FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas finally earned its first win over Houston Nutt, even if only a smattering of fans remained at the end to see it.
The Razorbacks (No. 23 BCS, No. 21 AP) snapped a two-game losing streak against Mississippi and their old coach, getting 176 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Knile Davis in 38-24 win over the Rebels on Saturday.
Nutt coached the Razorbacks (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) for 10 seasons before leaving for Ole Miss after the 2007 season.
“People may say, ‘Well the players may not say anything, but deep down we know that’s how they feel,’ ” said Arkansas senior tight end D.J. Williams, who played for Nutt as a freshman. “But that’s not the case at all.
“We just needed to beat Ole Miss because they had beaten us the last two years.”
The game was delayed twice in the second half by lightning, with the two weather delays totaling 89 minutes and causing most of the 73,619 in attendance to leave before it ended.
Arkansas won despite starting quarterback Ryan Mallett ending the game on the sidelines for the second straight week. The junior played only a quarter after suffering a concussion against Auburn, and he left the game in the third quarter on Saturday after a third-quarter hit left him with a bruised throwing shoulder.
Mallett finished 13-of-24 passing for 196 yards before giving way to backup Tyler Wilson.
“I think he’ll be OK,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “It’s just a matter of getting his strength back and being able to throw the ball.”
Throughout the week, Arkansas’ players referred to the game as a “must-win” because of an embarrassing 65-43 loss to Auburn last week that left them with two conference losses. The Razorbacks played as though the game were a must-win early, building a 21-3 halftime lead.
Joe Adams put Arkansas up 21-0 midway through the second quarter with a school record 97-yard punt return for a touchdown. The return was aided when receiver Jarius Wright leveled Ole Miss punter Tyler Campbell at midfield, freeing up Adams down the sideline. It was the first punt return for a touchdown of Adams’ career, and it broke the previous school record of 95 yards that was set by Ken Hatfield against Tulsa in 1963.
“It was kind of like the guy taking the 3-point shot five feet behind the line,” Petrino said. “You’re like No, no, no, and then you say, Good shot when he makes it.
“That’s how it was with Joe’s return.”
Despite the early deficit, the Rebels rallied behind Masoli, who accounted for 425 yards of total offense in the loss. The senior transfer was 21-of-36 passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns, and he also had 98 yards rushing on 15 carries. Two of Masoli’s touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter when Ole Miss twice cut Arkansas’ lead to a touchdown. Both fourth-quarter touchdowns were to Markeith Summers, who finished with three catches for 104 yards.
Summers’ first touchdown came with 11:39 remaining and pulled the Rebels within 24-17. The second was from 22 yards out and closed the Arkansas lead to 31-24.
“We have glimpses of really good things for a young group,” Nutt said. “In this league, you have to take advantage.”
After both Ole Miss touchdowns, however, Davis answered for the Razorbacks. The sophomore, who rushed 22, sprinted 71 yards past the Rebels’ defense to put Arkansas up 31-17. He followed that with a 22-yard touchdown run behind the right side of the Razorbacks’ offensive line to stretch the lead to 38-24.
“The more reps I get, the more comfortable I get in the backfield,” Davis said. “The offensive line gives me a lot of support back there, and that gives me the time to do what I’ve got to do.
“It was all very smooth [Saturday].”
The weather delays didn’t slow either offense, with the two teams combining for 976 yards of offense.
They also didn’t slow Davis.
“Well, it took five hours, but we got the win,” Petrino said.
• Arkansas won in a game that took nearly five hours thanks to two lightning delays.
• Arkansas back Knile Davis ran for a career-high 176 yards and three TDs. Ryan Mallett threw for less than 200 yards for the second straight week (300-plus yards first five games).
• Houston Nutt failed to beat his old team for the first time in three tries.
• The Razorbacks are 9-2 all-time vs. Ole Miss in Fayetteville and continued their best start under Bobby Petrino (5-2).