Streaking Missouri aims to cap turnaround against Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Missouri coach Barry Odom was the one feeling as much pressure as anyone else in the Southeastern Conference a month ago.
These days, Odom is at the forefront of one of the hottest teams in the league – with the Tigers (6-5, 3-4) winners of five straight games entering their regular season finale at Arkansas (4-7, 1-6) on Friday.
Missouri hopes to put a six-game exclamation point on its remarkable turnaround from a 1-5 start to the season this weekend. The Tigers have already clinched their first bowl game since 2014, and they’ve done so in nothing short of dominating fashion.
Including last week’s 45-17 victory over Vanderbilt, Missouri has averaged a winning margin of 35.4 points per game during its streak.
This, from a team that was considered the bottom of the SEC barrel after a 51-14 loss to No. 6 Auburn on Sept. 23 – a loss after which Odom expressed his frustration with the mounting pressure and growing fan disinterest in Columbia.
”We’re playing our best football right now,” Odom said. ”… We were able to paint a picture (of where the program could go during the losing streak), and they bought into it.”
Like Missouri earlier this season, the Razorbacks are dealing with their own dose of turmoil at the moment. Last week’s 28-21 loss to No. 16 Mississippi State guaranteed Arkansas’ third losing season in the last six years, and it came days after the school fired former athletic director Jeff Long.
There’s likely more uncertainty ahead in the days following Friday’s game for Arkansas – in particular for fifth-year coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks fell to 29-33 under the former Wisconsin coach with last week’s loss, and they are now 11-28 in the SEC over the last five seasons.
Some things to watch in possibly Bielema’s final game at Arkansas:
Arkansas has lost nine of its last 13 games, a spiral that began with an epic second-half collapse last season at Missouri. The Razorbacks have only one win over a Power 5 conference opponent since then, a 38-37 win over Mississippi on Oct. 28, while the Tigers have surged ahead in the last month. ”The last five games, they’ve been able to take advantage of the moment and flip the switch,” Bielema said. ”… I have a lot of respect for Barry; I’ve known him for a while. He got them playing at a high level after a short amount of time after some setbacks.”
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley missed last week’s game after being suspended following his arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The freshman started four games earlier this season while starter Austin Allen was injured, and he’s likely to return once again to the bench on Friday with Allen starting the final game of his collegiate career.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock leads the SEC in both passing yards (3,247) and passing efficiency this season. The junior has been at his best during the Tigers winning streak, throwing for 21 touchdown and only three interceptions and earning high praise from Bielema. ”When he’s rolling, and what they’ve been able to do this year, the last five games in particular … ”Bielema said. ”When he plays well, they play well and score points.”
Speaking of Lock, the Missouri signal caller needs only three touchdown passes on Friday to set the SEC record for a season. Former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson holds the record with 40 in 2007, and Lock enters the weekend with 38 touchdown passes on the season.
Despite last week’s loss, Arkansas put together one of its best defensive performances of the season last week. The Razorbacks were led by sophomore defensive end McTelvin Agim, who had 9 tackles, 2 + tackles for losses, a sack and two forced fumbles in the defeat.
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