Zach Hocker’s 51-yard field goal for Arkansas in the first quarter marked the fourth time in five tries the Russellville senior has made field goals of 50 yards or more. His longest was a 53-yarder against Samford this season. He had a 50-yard plus field goal in each of his first two seasons and missed his only try in 2012. He also was just wide on a 58-yard attempt near game’s end.
Hocker was the only Razorback holding a No. 1 ranking in NCAA statistics going into Saturday’s game at Ole Miss. His kickoff average of 64.94 yards was No. 1 in the country. He also was No. 6 in touchback percentage (69.44 percent).
Against Ole Miss, Hocker kicked off four times, twice putting into the end zone for touchbacks. His first kickoff after the field goal was taken at the goal line and returned 52 yards and his kickoff to begin the second half was returned to the 27 from a yard deep.
The third-quarter pick by Alan Turner was the first time the Arkansas defense had recorded an interception in 25 quarters, dating back to a pick six by Tevin Mitchell against Rutgers in the fourth game of the season. The takeaway was only the second by the Razorbacks in Southeastern Conference play. Deatrich Wise recovered a fumble in the South Carolina game on Oct. 12.
Arkansas scored on the resulting drive on a 1-yard plunge by fullback Kiero Small. Eric Bennett got a second interception for Arkansas late in the fourth quarter when Ole Miss opted to go for it on fourth-and-5 on the Arkansas 32 with 2:25 to play.
Bennett’s return to deep in Ole Miss territory was nullified by a penalty for blocking in the back at the Arkansas 14, which put the ball at the 7.
A third-quarter punt return by Javontee Herndon was good for 31 yards, his best of the season. The return was only the second punt return for the Razorbacks in SEC play. The other one resulted in a 1-yard loss.
For the season, Herndon had returned only six punts for 35 yards. His previous long was 16 yards.
A sequence following an Arkansas touchdown in the second quarter landed tight end Jeremy Sprinkle on the bench in street clothes during the second half. Brandon Allen had just completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry and Zach Hocker had kicked Arkansas to within 13-10.
With 2:43 left in the half, Hocker’s kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback, but Sprinkle committed a personal foul on the play, setting up the Rebels at their own 40. The ensuing drive ended in a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the half. Coach Bret Bielema said it was his decision to eliminate Sprinkle from second-half competition.
With the Arkansas loss, Ole Miss holds a 5-4 edge in games played at Oxford, Miss. The Razorbacks and Rebels have played one another in six different cities: Oxford and Jackson in Mississippi; Fayetteville and Little Rock in Arkansas; 13 times in Memphis; and twice in Sugar Bowl matchups in New Orleans.
The most memorable game was the 2001 seven-overtime game at Oxford, which Arkansas won 58-56.
Small No. 98
Small, a senior captain, wore the jersey of another team captain Saturday. Small wore No. 98, the number of Robert Thomas, who broke his leg against South Carolina on Oct. 12, ending his season and career.
A different Razorback wears No. 98 each week in Thomas’ honor.
Hocker and Ole Miss punter Tyler Campbell were both the punters in 2008 when Hocker was a junior at Russellville High School and Campbell was a senior at Catholic High School in Little Rock.
Saturday marked the fourth time the two have been on opposite sidelines as active players. Campbell redshirted last season for the Rebels, making this the senior season for both. They were on their respective high school teams in 2007, but Hocker didn’t play.
Make It Seven
Arkansas’ seven straight losses marks the longest streak without a victory since 1990, Jack Crowe’s first season as coach. The only other time Arkansas has lost seven in a row began in 1952 and carried over into 1953. Crowe’s team bounced back in 1991 to go 6-6, including a loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl.
Five On SEC network
Saturday’s game marked the fifth time in a row Arkansas and Ole Miss have played morning games televised regionally on the SEC Network. Late in the season, the early games on the network often are related to matchups with the least national appeal since all other games are televised nationally by CBS or one of the ESPN channels. Next season, SEC Network games will be on a separate national channel.
Arkansas center and Rimington Award candidate Travis Swanson started his 48th straight game Saturday, which is every game since he arrived at Arkansas. Swanson and fellow senior David Hurd (tackle) have been in the starting lineup all season, but the supporting cast has changed.
Brey Cook, who started at guard for the first four games, got his fifth straight start at tackle against Missisisippi. The two guards, freshmen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, started for the sixth straight time against Ole Miss.
Arkansas and UCLA are the only two teams in the country to start two freshmen in the offensive line and are among only 13 teams to have started any freshman at one of those spots.
Hocker continues to add to his career record for scoring at Arkansas, bringing his tally to 339 points Saturday. This season he is perfect on PATS with 22 and he is 164-for-166 in his career with the Razorbacks. He is 10-of-11 on field goals this season and is 58-for-75 in his career at Arkansas.
The loss to Ole Miss means Arkansas will suffer consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2004-05. The Razorbacks went 4-8 in 2012 under interim coach John L. Smith. The best Arkansas can do in 2013 is 5-7, with games left against Mississippi State and LSU.
Arkansas enters its second open week before finishing the season with a game against Mississippi State in Little Rock on Nov. 23, then meets LSU in the season finale on Nov. 29 at Baton Rouge. The LSU game will mark the final scheduled appearance of Arkansas vs. LSU on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The Arkansas-Ole Miss game marked the first time in six games Arkansas was playing against a ranked opponent. The five-game streak began against No. 10 Texas A&M on Sept. 28 and ran through the Nov. 2 game against eighth-ranked Auburn.
In between, the Razorbacks played at No. 18 Florida, hosted 14th-ranked South Carolina and traveled to Tuscaloosa to play two-time defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama. Arkansas still has one ranked team on its schedule: LSU at Baton Rouge on Nov. 29.
The Razorbacks have not defeated a ranked opponent since beating 11th-ranked Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 7, 2012.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze spent two years on the staff at Arkansas State, including the 2011 season as head coach, while five of his assistants at Mississippi were with him at ASU. Those are Tom Allen, Maurice Harris, Grant Heard, Chris Kiffin and Dave Wommack.
Wommack also was defensive coordinator at Arkansas from 2001-04 and served as a UA graduate assistant from 1979-1982.
—Dennis A. Byrd
Arkansas News Bureau