Harry King is a columnist for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he has covered sports in Arkansas since the 1960s, including 35 years for the Associated Press. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year seven times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
King: A different Tiger tale
Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant warms up before the start of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
LITTLE ROCK — Cherry picking notes accumulated during the first 42 minutes of Arkansas’ form-following loss to LSU, a road map for a victory over Missouri can be found.
Call the equation old-fashioned — contributions in all three phases of the game, plus a little help from the opponent.
The sequence begins with a Sam Loy punt to the LSU 7 followed by Greg Brooks’ pass break up. A roughing the passer penalty on LSU resulted in the Razorbacks’ second first down and Treylon Burks’ superb catch between two defenders set up the first of two Connor Limpert field goals.
The next LSU possession began with a six-yard loss and a holding penalty and ended with a short punt. Arkansas’ well-designed screen pass — KJ Jefferson looked left and then threw right to Rakeem Boyd — netted 29 yards. A double reverse was also productive although Burks was oblivious to the first down marker, same as Jefferson on two occasions.
On third-and-long, Arkansas wisely refused to risk a throw over the middle and Jefferson’s deep attempt was incomplete. After that, Limpert was good again.
Arkansas ran only a dozen plays in the first quarter, but time of possession was almost dead even because three-fourths of the plays were runs. In today’s world, that is not sexy but shortening the game is a tried-and-true approach that benefits the inferior team.
Admittedly, time of possession is not the end all, and naysayers can quickly cite the Razorbacks trailing by 50 at one point and losing by 36 despite a 20-minute edge over LSU.
The catch is that Missouri has nowhere near the talent of the No. 1 Tigers, particularly on offense where the Baton Rouge bunch may be the best in the land. Expanding a 22-point halftime lead to 43 points, LSU ran four plays that produced 200 yards and required barely a minute.
Meanwhile, Missouri has lost five in a row after a 5-1 start, scoring seven or less three times and never more than 20.
Numbers posted by quarterback Kelly Bryant, recruited to Clemson by recently-fired Arkansas coach Chad Morris, declined dramatically during the losing streak. During the first six games, he completed at least 63.2 percent of his passes five times and was good on 57.6 in a victory over South Carolina.
In the following three games, he topped 53 percent once, missed the 27-0 loss to Georgia with an injury and was 16-of-28 in the 24-20 loss to Tennessee in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday night.
On Missouri’s final three plays, Bryant threw incomplete and lost a total of 12 yards.
In fairness, he was without injured tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who had caught at least two passes in every game.
That said, Missouri is more talented than Arkansas, but the disparity is nowhere close to the chasm between the Razorbacks and LSU. In fact, Missouri is only a 12-point favorite on Friday compared with LSU being favored by 45.
For the past few years, my position concerning the talent at Arkansas has been framed by the same question: Which Razorbacks could start for Alabama?
Occasionally, Razorback defenders mention a couple of players.
While watching Saturday night, I mentally substituted LSU for the Crimson Tide and drew a blank.
When there is such a difference in the athletes’ abilities, simply making up some ground will require at least two, maybe three, recruiting classes in the top 20 — a heads up to those who expect a quick turnaround under the new coach.
Along with the on-field happenings on Friday, there are a couple other talking points:
• The effect of the outcome on Missouri coach Barry Odom and Arkansas interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. Odom’s Tigers are a W shy of becoming bowl eligible - although the NCAA has yet to rule on whether they can play in a bowl while appealing a postseason ban - and have yet to do better than 4-4 in the SEC during his four years. Although he has been part of the Missouri program for 15 years, he could be on the hot seat if Missouri is the first SEC team to lose to Arkansas in more than two years. If that happens, Lunney, who is Arkansas through and through, deserves to be prominent in speculation about Morris’ successor.
• Estimating attendance is as much a guessing game as figuring if one team or the other has an emotional edge. Under the new contract between the UA and the state Department of Parks and Tourism, the benchmark is 47,000. Considering the records of both teams, recent attendance at Fayetteville games and a long-range forecast that includes a 70 percent chance of rain, 40,000 or more would be remarkable.
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