When the Missouri Tigers (6-5, 3-4 SEC) travel to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks (4-7, 1-6) on Friday, college football presents a drastic contrast of two teams going in the opposite direction in the SEC finale for both squads. The final score could be both surprising and expected.
The season started out on a downward spiral for Missouri, winning just one of its first six games. But, starting with a 68-21 confidence-boosting win over Idaho, the Tigers have rattled off five straight victories during which they have averaged 52 points per game. Last week, Missouri took care of Vanderbilt on the road, 45-17, in a game that saw the Tigers pick off three passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also return a punt for a score. Junior quarterback Drew Lock is the straw stirring Missouri’s offensive attack, as he leads the SEC in passing yards (3,247), touchdowns (38), and passer rating (168.3).
Arkansas is coming off of a disappointing 28-21 loss at home to No. 16 Mississippi State in a game the Razorbacks were positioned to pull off the upset. After leading 21-14 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored twice in the final period, including on a six-yard touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald to Deddrick Thomas with 17 seconds remaining. The loss also basically put an end to Arkansas' bowl chances.
Missouri at Arkansas
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Missouri -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Arkansas slow down Drew Lock and Missouri’s passing attack?
With Lock in the pocket, the Tigers are 16th nationally in passing offense with 300 yards per game. In the Razorbacks’ only other game against a top-20 aerial attack, Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu lit up the Hogs for 368 yards in his first start for the Rebels. He did throw an interception, but he also had 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Overall, Arkansas is allowing 223.5 passing yards per game, which is 12th in the SEC. The Razorbacks also have surrendered 18 touchdowns through the air while picking off just six passes. Between Lock and his talented trio of wide receivers in J’Mon Moore, Emanuel Hall and Johnathon Johnson, as well as tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, Arkansas will have its hands full on Friday. Those four pass catchers have combined for 138 catches for 2,487 yards and 29 touchdowns. That’s more receiving touchdows than every other SEC team and more receiving yards than all but one (Ole Miss)
2. Can Austin Allen keep the Razorbacks in the game?
Allen’s senior season has not gone the way many expected it to. The SEC’s leader in passing yards (3,430) and second in touchdowns (25) in 2016, Allen (above, right) missed four games earlier this season because of a shoulder injury. He’s thrown for 1,114 yards and eight touchdowns in the seven games he played and is coming off of an efficient performance (12-for-18, 124 yards) last week against Mississippi State.
For Missouri, its weak spot on defense has been against the pass. The Tigers are second to last in the SEC at 257.1 passing yards per game allowed but do have 11 interceptions (vs. 16 TD passes). With nothing to lose but the game, one would expect to see Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos try and open up things by turning his senior quarterback loose one last time.
3. Which team can run the ball?
In between the big shots taken downfield, both teams will attempt to ground it out between the tackles when possible. Missouri will turn to senior tailback Ish Witter while Arkansas relies on senior David Williams and sophomore Devwah Whaley. Witter is 11th in the SEC with 822 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Williams has run hard all season long and enters this game with 581 yards and six scores while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Whaley has gotten more carries as the early-down back, but hasn’t been as productive with them (504 yards, 6 TDs).
Neither team has had much success stopping the run with the Tigers (166.3 ypg, 10th in the SEC) faring a little better than the Razorbacks (191.4, 11th) statistically speaking. The two teams also have combined to surrender 49 rushing touchdowns alone. So while the quarterbacks may lead the way for each offense, whichever team can move the chains on the ground may be in better position to win this game.
The recently-minted Battle Line rivalry game, named so in 2015, has been an even split thus far with the home team claiming the silver trophy both times. Beyond being able to hoist the trophy overhead as the victor, Missouri is playing to improve its bowl destination as well as for bragging rights on the recruiting trail while Arkansas may be giving head coach Bret Bielema his swan song in Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks were considered the better team a year ago, but could not stop Drew Lock and the Tigers’ passing attack as Missouri won 28-24. This time around, the Tigers have the better record, the momentum and are even more dangerous on offense. That alone is a bad combination for an Arkansas team that is banged up, especially along the offensive line, and may not have much left in the tank after back-to-back tough losses put an end to their postseason aspirations.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Arkansas 28
— 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.