Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Clay Henry's Top 10 Keys: Arkansas vs. Missouri
Arkansas players lift the Battle Line Trophy after beating Missouri 28-3 on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
What’s in a number? It’s a lot of crazy good fun and a lot of luck.
This week’s Arkansas game with Missouri will finish the 30th regular season in the life of Hawgs Illustrated. The next printing will be the January 2022 edition of the magazine, Volume 31, Issue 1. It will be the 588th magazine printed.
Mostly over the last 30 seasons, HI has been printed 20 times per calendar year, but there were only 12 in the first year because the magazine started in the spring. To be precise it was April 13, 1992, on a Friday.
I love 13s so much that we put Jason Allen, wearing No. 13 on our first cover. We’ve been lucky ever since.
There was only one pause where the sanity of such a project was questioned. Jean Ann, my wife of 43 years, reminded me last night about the drive home after the first game in the life of the magazine, an upset loss to The Citadel.
“What have we gotten ourselves into?” she said, with an obvious reference that fan magazines do better with a winning team. (Yes, I am thankful for Sam Pittman.)
Any uncertainty faded quickly. What you do is focus on the task at hand, printing another magazine and quickly move on to the next. In the off years, Jean Ann knew to stay clear of Dillards with her Christmas shopping.
I wasn’t the owner at the outset, acquiring the magazine in the fourth year, with help from silent partner George Billingsley. It was sold in Year 14 to Stephens Media. Gradually, that organization handed over ownership to WEHCO, where the magazine is now part of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
It’s been a labor of love. I have never looked for another job in these 30 seasons and none were offered. Yes, it’s a grind to do a weekly magazine during football season. Days off are rare. Mostly, the best I do is get half of a day to hit golf balls or wet a fly in a trout stream. It’s important to take a little break.
You can do that when the support team is strong. And, that’s really what this commentary is about.
The reason I sold the magazine to a media company was to get some real help. I was the only employee for the longest, filling in needs with contract labor.
There was terrific help in those early days. The best was Dudley Dawson, the HI recruiting writer from the start. He knows what I’m going to do before I do it. I’m about the same with him. Our only issue comes when I don’t give him enough direction when we need a change in course. I assume he’s already thought of it.
And, there is Brad Dunn, our general manager, the catch-all title we agreed upon when he became our director of sales after leaving basketball coaching in 2002. His No. 1 goal — and he’s said that to me many times — is to never create a problem. He’s a fixer. When he mentions an issue, he’s already got the solution.
My title is still publisher, but that’s really not accurate. I’m really the executive editor, because I don’t sign the checks anymore. The reason I sold was to take that pressure away.
I’d discussed my predicament of growth with a couple of fan magazine publishers almost two decades ago. I needed help. I could hire a business manager or an editor and pick between those two jobs for my future with the magazine. Or, I could sell.
The advice was not to let anyone handle “my” money. And because I liked the editor part the best, I sold.
It’s given me a chance to work with the best newspaper folks in the business. I don’t have to deal with circulation or the business end. No longer am I the graphic designer.
There has been outstanding editorial content from the start, partly because I learned quickly that if you are gong to call your publication “Illustrated” there must be good photos.
In the early days, I leaned heavily on freelance shooters: James Smith, Chris Carroll, Walt Beazley and Tom Ewart. In the later years, the newspaper staff photographers — and that may be one dozen — have contributed outstanding portraits and action shots. Spencer Tirey, the chief photographer at the paper, has wonderful shooters.
Marc Henning, Jason Ivester and Ben Goff all worked multiple years as full-time shooters for the magazine, helping with the paper as time allowed. Andy Shupe and Charlie Kaijo have been covering the bulk of the game shots of late, but there are a host of other top-shelf shooters from the paper who give us great photos.
I once spent hours pouring over negatives and slides to pick photos. Now Matt Jones does that. He’s the do-everything man for the magazine and WholeHogSports, the website that he upgraded for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and finally merged with HawgsIllustrated.com.
There was a time when Matt was helping with both websites, doubling his work. He did it without complaint. At the same time, he was producing quality features and commentaries for the magazine. His love of baseball has helped enhance coverage of that sport on all of our platforms, print and digital.
He’s picked all the photos for the magazine the last two years. He’s got a great working knowledge of the digital archives because of his time producing historical sports books. His deft touch in so many mediums and knowledge of Razorback history has been a tremendous asset.
Matt’s strengths are many. He can be a great writer, if that’s his full-time focus. But he’s also got three three pre-schoolers to track along with about four jobs for our company. But what he’s really good at is editing. I send everything I write to Matt. My stuff reads better after Matt has worked it.
My time spent working with the newspaper has been glorious. The charge when I sold to Stephens Media: write a weekly column for their papers. I’ve done that, but it’s sometimes become two during football season.
Rusty Turner, executive editor for the NWADG, gets credit for the GameDay Extra project. I’d long written this column with the expanded keys to victory for our website. He wondered if it could also run as a special tabloid in the newspaper.
Todd Nelson, then NWADG president, encouraged us to develop that idea and then promoted it. Our advertising director Brent Powers, now the current NWADG president, made sure his team sold it.
It’s been a fun ride all across the Southeastern Conference. Our team has designed creative ways to get to games and produce a weekly magazine. There have been private chartered flights, company planes, commercial planes and of late just lots of driving (because of my covid fears).
Getting photos back to the production office was a challenge in the early years. We got “gate to gate” service with a plastic bag full of film canisters. Other times we took a portable dark room to process film, scan the images and build the pages for the disk to plate process to the printer.
Sometimes computer towers with big monitors were set up in motel rooms to handle the production. There was no WiFi in the early days of the Internet. Downloading finished pages was sometimes done at copy shop.
When Walmart added photo processing, we sometimes contracted for after-hour work in an SEC town. If they seemed reluctant to keep someone late in a Walmart photo lab in Athens, Ga., it was not uncommon for me to mention that our magazine was located in Bentonville and that the Waltons love the Razorbacks.
A store manager probably knew that and it wasn’t a terrible stretch. We did live in Rogers during those days.
Flying on a Stephens, Inc., Falcon jet changed things for about 10 years. Those feature WiFi in the cabin. Getting picked up at Drake Field in Fayetteville will make me forever appreciate Warren Stephens.
I will never forget the look on the face of a magazine subscriber when my wife and I walked into Herman’s Ribhouse for a dinner the night the Hogs won an early game in Columbia, Mo.
“You didn’t go to the game today?” he asked.
Oh, yes. Been there, done that. We wrote on the plane trip home.
The production group has changed through the years, but two constants of late have been Fran Johnson and Kai Caddy. Fran reads copy and tracks ads. Kai does the graphic design. His covers are amazing.
The writing team has changed through the years, but the feature writing of late has been off the charts with Jimmy Carter and Scottie Bordelon. Scottie came over from the paper to produce analysis for WholeHogSports and I run many of his best projects. We’ve always had solid writing, including many columns and features produced by Harry King and Nate Allen.
My job has always been easier than some suspect because of great help in the newspaper business offices. Sandy Robinson, Sandy Thompson, Cathy Staggs and Carla Gardner polish and caress my budgets. They make me the star at every turn.
This week’s game with Missouri reminds of when I first got into covering big-time college sports. I’d spent time working at the Arkansas Gazette in high school and college, then worked a couple of years as the sports editor of the Conway Log Cabin Democrat.
Sports editor Bill Connors asked me to become a college football writer at the Tulsa World in the summer of 1978
My first week — without a day in the office — began with the Big 8 Conference Skywriters Tour. The first plane trip originated (with writers and broadcasters on a 52-seat Convair 440) in Manhattan, Kan., and landed at Columbia, Mo.
A huge chunk of tread from the nose wheel was lost on takeoff. The tower radioed to the pilot that we could have trouble making a safe landing. There were some serious looks around the cabin.
However, some decided humor was the better approach. There were some great one-liners, per the usual with that kind of a crowd.
“If you survive, here is a good phone number in Ames,” said one writer.
The radio play-by-play man from Oklahoma said, “There are about 50 bad jobs about to open up.”
I couldn’t help but join in.
“It’s sad,” I said, “because no one at the Tulsa World knows how good I am yet.”
I got nervous when Daily Oklahoman columnist Bob Hurt took out a notepad and jotted that down.
Our landing was without issue, although we were coached on the “brace position” with heads between knees. I forgot about what I’d said until the next week when I walked into the Tulsa World newsroom for the first time and Hurt’s column was pinned on the bulletin board.
Terrell Lester, the night editor and also a talented writer, introduced himself and said, “You did OK on the Skywriters Tour, but we’ll see how you write on deadline at night football games.”
I’ve taken that as my lifetime challenge. Deadlines — even at night — should never be an excuse to do anything but your best work.
But here’s what I’ve learned: you are only as good as those around you. I’ve been lucky all my life in that regard.
So while you move on to the keys to victory, know that on this Thanksgiving I am appreciative of the many who have helped make me look good and know that good luck trumps everything.
There is a segment later on all of the different connections between the two states and schools in this game, but one stands alone. Eli Drinkwitz, the second-year Missouri head coach, hails from Alma and is a graduate of Arkansas Tech.
Interestingly, before last year’s trip to Columbia, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman indicated that he had developed a friendship of sorts with Drinkwitz, perhaps because they were both first-year SEC coaches.
That does not appear to have lasted. Pittman noted Monday that he had not talked with Drinkwitz of late.
Drinkwitz is an odd sort. He gigged Florida coach Dan Mullen after the victory over the Gators last week, bringing a toy light saber. It was to mock Mullen who wore a Darth Vader outfit the year before on Halloween.
Drinkwitz seemed to frustrate Arkansas coaches last year with signals from the bench to have defensive players go down in mock injuries during some of the hurry-up drives by the UA offense.
If you want to see the two most interesting matchups of the game, watch the middle of the field.
Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg is assigned the task of blocking Fayetteville native Akial Byers, the Mizzou nose tackle.
Conversely, Arkansas nose tackle John Ridgeway takes on Mizzou center Michael Maeitti. In pre-season SEC coaches voted Maeitti the league’s best. He’s a senior graduate and considered an intense and solid competitor. Although only 6-1, 290, Maeitti could give the bigger Ridgeway a strong battle.
This is an area that Arkansas might have an edge with just the one offseason move, the transfer of Tre Williams from Missouri to Arkansas. He’s the UA leader with 6.5 sacks.
But of late, the Hogs have been bringing pressure with linebacker and nickel blitzes. Hayden Henry leads the Hogs with 9.5 tackles for lost yardage. He’s been involved in pressure moves the last two games.
Missouri’s sack leader is end Isaiah McGuire with 3.5.
Neither team has featured a lot of pressures this season. Missouri (10th) and Arkansas (12th) rank near the bottom of the SEC in sacks. Neither give up many and each team had only one in last year’s offensive slugfest.
This is something that has become glaring on the Arkansas end: the Hogs trail the series with the Tigers, 9-3.
Pittman probably is tired of pointing to that with a following comment that you have to win some to make it a rivalry. Arkansas has lost five straight in the series.
This has to play into the motivation. The Hogs almost snapped the streak last year when Missouri kicked a field goal to end the game in a 50-48 victory in Columbia.
Whether or not the series has developed into a true rivalry game is up for debate, but they will be playing for the Battle Line Trophy.
The Hogs have been strong in this department of late. There was a fumbled snap that was lost against Alabama, but quarterback KJ Jefferson did not throw an interception against the Tide. Alabama had intercepted an Arkansas pass every season since 1998.
Jefferson has only three interceptions on the season. By contrast, Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak has thrown 10 picks. Bazelak has thrown 10 fewer TDs than Jefferson.
The Tigers do excel in one area: ball security. They lead the nation with only one lost fumble. Arkansas has lost five.
Arkansas is second in the SEC in fewest total turnovers lost with just eight, four fewer than the Tigers, who are sixth best the league.
Yes, that’s a typo, a Freudian slip that almost made it into last week’s Hawgs Illustrated magazine. Treylon Burks could be nicknamed “Treylong.”
Burks leads the Hogs in plays over 20 yards. He’s got 20, including 18 via the pass.
The junior wide receiver from Warren, likely playing his final game at home, leads the Hogs with 59 catches for a 16.5-yard average. He’s caught 10 of Jefferson’s 20 touchdown passes.
The most important information of the week came Monday when Pittman suggested Burks would be “fine” by game time despite soreness from some hard hits taken in the Alabama game.
One week after having a shootout with Alabama, it’s hard not to recall that last year’s game with Missouri was a similar type game for the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks won the fourth quarter at Alabama 14-8. They did not last year at Columbia when the Tigers outlasted them 27-15.
The key aspect of the game was linebacker play. Neither team could manage many stops after losing key linebackers.
Arkansas did not have an answer for Tyler Badie on the ground after losing linebacker Grant Morgan late in the game. The Tigers finished with 653 yards, with around half of that coming in the final quarter when they had drives of 61, 60, 80, 82 and 75 yards.
The Tigers had little defense after losing All-America linebacker Nick Bolton to a targeting penalty in the second quarter.
It’s never as simple as one thing, but it would appear the team that stops the run has the advantage. Here are the numbers in the running game on both sides of the ball and SEC rankings:
• Arkansas rushing offense (222.3 per game, 2nd SEC), Arkansas rushing defense (147.7, 8th).
• Missouri rushing offense (172.4, 9th), Missouri rushing defense (234.4, 14th).
The single-most effective player in all of those numbers is Badie with 227 carries for 1,385 yards, a 6.1-yard average. He has scored 13 TDs.
If the Mizzou QB Bazelak isn’t handing Badie the ball, he’s throwing it to him. Badie leads the Mizzou receivers with 53 catches for 335 yards, a 6.3 average. He has four TD receptions.
The Hogs spread their carries among four backs: Trelon Smith (110-555), Jefferson (120-496), Dominique Johnson (80-479) and Raheim Sanders (93-478).
In the enemy-is-among-us category, there are several players and coaches with ties to the other school. It makes for some interesting matchups.
Arkansas defensive coaches Barry Odom (coordinator, safeties), Sam Carter (cornerbacks) and Michael Scherer (linebackers) all coached at Missouri before landing in Fayetteville under Pittman. Odom was head coach at Missouri before the move.
Odom and Scherer both played at Mizzou. Carter played at TCU.
Williams and Markell Utsey, both defensive ends, played at Missouri before moving to Arkansas at the start of the summer. Both are starters for Odom, the man who recruited them to Mizzou.
Alfred Davis is the defensive line coach at Missouri, moving from an analyst role during the season when Drinkwitz fired Jethro Franklin. The Tigers were struggling to stop the run before that change and have improved since.
Johnson, the Arkansas running back, was committed to Missouri before making the switch just before signing day.
Missouri has two key players from Fayetteville High School: wide receiver Barrett Banister (24 catches, 160 yards, 6.7 average) and Byers (22 tackles, 3.5 sacks).
Drinkwitz has an Arkansas connection on the staff in offensive analyst Rick Jones, the former head coach at Greenwood. Jones coached Morgan at Greenwood.
It could be one of the rare large crowds in this series since the two began playing SEC games. Cold weather has been a problem in some years for this late-season matchup.
It probably isn’t the greatest weekend for drawing a big crowd, especially on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a big shopping day.
However, Pittman said this week that his in-house reports indicate big ticket sales. He said crowd support has been a factor in solid play this season in home games.
“We’re excited to play Missouri,” Pittman said. “We’re excited that we have an opportunity to play here in our home stadium. They’re a hot team right now. They’ve won their last two games.
“They’re coming in here I’m sure with a lot of confidence, and we’re excited to have a big crowd here. I’m hearing estimates of 65-70,000.
“We certainly hope that’s the case because Razorback Nation helped us win the Mississippi State game. We’re encouraging everybody to have a whole lot of turkey and come out and help us win on Friday.”
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