We’ve finally made it to the end of the regular season and rivalry week is upon us. Once again, Missouri faces their MOST HATED RIVAL THE arKANSAS RAZORBACKS, a team that has frequently and consistently poached Missouri sports talent to fill in their obvious lack of natural talent.
Here’s the preview I wrote back in the summer. Arkansas has had higher highs with the same rebuild timeline as Missouri but has struggled through some recent regression due to injury and suspension. The season-long SP+ rankings have the Tigers and Pigs within 16 spots of each but Arkansas has higher-ranked individual units than Missouri does. Like every game, Missouri is going to try and slop this up, play it slow and conservatively, and hope to keep a Top 20 Razorback offense bored and on the bench long enough to keep it within one-possession. A loss here will look like a K-State or Tennessee repeat with the bad guys pulling so far away so quickly that there’s no hope for a comeback. So how does Missouri stop it? I’ll tell you!
When Missouri Has the Ball
Barry Odom is in Year 3 of his defensive coordinator role at Arkansas and...well...he’s had better days. His defense - uber creative and outgunned in Year 1, legitimately stifling in Year 2 - has tumbled to 63rd this year, and that was before a few suspensions and injuries hit. The suspended guys are back, sure, but Barry’s vaunted defensive line is surprisingly vulnerable this year, leaving a pretty good secondary stuck holding the bill when runners inevitably break through to the second level (sound like any defense we’ve know before?). This will be the weak-on-weak matchup in this game and will be the key battle in determining who can win this matchup. Here’s what Missouri needs to do:
Run the dang ball
Once again Eli Drinkwitz can enter his offensive meeting with a big stupid smile on his face as he can encourage Bush Hamdan to call 40 runs and not worry about the results. Arkansas’ rushing defense currently ranks 105th in the country, allowing a 47% success rate on the ground, at least 4-yards per carry 50% of the time, and one of the worst frequencies of allowing big plays to runners. Cody Schrader better eat his Wheaties this week and increase his stretching regimen because he’s going to get utilized a ton, and probably to good effect. The goal here is to hit at least a 46% success rate running the ball.
Generate some big dang plays
As noted above, Arkansas ranks 87th in explosive plays on the ground. What’s better than that? How about a pass defense - ranked 47th overall - that ranks 116th in giving up big pass plays? I sure hope Dom Lovett is healthy because this young receiving corps should have plenty of opportunities to bust some gainers on these guys. I don’t care if it’s on the ground or through the air, the goal should be to hit at least ten explosive plays.
Finish your dang drives
Same as it always is. Missouri had a rare outburst of competence in this metric against NMSU, going wild with 7 scoring opportunities and 6.4 points per opportunity against the Aggies. It was such a massive increase in production that Missouri’s points per scoring opportunity rose from 92nd to 75th after that single game...still not great but HUGE improvement. Arkansas’ defense is ok at limiting point per opportunity (53rd) but is 82nd in allowing touchdowns in red zone trips. Missouri must take advantage of this, especially since Arkansas’ offense is pretty good at getting points. Missouri should aim to generate at least six scoring opportunities with at least 4.5 points per opportunity.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
And here’s the marquee matchup. Arkansas fans seem pretty fed up with Kendal Briles’ unchanged offensive scheme that’s predicated on predictable run plays, predictable tempo, and uninspiring passing schemes...that currently ranks 18th in the country. Sam Pittman has compiled a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball - both through recruiting and the portal - so Missouri’s revitalized defense will absolutely get one last tough test to close out the regular season.
Get some dang turnovers!
Look...Arkansas is going to get yards, we need to come to grips with that. Their rushing offense is just as good as Missouri’s run defense, and while their passing offense only ranks 50th in the country - and Missouri’s pass defense ranks 22nd - the Hogs explosive plays through the air ranks 17th and..well...you know the one thing that can kill a Blake Baker defense. So what needs to be done? Get some turnovers! Arkansas has been hanging on to a +1 turnover margin throughout the year while Missouri currently sits at a -3, with at least one turnover in the last three games. The defense will have to break serve and, if not score, at least set the offense up for some easy points. The goal should be to finish +2 in the turnover department.
Create some dang HAVOC!
If Missouri’s havoc rate is below 19% they get blown out (see: Kansas State, Tennessee). Finishing over 20% doesn’t guarantee a win but, considering that only two losses that have been by more than one score both coincided with a havoc rate well below 19%, it’s pertinent to keep the havoc high. The only team Missouri has beaten that ranks better than 80th in SP+ is South Carolina and they won that comfortably thanks to a 42% havoc rate. A similar performance will be needed here. Let’s shoot for at least a 40% havoc rate.
This has the makings of a good game. Two strengths - Arkansas’ offense and Missouri’s defense - will square up while their counterparts will take place in a battle of weaknesses. Arkansas is a slim road favorite but, as you all know, Eli Drinkwitz is eligible for wins at home and this will be the final home game of the ‘22 season. It should be an interesting match up and, win or lose, let’s hope it’s at least entertaining.