Arkansas was the first team that Missouri had played in over a month that wasn’t riddled with COVID, was motivated to win, and better than the Tigers. And it showed.
With a backup quarterback and a backup running back, the Razorbacks thrashed the Missouri defense worse than any other team has done so far. Arkansas played nothing like their season stats had indicated: excellent in the run game, dynamite success rates, connected on big plays...and was a total sieve on defense as well.
Missouri’s best attribute this season, other than its resilience, is its adaptability. LSU sucked them into a shoot out and Mizzou responded in kind. Kentucky invited Missouri over for a rock fight and the Tigers obliged. Arkansas wanted to rampage over the defense as fast as possible and - faux injury slow downs aside - was successful for most of the game. The Tiger offense played ball control, holding the ball for 7 minutes longer, and blew holes in the Razorback defense that they normally didn’t give up.
Here’s the advanced box score. As you can see the offenses were excellent:
Arkansas’ 6.8 yards per play is the third most the Tigers have given up this season - Florida finished at 7.3, LSU at 6.9. The difference is that Florida’s offense is 5th in the country, LSU’s was 19th when they played Missouri, and Arkansas’ offense was...55th coming in to this game. Missouri’s offense was incredible because they had to be; the Razorbacks put up the most yards on the Tiger defense this year and scored a touchdown on every scoring opportunity they had. Each Tiger unit has had their turn carrying this team to a victory in 2020 and Saturday was the offense’s (and special teams!) turn to answer the bell.
Let’s take a look at the key stats that helped determine the outcome:
Missouri’s Offense vs. Arkansas’ Defense
Let Larry Eat
Barry’s defense wasn’t super stout against the run coming in to the game so I wanted to see Missouri maintain at least a 45% opportunity rate. The Tigers were able to achieve a 51.4% opportunity rate paired with a 48.6% success rate. Larry, on his own, had a 51.9% opportunity rate paired with a 44.4% success rate, coming out to 185 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mission accomplished.
It was cited enough during the broadcast: Missouri needed to keep the turnover margin either neutral or in their favor because Arkansas doesn’t lose games in which they win the turnover battle. There were three fumbles in the game, all recovered by the team who fumbled. No team won the turnover battle so the Tigers won the game.
Finish your dang drives
This is something that Drink definitely needs to work on over the offseason; his play calling is flawless in the open field, but either by scheme - or lack of talent on this roster - the Tigers are unwilling/unable to throw the ball into the end zone - Bazelak has 21 red zone passing attempts on the year - and if the running game can’t get in, the touchdowns aren’t happening. Also, for all of his commitment to aggressiveness, he’s way too willing to settle for field goals. Now, when you have our Big Beautiful Thiccer on the roster, that’s not a terrible idea, but Arkansas was able to keep the game close with three fewer scoring opportunities because they finished with touchdowns and the Tigers finished with field goals. Again, it all worked out in the end, but for the season Missouri is averaging 4 points per scoring opportunity, 80th in the country. Drink needs to find ways to generate more points and needs some more touchdown makers on this roster.
Regardless...the goal for this game was to average 4.8 points on those 5 drives; the Tigers created 10 scoring opportunities and averaged 5 points per opportunity. That’ll do.
Missouri’s Defense vs. Arkansas’ Offense
Disrupt the Passing Game
Arkansas’ passing attack revolved around Treylon Burks and Mike Woods making plays and a few other dudes contributing. Missouri was able to erase every Razorback receiver except for Burks who destroyed the Tiger secondary as ruthlessly as possible. I thought keeping the Arkansas passing attack to a 42% success rate or lower would be enough to win: for the game K.J. Jefferson finished with a 42.8% success rate, slightly above my goal. Burks was better than advertised and was one of the two bell-cows that Arkansas relied on to dismantle Missouri’s defense, hauling in 66% of his targets for 206 yards and a 60% success rate on his own.
Knock them off schedule
The 91st-best rushing attack in the country posted up 299 rushing yards with an unbelievable 65% success rate, getting at least 4 yards on 59% of their carries. Missouri’s defensive line was whipped play after play, giving Trelon Smith an 80% success rate when rushing the ball and the Tigers only stuffed three Arkansas runs at the line of scrimmage. I was hoping to see Missouri keep Arkansas’ standard downs success rate at 45% or lower; of Arkansas’ 84 total plays, a whopping 63 plays - 75% of their total - were run in standard down situations and the Razorbacks managed to have a 60% success rate. That jives with what you saw, yes?
Let’s revisit the victims of Treylon Burks’ career day:
Joshuah Bledsoe got the business end of Burks, frequently going one-on-one with Arkansas’ lone receiving threat and giving up 6 catches on 9 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown. Rakestraw and Gillespie gave up touchdowns as well, but everyone else did (mostly) a good job of limiting the damage from everyone outside of #16.
And here are the other demerits on the day:
A week after committing one penalty for five yards the Tigers racked up 8 penalties for 57 yards, most notably the oft-discussed targeting call on Nick Bolton. As I said on the podcast, the referees enforced the rule to the letter of the law; the issue at hand is that there’s no difference between accidental targeting and purposeful targeting, so regardless of intent, a player gets tossed for the action. It’s something that needs to be changed - a la the Flagrant1/Flagrant2 in basketball - to differentiate between intent because there’s too many good players trying to do the right thing in a violent sport that can be benched because of the random violence of the sport. Here’s hoping that a change comes soon.
We also saw three drops on the game, two from Dove and one from Badie. It’s the first game the Tigers have won when dropping more than one pass but it would be best to not have to try to overcome that kind of mistake.
The Quarterly Success Rates really tell the story of this game:
Trelon Smith had one carry for six yards in the 1st quarter; at the end of the first Missouri was up 10-6. Smith ran the ball 11 times in the 2nd quarter with a 91% success rate; at the end of the second Arkansas was up 27-20. You can go through the quarters and the success rates match up with how you felt: Missouri got off to a good start, was helpless as Smith and Burks exploded in the middle quarters, and then the offense finally rallied in the 4th to steal the win in the waning seconds of the game.
The Godfather Bill Connelly liked to score games as 10-round boxing matches. So let’s break the 60-minute game into ten, six-minute rounds, and post the scores at the end of each six-minute round:
- 1st Round: Missouri 3 - Arkansas 0
- 2nd Round: Missouri 10 - Arkansas 0
- 3rd Round: Missouri 10 - Arkansas 6
- 4th Round: Missouri 20 - Arkansas 13
- 5th Round: Missouri 20 - Arkansas 27
- 6th Round: Missouri 23 - Arkansas 27
- 7th Round: Missouri 23 - Arkansas 33
- 8th Round: Missouri 33 - Arkansas 40
- 9th Round: Missouri 40 - Arkansas 40
- 10th Round: Missouri 50 - Arkansas 48
Missouri connected on a haymaker early but Arkansas battled back to finish strong at the close of the 5th round. The middle rounds featured Arkansas cornering Missouri and the Tigers countering to stay in it. The last rounds were an exchanging of big hits with Missouri finally landed the deciding blow.
I certainly don’t know my boxing like I know football, but the point is, this game was entertaining as hell.
Blowing Up Barry
Coming in to this game, Barry Odom’s defense was an extreme bend-don’t-break outfit: they’d let you do what you want in the open field but absolutely erased big plays and made you settle for less in the red zone.
Missouri did what they wanted to do, sure, and did struggle on capitalizing on their scoring opportunities, but wow did they uncork some big plays on the Hogs, most of which happened in the 4th Quarter:
- Keke Chism’s 29-yard catch, 1st Quarter
- Jalen Knox’s 13-yard catch in the 1st
- Larry Rountree III’s 13-yard run, 2nd Quarter
- Chism’s 29-yard catch in the 2nd
- Rountree’s 34-yard run, 3rd Quarter
- Damon Hazelton’s 29-yard catch, 4th Quarter
- Tyler Badie’s 46-yard touchdown run in the 4th
- Chism’s 25-yard catch in the 4th
- Rountree’s 46-yard run, 4th Quarter
- Badie’s 25-yard touchdown run in the 4th
- Barret Banister’s 18-yard catch in the 4th
That’s 11 explosive plays on the Hogs’ defense, 12% of Missouri’s total plays. They did this on a defense that allowed only 8% of their total plays to go for big yardage on the year. That’s not at all how it was supposed to happen but, hey, that’s why they play the games.
Folks, you have a resilient, adaptable team with a young, exciting, excellent coaching staff. They’re not always going to win, and they’re not ready to be going blow for blow with the blue bloods, but this staff and this team consistently do the things they have to do to win. The execution wasn’t perfect on Saturday, and there were definitely some more warts regarding fouls, drops, and the defense at large, but the Tigers were good enough to overcome adversity and any perceived curses. That’s not something we are used to as a fanbase so it’s important that we enjoy these moments while we have them. Saturday was an excellent win. Now we see what the Tigers can do against Georgia.