only ones from the division they played on the road. This season might have shown a vast improvement, as they lost three of their five games by 7 points or less, including one of them going to overtime, but it’s not going to present a very comfortable challenge either.