(CAUTION: Overused movie quote ahead.)
Are you not entertained?
I’d say there were several times throughout that wild game between Missouri and Arkansas that Tiger fans said both “Oh yes, we’re winning this!” and “Oh no, not again.” But in the end, the Tigers earned their fifth-consecutive win over the Razorbacks with a 50-48 win that is definitely up there as one of the most exciting installments of the Battle Line rivalry we’ve seen.
There were way more points scored than I and most others expected, especially since Missouri’s defense had been playing solid lately, and Arkansas’s had extra motivation with defensive coordinator Barry Odom looking for revenge against his former team. Missouri outgained Arkansas 653-566 and needed every bit of that to avoid what would’ve been a heartbreaking loss, were it not for the Tigers’ final drive that set up a game-winning field goal from Harrison Mevis. He made a lot of new friends with that kick, but none bigger than Jamal Brooks, who would’ve had to live with an unfortunate blunder on Arkansas’ go-ahead two-point conversion otherwise.
— Jamal Brooks (@jbroo25) December 5, 2020
It was an exciting finish to a matchup that has featured close finishes before (now four of the seven meetings between Arkansas and Missouri since 2014 have been decided by one possession). And it guaranteed that Eli Drinkwitz won’t have a losing regular season record in his first year at the helm.
As we parse through the drama – and controversy – this game provided, here are my Knee-Jerk Reactions from Missouri’s win over Arkansas:
Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie needed to be great, and they were
Rountree had a performance that was worthy of a senior day. His consistency kept the Tigers on the move offensively, even though some of those drives didn’t finish in touchdowns in the first three quarters. Rountree averaged nearly seven yards per carry, and racked up 185 yards and three touchdowns. Those bursts into the open field were also big to set up the Tigers in favorable positions all game long.
Badie’s two touchdowns were the two biggest plays for Missouri’s offense. The first touchdown, which came in the fourth quarter with Missouri trailing by 14, went for 46 yards and featured several broken tackles on Badie’s part. It was almost a play that Badie had to score on, since the red zone offense had struggled up to that point. It fired up the sideline, and provided some real hope. That eventually led to him scoring the go-ahead touchdown later in the quarter from 25 yards out. His big-play ability can keep Missouri in any game, and it came at the right time against Arkansas.
Two weeks in a row, Connor Bazelak has been as impressive as he can be without a touchdown pass
His 30 completions on 37 attempts vs. Vanderbilt last week was all Missouri needed to keep this rolling on offense. This was obviously a tougher test, but Bazelak passed again. It was crucial that the Tigers not turn the ball over against an Arkansas team that makes opponents really pay for those, and he stayed poised in the pocket without forcing plays that weren’t there.
There were some deep passes throughout the game that Bazelak missed, which could’ve led to a bigger point total (if 50 wasn’t enough for you). But when it mattered most, he found good connections with Keke Chism (6 catches, 113 yards), Barrett Banister (6 catches, 60 yards) and Damon Hazelton (5 catches, 98 yards). Those definitely mattered on the final drive that led to the game-winning field goal. He’s proving that you don’t always need to find the end zone to have impressive performances. Missouri doesn’t win the game without Bazelak’s decisions down the stretch and sharp passes on third down.
Harrison Mevis didn’t flinch in the biggest moment of his young career
Missouri already knew it had a special kicker, as Mevis showed his range in his first college game against Alabama. Drinkwitz maybe hopes that he didn’t need to rely on Mevis so much on Arkansas’s half of the field, but the true freshman went 5-for-5 in his first rivalry matchup against Arkansas, including a 51-yarder to start the game, and a 32-yarder to end it.
It’s not often that a college team has to turn to a kicker this often throughout a game, but when it does happen, they usually aren’t perfect. Even the most experienced kickers will be off for one or two of their five field goal attempts. For Mevis to be as sharp as he was in a closely-contested game like that, Drinkwitz has to feel good about what he has for the next few years. And it’s still early. The Thiccer may have more dramatic kicks to make in his Missouri career, and I’ll bet he makes those, too.
Nick Bolton got the raw end of a terrible call
Here’s the play that the officials flagged for targeting on Nick Bolton toward the end of the first half:
this was called targeting. it was reviewed and upheld. a shoulder to a chest. what do you expect him to do? pull his flag? pic.twitter.com/TTuKsEekNe
— Austin Huff (@AustinHuff) December 5, 2020
The targeting rule states that a foul occurs when a player makes “forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder.” The SEC later confirmed that this was the stipulation of the rule that Bolton violated.
Here’s how I see it: yes, the player is defenseless. You can argue that he took two steps for a football move, but you couldn’t even look down to check your watch in the time Bolton took to make the hit after Arkansas’s receiver made the catch. It’s a bang-bang play, and if it wasn’t targeting, I think it would’ve been ruled incomplete, not a catch and fumble like most were arguing. But it’s clear Bolton hit the player in the chest, and not the head or neck area, and that’s where the call should’ve fallen apart. I can understand an official throwing a flag in the moment, because it looked bad. But this is why those plays are reviewable, because the NCAA has put such a harsh punishment on players that commit such fouls. It can be back-breaking for entire defensive units, as it was with Missouri’s defense in this game. And they have even tweaked the rule to remove “stands” from the results of replay; it either is confirmed or overturned, no middle ground. From the replay, you cannot clearly confirm a targeting hit. The replay booth really let Nick Bolton down here.
It’s a lot closer to a full rivalry now
For those still trying to pout and groan about Missouri not having a real rival to play year after year, it’s time to recognize the game we just witnessed. It was back and forth. It featured huge mood swings. It featured several questionable officiating calls. It featured pre-game social media beef. It featured Missouri’s former head coach trying to get revenge as the defensive coordinator on the other side. It featured a late touchdown, followed by a bonkers two-point conversion to give one team the lead, then a game-winning drive in the final minute to swing the game in the other direction. Sure, nothing much was on the line Saturday, neither of these teams are winning any championships this year. But it was fun as hell to watch and provided some real drama.
It may not be all the way there yet. For it to be a true rivalry, Arkansas probably needs to win the game a little more often. Maybe there should be more words exchanged between the two teams. Maybe they both need to be ranked. But you can’t deny that the team that won this game feels extra energized afterward, and the team that lost feels completely deflated. A game like this can motivate the players on both sides even more to perform better in future matchups. For a Missouri fanbase that will have to wait at least a few more years before they actually start playing Kansas again, you can’t ask for much better than that.