Mizzou football: Rivalry game with Arkansas will be measuring stick for Tigers
It’s Arkansas week. While this game is called the Battle Line Rivalry, there are 2 bigger storylines at play on Saturday than a rivalry.
Story No. 1 is that the contest will be an important measuring-stick game for Mizzou. Story No. 2 is Eli Drinkwitz’s offense vs. former Mizzou head coach Barry Odom’s defense.
Make no mistake about it — this is a big game for the Tigers, because it will tell how far along Drinkwitz’s team actually is. Excuses can be — and were — made for each of Mizzou’s 4 wins, so let’s go through some of them.
Against LSU on Oct. 10, Mizzou’s offense put up 45 points and 586 total yards in a good win for the program at Faurot Field. But so what? The 2020 version of LSU isn’t the same as the 2019-national-champ version of LSU, and that Bo Pelini-led defense was terrible, right?
The Kentucky game on Oct. 24 was another solid win that ended a 5-game losing streak to the Wildcats. But the Cats are 1-dimensional, and they struggle mightily throwing the forward pass.
Mizzou hung on for a close win over South Carolina on the road on Nov. 21. But the Gamecocks were days removed from their head coach getting fired and 2 of their best players opting to sit out to focus on the NFL Draft.
And Vandy? Well, Vandy is Vandy. No one cared that Mizzou won last Saturday’s game by 41 points. People focused on the story they should have: Sarah Fuller becoming the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 college football game.
But Arkansas is different. First-year head coach Sam Pittman has turned the Razorbacks into a respectable and tough group. Mizzou fans should already be happy with what Drinkwitz has shown in his short time in Columbia. But if the Tigers come out of this game with a win, whether it looks pretty or not, what’s the excuse going to be? There shouldn’t be one, because it’d be a great win for Drinkwitz that should pump even more confidence into the fan base and show that the program is trending in the right direction.
That leaves the 2nd storyline for Saturday’s game: Drinkwitz’s offense vs. Odom’s defense.
Part of the reason Arkansas is where it’s at is because of the job Odom has done with Wooo Pig Soooie’s defense, which was last in the SEC in scoring last season but is 10th right now.
The Razorbacks are allowing just 6.6 yards per pass attempt, which is tied for 1st in the SEC with Alabama. Arkansas leads the SEC in interceptions with 13 — yeah, the 6-interception day against Ole Miss helps that stat.
How will Drinkwitz’s offense attack Odom’s defense?
Sure, rushing for 223 yards and 5.9 yards per carry on Saturday was a byproduct of playing Vandy and their SEC-worst defense. But it was also the 1st time in quite a while that Mizzou had 5 of their best offensive linemen playing together after getting back Larry Borom and Xavier Delgado.
Borom and Delgado made a difference up front, and it showed. Arkansas’ defensive front is a different animal than Vandy’s, however, so it will be interesting to see how Drinkwitz attacks this. Running back Larry Rountree was humming last week, and that’s a fun sight to watch.
Another area to watch will come on the other side of the ball — how well Arkansas protects Feleipe Franks.
The Razorbacks have given up 25 sacks, which is the 2nd most in the SEC behind South Carolina. Mizzou’s defense is coming off its best day getting after the quarterback, as it recorded 4 sacks. Again, that may be a product of playing Vandy, but it doesn’t hurt that the Tigers’ pass rushers have some confidence to work with now.
There are storylines galore in this one, folks. Both teams should be juiced and ready to go. Arkansas will want to end Mizzou’s 4-game win streak in this rivalry. Odom will want to stick it to Mizzou athletic director Jim Serk. Drinkwitz, an Arkansas native, wants to beat the program that was once rumored to be interested in his services, but picked Pittman instead.
Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. CT, and it can’t come soon enough.