Missouri and Arkansas close out regular season on skids
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The Battle Line Rivalry is still in its relatively infancy for Arkansas and Missouri. For the first time in the sixth such meeting, the game will be for nothing more than bragging rights.
Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) lost an appeal to the NCAA this week and will be banned from postseason play for a long-gone academic fraud case tied to a tutor. Arkansas (2-9, 0-7) is in the SEC cellar for the second straight season. The Razorbacks fired coach Chad Morris after 22 games at the helm on November and has since been led by tight ends coach-turned-interim head coach Barry Lunney Jr.
Someone gets to haul away the Battle Line Trophy on Friday after the game in Little Rock.
Lunney could be starting the fifth different quarterback of the season. Ben Hicks is largely considered out of the picture after he struggled with two touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. Nick Starkel and K.J. Jefferson are still fighting concussions and are considered questionable. John Stephen Jones was ineffective and pulled last time out, against Western Kentucky.
“The quarterback situation is really day-to-day, hour-to-hour still,” Lunney said.
Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant hasn’t been healthy in weeks.
The senior transfer from Clemson, whose No. 2 choice upon leaving that school was Arkansas, has been banged up since late October in a loss to Kentucky. Bryant didn’t play the following week against Georgia, but has since returned, completing 61% of passes for 360 yards, albeit all in losses.
“I think he started the game two weeks in a row really well,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “But as the game goes and you’re getting hit, I think it’s gotten tough.”
STREAKS ON THE LINE
Missouri looked like it would breeze to an upper-SEC East finish during the first half of the season, owning wins over South Carolina and Mississippi, among others. But the Tigers haven’t beaten an opponent since the Rebels on Oct. 12. A loss to Arkansas would be their sixth straight, an ignominious skid that hasn’t been reached since Missouri went 3-8 in 1995.
The Razorbacks have lost 18 straight SEC games, having not beaten a conference opponent since Ole Miss on Oct. 28, 2017. Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC game in its home state since Nov. 12, 2016.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Arkansas’ lack of success is reflected in the statistics. Out of 130 FBS teams, Arkansas is 107th in scoring, 106th in total offense, 126th in scoring defense and 118th in total defense. The Hogs won’t find it easy to score this week: The Tigers have the 23rd best scoring defense in the country.
Lunney closed media access to practice this week, a change from usual protocol. The interim coach said it was mostly because of all the questions about quarterback.
“I think the quarterback situation stuff is just so over-saturated,” he said. “Only we need to know what’s going on behind closed doors in regards to that. I just made the determination that you guys were going to get players (for interviews) later, but not watch practice.”
READY IN THE ROCK
Arkansas has played at least one game annually in Little Rock, the state capital, for about 70 years. The Battle Line Rivalry is this year’s game and will be so again in 2021 and 2023, barring any SEC schedule changes.
The university and War Memorial Stadium came to terms on a new six-year deal to keep a game in the capital city for six years in spring 2018. Before that, the question was raised as to whether the tradition would continue. Little Rock is 189 miles from Fayetteville and Arkansas is the only team that regularly plays a home game away from its home stadium.