Welcome back to “Five Plays”, where I’ll break down the previous week’s football game in, you guessed it, five plays. Over the past ten seasons, the average college football team has run around 70-73 plays per game, but most of them don’t matter as much as others. Oftentimes, there’s a select few that can tell the story of an entire game, and I’m here to break them down. To the film room!
One meme recap to describe Mizzou’s 48-14 victory over Arkansas:
Since Mizzou and Arkansas began playing regularly in 2014, most of their contests have been very competitive.
The 2023 iteration was anything but.
Somehow, the already-lopsided final score doesn't fully entail how superior Mizzou was to Arkansas. The Razorbacks couldn’t do much of anything on either side of the ball. Entering the fourth quarter down 41-0, they had 87 total yards of offense and two total offensive plays on Missouri’s half of the field...which didn’t happen until there were under two minutes left in the THIRD QUARTER. Defensively, they literally got run over by Cody Schrader and the Tigers’ offensive line. It was a beatdown from start to finish.
I mentioned in the postgame takeaways from the Florida game how the game against Arkansas fit the criteria of a “sandwich” game; the high of last week’s victory was strong, and the game after Battle Line would, with a victory, be a New Year’s Six bowl. I acknowledged the possibility of this being a trap game.
The only thing that was trapped and sandwiched on Friday was Arkansas.
The chasm in talent and cohesion couldn’t have been any clearer. The Tigers are going to a NY6 bowl, while the Razorbacks had a player asking to join Mizzou’s team via Instagram live and Sam Pittman befuddled in the postgame presser.
Here are five plays from the game that saw one team shine and the other left in shambles.
Play #1: Chuck Hicks? More like Chick Hicks
(I promise this is the last Cars reference I’ll make. This one was just too easy.)
There are many ways that Chuck and Chick Hicks aren’t related. The most obvious one is that Chuck is not a car.
However, the two main similarities between Chuck and Chick is that both are fast and destructive. Already up 34-0, Chuck Hicks turned into Chick Hicks to help catalyze Mizzou’s second defensive touchdown of the season.
Jacolby Criswell, who was in the game in relief of an injured KJ Jefferson, couldn’t have been an easier target for Hicks to annihilate.
There was only one Arkansas receiver on the right side of the formation, and he appeared to be covered well judging by the fact that Criswell didn’t throw the ball. I’m unsure if the play was actually supposed to be a screen to AJ Green (#0 in red), because he stood stationary after the snap looking towards Criswell; also, the three receivers in front of him blocked the entire way. Then again, Green never put his hands up like he was expecting the ball.
Whatever the play call was supposed to be, Arkansas did not account for Hicks, who smashed into an unsuspecting Criswell AND had the wherewithal to knock the ball loose. Luckily for Jayden Jernigan, he not only picked up the loose ball, he remained balanced enough to not go down before he crossed the goal-line.
This was one of many examples of Mizzou’s defense completely overpowering Arkansas’ offense. The Tigers registered 12 (!) tackles for loss, with Hicks accounting for 3.5 of them. Along with Triston Newson (team-high 15 tackles, two TFL), the absences of Ty’Ron Hopper and Chad Bailey have hurt a lot less in large part because of the contributions from Hicks and Newson.
Play #2: Post-fight prosperity
One of the few Razorback “victories” from Friday was Armand Membou getting ejected. Forget whether the right amount of players were ejected; it was one of the few moments this season where the Tigers looked mentally permeable.
Even so, what ended up mattering was the fact that, for the Tigers, the emotions stemming from the conflict didn’t seep into future plays. Part of the “1-0” mindset Mizzou has carried out in 2023 is moving on from whatever happened the week prior, good or bad. The same can apply to individual plays, and that’s exactly what happened here.
On the very next play, the Tigers stuck to who they were despite missing their starting right tackle. Motion, power, touchdown.
It was a classic Mizzou goal-line run. The motion by Burden fakes Jaheim Thomas (#28 in red) out of position. No one on UA’s defensive line can break through the golden wall, and it’s an easy touchdown for Cook.
Play #3: The bread and butter
One of the first pieces of life advice I can remember coming across was from New York Yankees great Yogi Berra. It’s a saying that’s widely considered to be his most well-known.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That’s the philosophy Kirby Moore & Co. seemed to stick to on Friday, as Schrader and the offensive line bullied Arkansas’ front seven all afternoon. Brady Cook attempted just 20 passes, his fewest in a game as a full-time starter. While his successes over the air certainly helped Mizzou’s offense, the ground attack continuously gashed UA’s defense, and Moore smartly kept pounding the rock.
The main medium of rushing success once again came on the outside zone. For most of this season, the outside zone has been Mizzou’s best run play. The Columbia Missourian’s Adam Ryerson authored a wonderful article that was posted Friday detailing what exactly made Mizzou’s outside zone so successful. The four “ingredients” he outlined were as follows: athletic offensive tackles, an explosive running back, an awesome blocking tight end as well as deception from a play calling standpoint.
Once again, all four of these ingredients cooked up huge plays on Friday. Schrader had three carries of at least 30 yards, which marked the third consecutive game he’s accomplished that feat. All three of those huge gains stemmed from (drumroll please)...outside zone!
I could probably pick any one of them to highlight, because each saw the ingredients shine. Membou, Javon Foster and Brett Norfleet sealed edges like envelopes, Schrader shot through holes like a cannonball, and Moore sprinkled in deception to help make the outside zone thrive once again.
After consulting a random number generator, this outside zone is the one we’ll highlight:
This is all so...textbook. With the outside zone to the left, Zach Williams (#56 in red) is already taken out of the play. Cam’Ron Johnson stiff-arms Taurean Carter (#9 in red) out of the play). Connor Tollison blocks Kelvie Rose (#93 in red) enough to prevent a tackle. Xavier Delgado stonewalls Nico Davillier (#0 in red). Foster and Norfleet tag-team Chris Paul Jr. (#27 in red). Burden and Mookie Cooper also seal their matchups on the outside, and Schrader is off to the races.
The player I want to highlight other than Schrader is Norfleet, who blocked two people on Schrader’s big run. He’s proven to be an exceptional blocking presence this season, something that we here at Rock M said could definitely come to fruition this season.
In one of Rock M’s two tight end previews over the offseason, here’s what I said about Norfleet:
“...if Brett Norfleet’s blocking even just mostly translates to the college level, we’re looking at an awfully high ceiling. Norfleet looked like an NBA center amongst his peers in high school, and when he blocks, he’s shown he can steamroll defenders like Michael Oher’s character did in that one scene in The Blindside.”
Rock M’s Josh Matejka also acknowledged Norfleet’s ceiling.
“...Brett Norfleet sure has the goods to tantalize us. He’s got the size, athleticism and pedigree no one in Columbia has had since Albert Okwuegbunam.”
From Josh and I to you all...
For seemingly the millionth time this season, Schrader had another fruitful day on the ground. His 217 rushing yards marked his second game this season with 200+ rushing yards (he had 205 against Tennessee). Here’s the list of Mizzou running backs that have registered multiple 200+ yard games in a season since the turn of the century:
Tyler Badie (2021)
End of list.
As you all have probably seen tens of times over the past 36+ hours, this has become more than a feel-good story. Schrader is one of the best running backs in the country, the offensive line is one of the best units in the country, and they proved it again in convincing fashion on Friday.
Play #4: It’s deja vu all over again
(The second Yogi Berra callback already! Can’t say I had that one on my bingo card.)
Norfleet’s blocking has already been highlighted, and now, his receiving talents will. He didn’t need to do anything Herculean like he did last week against Florida, because the motion along with the play-action fake left him wide open.
It wasn’t the only time Arkansas looked out of sorts defensively. For most of Friday evening, moving the ball was easy for Mizzou. It wasn’t a total surprise, as the Razorbacks sported a defense that was more than exploitable. Rather, it was how badly the Tigers exploited the opposition that was surprising.
Part of it included Norfleet running free not just on this play, but the play previous as well. Norfleet’s short-yardage score was his second touchdown in 12 seconds of game time, which feels like a record. It was also the first multi-TD game by a Mizzou tight end since Daniel Parker had two against Kentucky in 2021.
Y’know what? Just for funsies, let’s highlight the play that led to Norfleet’s second score. Even though there were a ton of brilliant plays from the black and gold, this next one by the Razorbacks is pretty emblematic of their afternoon.
Play #5: Isaiah Sategna’s kickoff gaffe
Arkansas redshirt freshman Isaiah Sategna is a very qualified kick returner. For one, he’s a speedster — Sategna was a track star in high school, as he was named the Arkansas Gatorade Boys Track & Field Player of the Year for the 2021-22 school year. Besides, he’d already showed off his wheels multiple times this season; he returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown against BYU and blazed past the Florida International secondary last week for a receiving touchdown.
However, in order to show off your wheels, you need to catch the ball first; a car can’t be driven if it doesn’t start. With his team down 27-0 early in the third quarter, the last thing Sategna could do was fumble away the kick return and give Mizzou another red zone opportunity.
CBS play-by-play commentator Rich Waltz said it best:
“What a nightmare for Arkansas.”
Then, color commentator Aaron Taylor said it better:
“When it rains, it pours.”
Here, Sategna just...messed up. Even worse, he tried to recover the ball with just his hands instead of falling on top of it with his entire body.
A similar thing happened to Maryland last season against Michigan; on the opening kickoff, UMD return man Tai Felton didn’t track the ball’s descent correctly. As a result, the ball doinked off his facemask right into the arms of UM’s Matthew Hibner. On the ensuing play, quarterback J.J. McCarthy found tight end Luke Schoonmaker wide open for a touchdown on a play-action rollout to the right.
While the Terps ultimately kept the game close — they Wolverines only won by a touchdown — Felton’s mistake followed by Michigan’s immediate score was an omen for defeat, just like it was for the Arkansas. The only major difference was that, when the superior team capitalized on the opposition’s folly, the game was already out of reach.
I felt a little bad for Sategna. He was highly-touted coming into this season, and the two highlight plays I mentioned earlier were super fun to watch. But Sategna, nor most of his teammates, couldn’t do much right against a team that couldn’t stop doing right all evening.