Missouri’s past two games have been a slap fight between two undermanned squads and then a glorified scrimmage against an untalented and uninterested Vanderbilt squad. This will be Missouri’s first true test since Halloween when Florida beat the brakes off of the Tigers in The Swamp. It’ll be a “rivalry” game against a hyper-improved Arkansas squad that has a 4-game losing streak to Mizzou and currently employs our recently fired head coach as a defensive coordinator.
Arkansas was awful last year, but is actually the better team this time around: 56th in SP+, 55th on offense, 50th on defense. Missouri made a pretty decent leap after their domination of Vanderbilt, but still ranks 69th overall (nice), with the 100th ranked offense and 31st-best defense. It’ll be a dogfight, is the point, and while I’m a fan of good games, this will probably be a stressful 60 minutes for both sidelines, each harboring a head coach in the running for SEC Coach of the Year. Here’s how I see the game breaking down:
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Arkansas’ Offense
Disrupt the Passing Game
Arkansas’ offense is basically a rich-man’s Vanderbilt offense, so you’ll have to excuse me if this sounds similar to the Vandy preview. Arkansas’ ground game is a deplorable 91st in the country, relying instead on the 25th best passing attack. Just like Ken Seals and the Commodores, Feleipe Franks doesn’t throw the ball far - averaging 7 yards in the air per pass, 118th in the country - but his receivers, Treylon Burks and Mike Woods, take these short passes and create explosive plays out of them (41st in explosive pass plays). Thanks to the 20th best completion rate in the country and a 47% success rate Kendal Briles’ offense moves fast and spreads the defense out, hoping to wear them out to the point of a big play hitting for 20+ yards and/or a score. Missouri was able to strangle this type of attack against Vandy but will have to contend with two excellent receivers and a savvy veteran quarterback this time around. If Missouri is keeping the Arkansas passing attack to a 42% success rate or lower that means they’ll keep the Razorbacks 5% below their season average which is a great start.
Knock them off schedule
So here’s an interesting fact, and one that reveals just how the Razorbacks work: Arkansas is dynamite in standard downs - manageable downs where the offense can either run or pass - ranking 34th in the country with a tremendous 51% success rate. However, the Razorbacks fall apart in passing downs, ranking 113th in the country with a mere 24% success rate when they absolutely have to pass the ball. So an offense that can’t run but can wing it all over is great in standard downs but terrible when the defense knows they have to pass. Interesting, huh? Regardless, Missouri is going to have to knock them off schedule as often as possible so they know the pass is coming and can pounce. The Razorbacks will let the Tigers disrupt them, mind you: the offensive line has a 9% sack rate (105th in the country) and gets Franks pressured on 33% of his passes (111th). If Tre Williams and Trajan Jeffcoat can generate some pressure and keep Arkansas’ standard downs success rate at 45% or lower they’ll be putting the Razorbacks in unfamiliar territory.
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Arkansas’ Defense
Let Larry Eat
Barry Odom’s defense has been lauded for most of the year and, to be fair, he has worked a miracle based off of how terrible the Hogs were last year, especially on defense. But, if we’re being frank, his 2020 Arkansas boys are...fine? Maybe even slightly bad? Again, that’s a huge improvement from where they were but Odom’s guys can be beat: 84th against the run, 68th against the pass. Their biggest strength is against explosive plays where they rank Top 15 in stopping big plays on both the ground and the air. Odom makes opposing offenses go 8-11 plays to score on 3-5 yards at a time, hoping the offense makes a mistake and pouncing on it. Missouri has shown an ability to grind for long scoring drives and will need that ability once again. Larry and Tyler and the rejuvenated offensive line need to make sure they’re keeping the Razorback defensive line on skates and maintaining at least a 45% opportunity rate.
This is really easy: Arkansas is undefeated in games in which it has won the turnover battle and never won a game in which the turnover margin favors the opponent or is even. So, simply put, Missouri needs to make sure that the turnover margin is either neutral or in their favor.
Finish your dang drives
Once again, I’m assuming Missouri generates 5 scoring opportunities since that’s still their season average. The Tigers should shoot to average 4.8 points on those 5 drives to hit 24 points and, hopefully, have enough to win the day.
Missouri and Arkansas are a fairly even matchup and this will come down to the little things. Who wins the field position battle? Who converts 3rd-downs better? Who finished their drives better? Who can play penalty-free football? Missouri has been pretty good at the little things this year and will need to continue that trend to keep a feisty Razorbacks squad at bay.