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Arkansas scored enough points to snap its losing streak in the Battle Line Rivalry, but its defense completely collapsed and allowed Missouri to come away with a last-second victory Saturday afternoon.
Piling up 653 yards along the way, the Tigers punted just twice en route to a 50-48 win over the Razorbacks at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak didn’t have any touchdown passes, but threw for 380 yards, while running backs Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie averaged a combined 8 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns.
It was the most yards Arkansas has allowed since giving up 696 in a similar loss to Missouri in the 2017 season finale. Head coach Sam Pittman couldn’t find a single bright spot on that side of the ball during his postgame press conference.
“Their offensive line whipped us on our defensive line,” Pittman said. “Their receivers were open. They beat us in man coverage and they beat us in zone coverage. We couldn’t get to the quarterback. We couldn’t get either runner on the ground.”
The disappointing performance culminated with Missouri’s quick trip down the field in the final 43 seconds to set up Harrison Mevis’ game-winning 39-yard field goal.
“It’s heartbreaking,” linebacker Bumper Pool said, struggling to find the right words afterward. “Offense played amazing… 40 seconds, yeah, it’s heartbreaking.”
Bazelak picked apart Arkansas’ zone, completing 4 of 4 passes for 54 yards to get the Tigers firmly in field goal range for Mevis, who has already made four kicks – including a 51-yarder – in the game.
As he had pretty much all game, he had plenty of time to throw and usually found a receiver all alone for big chunks of yards – 14 yards to Damon Hazelton, 18 yards to Barrett Banister, 12 yards to Hazelton and finally 10 yards to Banister.
“We didn’t get any pressure on the kid,” Pittman said. “We couldn’t cover them. They just went right down the field. Then they handed off. They got down to the 15-yard line on us in 40-something seconds.”
Despite the result, Pittman said he would not have have changed anything the Razorbacks did schematically down the stretch. What it came down to, in his opinion, was execution.
“Do I think Barry (Odom) called a bad 42 seconds? No,” Pittman said. “But we have to cover them and we’ve got to get pressure. I mean, there is such a thing in football as winning your one-on-one battle and that’s what we need to do.”
That drive was part of a disastrous fourth quarter. After giving up 23 points on 361 yards through the first three quarters, Arkansas allowed 27 points on 292 yards in the final 15 minutes.
It’s tied for the second-most points Arkansas has allowed in the fourth quarter since joining the SEC in 1992 and the most since it gave up 28 points in the 2010 loss at Auburn, which was led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
“We just weren’t making plays and we were undisciplined – bunch of offside penalties, some busted coverages, missed tackles,” Pool said. “(We) just didn’t play well in the fourth quarter and they took advantage of it.”
The penalties Pool mentioned were particularly costly. Arkansas was flagged 11 times for 95 yards, with seemingly most of them coming when it was on defense.
A roughing the passer and offside penalty gave the Tigers 20 yards on the opening drive of the game, which ended with a 51-yard field goal, while another offside by the Razorbacks led to off-setting penalties that gave Missouri another crack at a third down on its next drive, which ended with a touchdown.
That gave the Tigers an early 10-0 lead. Later in the game, a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting was called on Joe Foucha, extending a drive that sparked the 27-point outburst in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not good enough to help somebody down the field,” Pittman said. “I mean, we have to be penalty-free and disciplined and we weren’t and it’s very disappointing.”
It also hurt that Arkansas lost star linebacker Grant Morgan a few plays after the flag on Foucha. The fifth-year senior and SEC’s leading tackler went down with an apparent knee injury and was unable to return.
“He’s a guy that we plan on being out there,” Pittman said. “He’s made a lot of tackles this year – I think about as many as anybody else has in the country – but more than that, you’re really missing his leadership, getting everybody lined up and getting to the ball.”
With No. 1 Alabama bringing Heisman Trophy contending quarterback Mac Jones and one of the most explosive offenses in the country to Fayetteville next week, it won’t get any easier for Arkansas to end the 2020 regular season.
However, Pittman said he still has confidence in Odom, the former Missouri head coach-turned-Arkansas defensive coordinator who found success with his unit earlier in the season.
“We’ll work hard and get the defense figured out – we will,” Pittman said. “They’ve played well all year and we’ll get them figured out. We’ve got a great defensive coordinator. He’ll do a great job of getting them figured out.”