7:15 PM ET, October 25, 2003
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, OXFORD, MS
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi is in first place in the SEC West and the Rebels can thank their once beleaguered defense for getting them there.
Some NFL team will likely take a chance on Matt Jones in the first day of the draft.
The Rebels (6-2, 4-0) are off to their best start in the SEC in 33 years and are a half-game ahead of Auburn and LSU.
Ole Miss held Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) scoreless in the second half. The Razorbacks, who were playing without injured leading rusher Cedric Cobbs, didn't get their initial first down of the second half until there was less than four minutes to go.
"Tonight was the defense's night and man did they do it," Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said.
Arkansas has lost three straight.
After the first four games of the season, Ole Miss ranked last in the nation in pass defense and was allowing 32 points per game.
But since a 49-45 loss to Texas Tech, in which Ole Miss allowed 661 yards passing, the Rebels have plugged the holes.
Ole Miss has allowed just 52 points while winning four straight.
"One thing you do in a good year is win in different ways," Cutcliffe said. "We found a way to win tonight."
The Rebels forced two turnovers late to wipe out any chance of an Arkansas rally.
The first came midway through the fourth quarter when safety Kelvin Robinson poked the ball away from Matt Jones as the quarterback was scrambling toward a first down in his own territory.
Eric Oliver recovered at the Arkansas 25. That set up Nichols' final field goal, a 25-yarder with 4:59 left to make it 19-7.
Nichols is 22-for-23 on field goal attempts this season.
"He's been tremendous," Cutcliffe said. "I wouldn't trade him (for anyone)."
Ole Miss came in averaging nearly 500 yards a game, but the Razorbacks had Eli Manning and the Rebels out of synch with their blitzes and multiple fronts.
"Our defense did a great job with Eli Manning," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "I thought we even had him off-balance at times, and time after time the defense was giving us a chance."
Manning was 17-for-32 for 145 yards with an interception. He threw a 1-yard touchdown to Rick Razzano on the Rebels' first possession and Nichols provided the rest of their points.
It was more than enough because Ole Miss stuffed an injury-depleted Arkansas running game.
The Razorbacks played without their top two tailbacks -- Cobbs (hamstring) and De'Arrius Howard (ankle).
Nutt moved a couple of former running backs -- receiver DeCori Birmingham and linebacker Brandon Holmes -- back to the backfield this week.
Then in the second quarter Holmes injured his knee covering a kickoff and was lost for the game.
"We felt like we just didn't have the running game and it's really hard to patch it up when you lose three great backs," Nutt said.
The SEC's top rushing team managed 82 yards on the ground.
"We wanted to hold them under 150," Travis Blanchard said. "But to do this, yeah, we're really surprised."
Jones was 12-for-29 for 140 yards with an interception.
The Razorbacks' only score came on a 12-yard drive after forcing a turnover deep in Ole Miss territory.
Blitzing cornerback Marvin Jackson blindsided Manning, knocked the ball loose and Jimarr Gallon recovered the fumble at the Rebels 12.
Mark Pierce converted the opportunity with a 1-yard TD plunge that tied it at 7.
The Rebels grabbed a 10-7 lead on a 20-yard field goal by Nichols with 42 seconds left in the first half.
Arkansas' penalties bailed out Nichols, who missed from 26 yards out, but was given a second chance when the Razorbacks were flagged for too man men on the field penalty.
|3rd Down Conversions||5-15||5-16|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||1-1|
|TD||11:14||RICK RAZZANO 1 YD PASS FROM ELI MANNING (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 50 yards.
|TD||7:35||MARK PIERCE 1 YD RUN (CHRIS BALSEIRO KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 12 yards.
|FG||0:42||JONATHAN NICHOLS 20 YD FG|
Drive info: 15 plays, 74 yards.
|FG||1:58||JONATHAN NICHOLS 24 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 53 yards.
|FG||8:15||JONATHAN NICHOLS 42 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 27 yards.
|FG||4:59||JONATHAN NICHOLS 25 YD FG|
Drive info: 6 plays, 18 yards.