Friday, October 24, 2003
Rebels have to find a way around Arkansas' Andrews
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe never saw
football players so exhausted.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt didn't even realize how long the
Eli Manning wasn't sure how to feel when it ended.
Matt Jones was just glad that it was over.
The last time Arkansas visited Oxford, the Razorbacks and Rebels
went into overtime. And then they kept going and going and going
The final: Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 in seven overtimes, the
longest game in NCAA history.
"I've never seen a locker room so spent physically and
emotionally," Cutcliffe said. "Obviously, we were the losing
team, so that would be your memory of things. How you were just
depleted 100 percent physically and emotionally."
Nine days short of the two-year anniversary of the game that
wouldn't end, Jones and the 21st-ranked Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2
Southeastern Conference) return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on
Saturday night to face Manning and the Rebels (5-2, 3-0).
For 60 minutes of regulation play, Ole Miss and Arkansas played
a perfectly dull game on a cool night, three days after Halloween
The Razorbacks controlled the ball and the clock, but Manning
and the Rebels tied it with touchdown with about five minutes left
in the fourth quarter.
They went to overtime tied at 17. Then things got good.
It evolved into a duel between the scrambling and scampering
Jones and the unflappable and on-target Manning.
Jones frustrated the weary Rebels, running for one touchdown and
throwing for another while leaving would-be tacklers flailing in
Manning dissected the Razorbacks, firing footballs into spaces
better suited for darts.
"It was hard to believe it was actually seven overtimes. I got
kind of lost in it and thought it was really three or four," Nutt
said earlier this week.
By the time it reached a record-setting seventh overtime, even
the fans and cheerleaders looked wiped out.
"It was too long," Jones recalled. "It was kind of like a
blur. It seemed like it took forever. It seemed like after that
game we drove to whoever we played next and played another game."
The shots of Jones sprawled out on the bench are as memorable as
some of his spectacular escapes.
Jones' final trick came in the seventh OT. With Rebels grabbing
at him, he flipped a pass to the back of the end zone that DeCori
Birmingham hauled in for a 2-point conversion and a 58-50 lead.
Manning's fifth TD pass of the overtime made it a two-point
On the game's final play, Manning hit Doug Zeigler and a
split-second later Jermaine Petty nailed Zeigler, 2 yards short of
the goal line.
"I have been more upset after losing other games than that one
because we played as hard as we could," Manning said. "We just
came up short. That happens. I did not really know how to feel
after that game."
The Rebels and Razorbacks could be primed for another shootout.
Ole Miss has the No. 1 offense in the SEC and fourth best in the
nation. The Rebels have finally found a running game to complement
Manning and are averaging 497 yards and 40 points per game.
Manning is the top-rated passer in the conference with 2,127
yards and 17 touchdowns.
"We've always known they could throw it with Eli Manning, with
is accuracy and the receivers he has. Now, they're running the
football," Nutt said.
The Razorbacks are No. 2 in the SEC in total offense (434 ypg)
and the top rushing team in the league (225 ypg).
They, too, have found balance this season, but it's the passing
game that has caught up to the running game. Jones has completed 58
percent of his passes for 894 yards with seven touchdowns and only
"It's tougher to play a guy who is mobile and can thrown on the
run rather than somebody that just sits in the pocket," Ole Miss
cornerback Travis Johnson said. "You have to keep an eye on that
all the time."
Arkansas comes in having lost two straight and is in danger of
falling out of the SEC West race.
Jones stopped short of calling it a must-win, but it's awfully
"If we lose this game, then next week we'll be there," he
Ole Miss is off to its best start in the SEC in 33 years. The
Rebels were 4-0 in conference in 1970.
For those who believe in omens, Saturday's game will be
televised by ESPN2 and Game 6 of the World Series will be played
the same night -- just like the 2001 classic.
"I don't know that anyone wants to go through seven overtimes
again," Cutcliffe said. "Hopefully, 6:15 is an early enough