Pick a cliche, any cliche. Tale of two halves, saving your best for last, etc.
Missouri’s last half of the season was its best, and the Tigers finished head coach Barry Odom’s debut season with a thrilling 28-24 win over Arkansas on Friday at Faurot Field. Drew Lock threw for 268 yards, Nate Strong scored two touchdowns, and Mizzou overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit by shutting out the Razorbacks in the second half.
Mizzou misfired constantly early on. Arkansas’ first play was a 66-yard strike from Austin Allen to a wide open Keon Hatcher, and the Hogs scored on the next play. Mizzou tied the game at 7-7 later in the first quarter, but even that was shaky — Ish Witter intentionally dropped the ball as he was crossing the end zone, but J’Mon Moore recovered it for the touchdown. And then Emanuel Hall dropped a surefire touchdown bomb. Arkansas took a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. It was 24-7 when a botched snap killed a late Mizzou drive.
Everything changed in the second half. A 48-yard completion to Moore on third-and-11 set up a two-yard Strong touchdown to make it 24-14; Arkansas responded with a 13-play, nearly eight-minute drive, but Cale Garrett picked off an Allen pass at the goal line on third-and-goal.
Mizzou proceeded to go three-and-out, but Anthony Sherrils ran a ballsy fake punt 14 yards on fourth-and-7 from the Mizzou 7; two plays later, Lock hit Johnathon Johnson for 67 yards and a touchdown. 24-21. (Johnson for the game: two receptions for 70 yards, two jet-sweep carries for 81.)
After an Arkansas three-and-out, Mizzou drew the Hogs offside on fourth-and-1 from its 28, and on the third play of the fourth quarter, Lock and Moore connected for a 49-yard gain on third-and-5. Strong scored to give the Tigers the lead, 28-24.
After a trade of punts, Arkansas got the ball with 7:12 left, and Allen executed a perfect screen to Rawleigh Williams III for 52 yards, one of many successful screens on the day. But Williams was stuffed on second-and-goal from the Mizzou 1, and Allen was stuffed on third-and-goal from the 2. Aarion Penton, playing in his final Mizzou game, picked off a pass to maintain the lead.
In a heartbeat, Arkansas had the ball back once more. Mizzou went three-and-out, and a 16-yard Williams run got the Razorbacks into Tiger territory and a 23-yard completion to Hatcher helped to advance the ball to the 9. Once more, the Tigers stiffened. A holding penalty pushed the Hogs back, and seniors Penton and Donavin Newsom each broke up passes in the end zone. On fourth-and-goal from the 20, Marcell Frazier sacked Allen. Ballgame.
Frazier had his best game as a Tiger, logging four tackles for loss (three sacks), and a QB hurry; Garrett, meanwhile, recorded two TFLs to go with his INT. The Tiger defense struggled drastically on passing downs in the first half, which, along with the Mizzou offense’s tempo (and a few three-and-outs) resulted in a humongous possession difference: Arkansas snapped the ball 85 times in 40:22, while Mizzou had 56 plays in 19:38. Still, the Tigers’ offensive explosiveness and goal line stands made the difference. Arkansas advanced inside the Tiger 10 three times in the second half and came away with no points.
Mizzou wraps up the season 4-8, but the Tigers won two of their last three games and gained 740 yards in the loss in between. They look toward 2017 with an offense that returns almost everybody and a defense that has a few questions to answer.