Each game has its certain matchups within the game that are oh so very important to the outcome. Matchups so important that they can be the difference in a win and a loss. For every game this season, I’ll be taking a look at the three most important matchups regarding an individual or even between position groups.
1st Down: Trelon Smith vs Missouri Defense
This week it was announced that Arkansas RB Rakeem Boyd would be opting out for the rest of the season, leaving Smith as the main other back in the Arkansas’ backfield that had received any substantial amount of touches. This obviously hurts the Hogs, but to be fair, they had played without Boyd for parts of this season already. However, his understudy, Trelon Smith, is no slouch. He’s a problem matchup for the Missouri defense because you’ll see him line up in many different spots and he’s capable of many different things on offense. For a comparison, he reminds me of a Tyler Badie/Jalen Knox hybrid. They use him a lot in various types of motion as a receiver, and also as a standard running back. He’s no decoy either. Smith leads the Razorbacks in not only rushing yards this season, but also in receptions and receiving yards as well. He’s a really talented guy; I can’t overstate it enough.
He can do it all, and is the type of player where if the communication isn’t sound from all three levels of the defense, he can make your whole game plan look silly. Arkansas doesn’t have very many “game breaking” talents, but I’d describe Smith as one. It just makes it all the more important to be consistent in how they defend him, and when he does get his touches, they need to limit the yards after catch especially.
2nd Down: Connor Bazelak vs Arkansas Defense
His last meeting against Arkansas, Bazelak ended the game in the locker room with a torn ACL. He enters in as the starter again against Arkansas this year, but this time, he has a whole wave of momentum at his back. Bazelak has been solid for this season, never trying to do too much, and for Missouri to win its fourth consecutive Battle Line Trophy (sponsored by Shelter Insurance) he needs to continue to have that mentality. The past two victories, he may have not had a touchdown pass, but Bazelak made more than enough of the necessary plays in order to keep the chains moving, and the offense steady. Also, with the exception of an interception against South Carolina, he’s managed to take care of the ball really well. With a defense like Arkansas’, which completely relies on turnovers, avoiding them is a major key.
Bazelak keeps meeting these checkpoints. LSU, major check point. Kentucky, check point. South Carolina, and Vanderbilt … Checkpoint. However, he has another opportunity to get past another pretty substantial check point for his development, and I believe he can succeed, but it’s going to take another mistake free game from him to do it in my opinion.
3rd Down: Missouri Offensive Line vs Arkansas Defensive Line
As we saw against Vanderbilt, the return of not just Larry Borom, but Xavier Delgado as well paid huge dividends in their blowout win. Missouri dominated the line of scrimmage and opened up holes that simply just hadn’t been there in the past couple of weeks. This week however, there’s a step up in competition. The Arkansas’ defensive line isn’t an all-world collection of dudes, but they do represent an upgrade in competition. My biggest question is, can this offensive line repeat their performance that they had last week? Can they give Connor Bazelak a decent amount of time to make his progressions? Can they open up holes for Larry Rountree III? Time will tell.
I think it’s safe to say that overall, this offensive line is pretty good when they’re fully formed and healthy. That hasn’t always been the case this year, and they’ve struggled when they’re missing starters along the line. This week though, everybody should be healthy, everybody should be ready to go. I’m hoping that another week of continuity and health along the front will carry the Tigers to a victory.
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