No. 17 Missouri overcame an early 11-point deficit to score a 21-14 Battle Line Rivalry victory over Arkansas and secure the SEC East title.
The Razorbacks and Tigers came into the game as two of the hottest teams in the SEC. Arkansas won two straight games over ranked foes by a combined score of 47-0. Missouri scored five straight victories to give itself a golden opportunity to win the division crown
It created an interesting, tension-filled atmosphere at Faurot Field. Here's how the contest played out quarter by quarter:
|Week 14: Arkansas at Missouri|
One thing Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was worried about coming into the game was the matchup problems Arkansas could create. It excelled in recent weeks by using a talented offensive line and different looks up front to generate big plays.
Luke Thompson of Fox Sports provided comments from Pinkel, who pointed to those adjustments on offense as why the Razorbacks have stepped up after a sluggish start.
"They present a lot of formational problems," he said. "With personnel they do a lot of unusual type things in how they line up formations, and they do that to get an edge to get an extra blocker at the point of attack, and they're very good at what they do."
Those remarks turned out to be quite prophetic.
After a three-and-out drive to open the game by the Tigers, the visitors found a rhythm and moved the ball with ease. The Razorbacks covered 70 yards in 11 plays while using nearly seven minutes of the clock before getting on the scoreboard first.
The scoring play perfectly summed up the drive. Running back Jonathan Williams took the toss from Brandon Allen and scampered into the end zone untouched to make it 7-0.
Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network praised the effort:
Missouri responded with a long drive of its own.
It moved the ball all the way down to the Arkansas 22 before things stalled out. Maty Mauk took a bad sack on third down that put the Tigers on the fringe of field-goal range. Luckily for him, Andrew Baggett connected from 52 yards to get something out of the drive.
Baggett was only 12-of-18 with a long of 44 coming into the game. The junior had also missed a pair of extra points last week. Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted that field goal should help him get back in his coach's good graces:
Missouri couldn't capitalize after getting a stop and then Arkansas flipped the field thanks to a 35-yard punt return by Jared Cornelius to set the Razorbacks up inside Tigers territory.
Six plays later they made it 14-3, as Allen found Keon Hatcher, who fought his way over the goal line for the score. Former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner likes what he's seen from the junior wideout:
Missouri got back within one score before halftime. After getting the ball at the 7 with just over two minutes left, it drove 60 yards to get in field-goal range. Once again Baggett was on target from 50 yards out to make it 14-6.
For the Tigers, being only down eight given the way both teams played at the half was acceptable. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wasn't sure how the game stayed so close:
Following a punt to open the third quarter by Arkansas, Missouri embarked on a 16-play drive. It didn't capitalize, however, as the Baggett magic ended. His 35-yard attempt came out low and was blocked at the line by Dan Skipper.
While the Hogs didn't score on the ensuing possession, it did feature a successful fake punt. Sam Irwin-Hill took the fourth-down snap 23 yards for a first down. Ethan Levine of Saturday Down South was impressed with the punter's second such effort this season:
Though it was a pretty active quarter, the score remained 14-6 heading to the final quarter.
The Tigers changed that early in the fourth. A highlight-reel pitch and catch from Mauk to Bud Sasser gave them 1st-and-goal from inside the 5. They scored two plays later as Mauk was on target again, this time to Jimmie Hunt for a touchdown.
Then Missouri went into the bag of tricks for the two-point conversion. Sasser came around the formation on a wideout reverse, took the ball and threw to an open Darius White to level the score at 14.
Mizzou Football summed up the turn of events:
Arkansas failed to respond as several of Allen's passes soared wide. The quarterback was dealing with a hip injury during the week. As the Tigers picked up the pressure, he struggled with his accuracy.
With the tide turning in its favorite, Missouri drove again. The tandem of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy kept the pressure on the Razorbacks defense with some punishing runs.
Instead of attempting a 46-yard field goal, Gary Pinkel went for it on fourth down, and Hansbrough converted. The risk paid off as the Tigers capped off the six-minute drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Murphy.
Jon Solomon of CBS Sports highlighted the strong play up front by Missouri:
As the Razorbacks were driving, there was a seemingly nondescript run by Alex Collins that picked up three yards. Arkansas called timeout and then Markus Golden came out of the pile with the ball. The officials ruled the runner down and went to a media break.
The play was then reviewed and overturned, giving the Tigers the fumble recovery. The SEC Network noted the huge play:
Missouri proceeded to run out the clock. SI College Football provided some notes about the win:
With the loss, Arkansas finishes the regular season at 6-6. The wins over LSU and Ole Miss showed the upside fans were hoping to see more of during the campaign. But the second half of Friday's game illustrated the inconsistency that prevented that from happening.
As for Missouri, the victory secures the East division title and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers will play either Alabama or Mississippi State depending on Saturday's results. It's their second straight trip to the title game. They lost to Auburn last year.
That game will be held next Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.