by Otis Kirk
Arkansas remains winless in Columbia, falling to Missouri 29-27 on Friday.
Both Missouri and Arkansas are 6-6 on the season and 3-5 in the SEC. The Razorbacks held a 21-20 lead at halftime, but couldn’t muster much offense in the second half. Arkansas finished with 318 yards including only 113 on the ground. The Missouri defense has been outstanding all season, with the exception of the Tennessee game and Friday was no different.
Rocket Sanders needed 98 yards to win the SEC rushing title, but instead was limited to only 47 on 10 attempts. KJ Jefferson was 20 of 27, passing for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed 19 times for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Sam Pittman was obviously disappointed after the game.
“I want to congratulate Missouri for the win and getting bowl eligible,” Pittman said. “They played a very physical game. They out-physicaled us tonight on both sides of the ball. It’s unfortunate. We had several chances to win the game, but we couldn’t convert on offense and couldn’t stop them on defense. They had the more physical team tonight. That and the way Cook played is the reason they won the game.”
Missouri got on the scoreboard first with a 40-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis on the Tigers first possession of the game. However, the lead was short-lived as the Hogs struck on their next possession.
Jefferson scored on a three-yard run with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter. The drive was a nine-play, 75-yard one. The big play was a 37-yard pass from Jefferson to wide receiver Matt Landers to the Missouri 17. Jefferson followed with a 10-yard run, and then, after Sanders gained one, the Arkansas quarterback powered his way into the end zone.
However, the Tigers struck back quickly. Running back Cody Schrader completed a 75-yard drive with a three-yard run to put Missouri up 10-7 with 2:57 remaining in the opening quarter.
After a three and out for Arkansas, Missouri struck again. Quarterback Brady Cook scored on a nine-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. That allowed the Tigers to go up 17-7. The big play on the drive was a 55-yard completion from Cook to Dominic Lovett on a second-and-5 play at their own 31 to the Arkansas 14.
However, Jefferson and the Hogs came right back. Jefferson found Landers for a 27-yard touchdown, and Arkansas was only down 17-14 with 9:26 remaining in the opening half. Jefferson found Jadon Haselwood earlier in the drive for a 19-yard gain to the Missouri 44.
After a 27-yard field goal by Mevis put the Tigers up 20-14 with 5:26 remaining before intermission, Arkansas went 75 yards in 11 plays. The touchdown came when Jefferson passed to Sanders for an 8-yard score. Cam Little’s PAT put the Hogs up by one heading into halftime.
Missouri got the ball to start the second half. Cook promptly led the Tigers on a 75-yard drive that ended with him throwing a 23-yard touchdown to Luther Burden. Leading 26-21, Missouri opted to go for a two-point conversion. Hudson Clark picked off the pass, thus denying the Tigers two points. Missouri added a 29-yard field goal from Mevis on its next possession for a 29-21 lead.
Little then hit a 46-yard field goal on Arkansas’ next drive with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter. Arkansas trailed 29-24 at that point. On its next possession, Arkansas drove to the Missouri two-yard line. Running plays by Jefferson and Trey Knox netted no yards, On third down, Jefferson threw an incomplete pass. So Arkansas settled for a 20-yard field goal from Little with 12:40 remaining in the game.
That series having a first down at the Missouri 2-yard line and not getting seven will haunt the Razorbacks. Because neither team was able to score after that.
“We had three plays,” Pittman said. “We threw a couple passes if I remember correctly. Run-option passes. Tried to sneak. It was still fourth-and-two. It was first-and-goal from the two. We ended up fourth-and-two. There were about eight minutes left in the game. I felt like we could cut it down to a field goal. We had three timeouts left. Obviously, there was another opportunity there. I chose to take the points and cut it to two because we hadn’t made a yard in the three previous plays.”
Why the sneak with Knox on second down?
“It wasn’t there,” Pittman said. “There was a pair of G’s in there or a pair of shades, however you want to look at it. That one there we should have went to something else. It just wasn’t there. It was as surprise thing we felt like we could sneak it in, but it just wasn’t there.”
Missouri almost scored after that when they partially blocked a Reid Bauer punt. The Tigers took over at the Arkansas 35. However, on third and six from the Arkansas 31, Drew Sanders sacked Cook for a seven-yard loss. Mevis then missed a 55-yard field goal.
Arkansas took over at its own 37 after the missed field goal with 4:15 remaining in the game. On first down, Jefferson passed to Haselwood for four yards. On second down, Jefferson threw an incomplete pass. On third down, Jefferson lost a yard. Facing a fourth-and-seven at its own 40 and 2:56 remaining in the game, Pittman opted to punt.
Despite Arkansas having all its timeouts remaining, they didn’t get the ball until 14 seconds remained in the game. Missouri ran seven plays including picking up one first down before having to punt the ball away.
The Hogs were 80 yards away and a 12-yard completion from Jefferson to Knox, and then one attempted catch and lateral play ended the game.
Chris “Pooh” Paul J. started his first game and led the Hogs with nine tackles. Sanders and Clark each had seven, Sanders and Jashaud Stewart each had a sack.
But it was Missouri’s defense that made the difference. They sacked Jefferson seven times, had 11 tackles for loss and intercepted a pass. The Missouri offense finished with 468 yards of offense including 242 passing and 226 rushing.
“They whipped our butt,” Pittman said. “That’s what happened. They whipped us. They physically dominated us. They did it in the run game, and they did it in the protection game. I don’t know how else to say it. We got dominated physically is what happened.”
Both Arkansas and Missouri will now await news of where they will go bowling. Pittman was asked if he had a preference of where to go bowling?
“No, not really,” Pittman said. “We’re really fortunate to get bowl eligible. The Las Vegas one is earlier. There’s some recruiting things in that one that you would lose some time there. But other than that, I think the kids would love to go out there and have that time and all that. We’ve got the Liberty Bowl that’s right up the road that we respect the people of the Liberty Bowl and all that. Any of those bowls would be wonderful. You’ve got Texas and you’ve got Music City, any of those would be wonderful, but they’re only good when you win, so we have to get ready to do that.”
In addition to nickel back Myles Slusher leaving the team, linebacker Bumper Pool underwent surgery on a hip and is lost for the bowl game as expected.