The Battle Line Rivalry game between the Arkansas RazorbacksandMissouri Tigers is set to kick off on Saturday, pitting the border states against one another for the sixth time as members of the SEC. The Tigers have owned the new series, taking five of the six games, but times are different on the Razorbacks roster. This is very much a coinflip game.
Playing college football's 14th-toughest schedule and depleted by injuries along with COVID protocols, the Razorbacks (3-5) take the field after an unscheduled bye last week. Arkansas' last game was a 27-24 thriller against LSU that went down to the final minutes of the contest. The Hogs outgained the visiting Tigers 443-419 but failed to convert on all 10 third-down attempts and missed what would have been a game-tying 44-yard field goal with 1:24 left on the clock.
Missouri (4-3), meanwhile, took a three-week layoff from game activity in November and returned with wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Against a disinterested Commodores team in Week 13, Missouri looked like world-beaters by putting up 603 yards of offense in a 41-0 rout. The Tigers' defense looked equally as impressive as the offense by holding the Commodores to 93 rushing yards and 103 passing yards.
Arkansas at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri -3
When Arkansas Has the Ball
As the season has gone on, the Hogs' offense has become more and more about the abilities of Feleipe Franks. The senior quarterback has been a consistent playmaker. He is completing 68.0 percent of his attempts and is fourth in the SEC in passing yards (2,017). Before he transferred from Florida, Franks was turnover-prone but has morphed into a caretaker with a 17:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. Against LSU, Franks kept Arkansas' offense going, tallying 339 yards and a touchdown with his arm while rushing for 43 yards and a score.
Beyond slinging the ball around the field, Franks may have to pick up more action with his legs come Saturday. The Hogs lost their second-leading rusher, the fifth leading running back in the conference a year ago, Rakeem Boyd on Tuesday. Boyd announced he was forgoing the rest of his senior season, which puts a heavier load on the remaining two tailbacks. The Hogs still have leading rusher Trelon Smith (469 yards) to help in the trenches. And Arkansas may turn to its top offensive player, sophomore receiver Treylon Burks, for some carries at running back.
Season stats on Missouri's defense are misleading. Over the entire seven games, the Tigers are allowing 25.0 points per game but in the last four have tightened down to 9.3 points allowed. Against the run, Mizzou has been on point by limiting teams to 123.7 per contest. The pass defense has been solid with the opposition covering 226.7 a game. But Franks might be able to exploit this secondary. Against teams that have a solid passing attack (Alabama, LSU, and Florida), Missouri has surrendered 303 yards or more, with a season-high of 430 to LSU.
When Missouri Has the Ball
When Missouri has suffered a defeat, freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak has not played well. To secure another home victory, head coach Eliah Drinkwitz will have to get his field general rolling early against the Hogs' eight-man drop. If the Tigers hit their average of 267.0 yards via the passing attack, a Tigers win would be more likely than not. If the freshman hangs around the 200-yard mark, this could be anyone's ball game.
Another key to victory for Missouri is seeing senior running back Larry Rountree III go over the 100-yard mark. When held below that in-game milestone, Missouri has only beaten South Carolina. Rountree produced his best game of the year against Vanderbilt by rushing 21 times for 160 yards with three scores. Arkansas executes a bend-but-don't-break mentality on defense that allows drives to get going but finds a way off the field on a third down. With an emphasis on stopping SEC spread attacks, the team has been weak against the run, allowing 179.0 yards per game. Watch for FBS-leading tackler Grant Morgan. The Hogs' inside backer has 104 stops on the season.
Pitting Missouri's receiving corps against the Hogs' secondary will be fun to watch. Bazelak has five targets on the roster with 20 or more receptions, led by Jalen Knox and Tyler Badie. Arkansas has been picked apart for 248.6 passing yards per game but has come away with 13 interceptions, second-best in the FBS, and three pick-sixes, which is tied for the lead. Arkansas will be without star safety Jalen Catalon for the first half due to a targeting call in the LSU game.
Against common opponents, Missouri and Arkansas are 1-1, splitting Tennessee and LSU. Missouri has the 41st-toughest schedule and has three of their four wins coming at home. Against teams outside the top 10, Arkansas finds a way to stay in the game but can be subjected to some questionable play calls causing a lack of flow on offense.
Arkansas can win this one, but road wins in the SEC are hard to come by.
Prediction: Missouri 24, Arkansas 21
Podcast: Coaching Carousel and Week 14 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.
(Top photo courtesy of @MizzouFootball)