Missouri capped its dramatic surge in the second half of the regular season on Black Friday with its six straight win, 48-45 over Arkansas in Fayetteville.
After five straight blowout wins, the Tigers (7-5, 4-4 in SEC play) had to battle for this one. It turned out to be the last game for Bret Bielema as the head coach at Arkansas, but even with little to play for beyond pride, the Razorbacks (4-8, 1-7 in SEC) played hard. Missouri trailed 42-38 early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers responded with an 8-play, 89-yard touchdown drive, capped with a Drew Lock touchdown pass to J’Mon Moore. It was a tremendous catch by Moore, even if there was some contact and Arkansas was lobbying for offensive pass interference on the play.
It was Lock’s fifth touchdown pass of the day, giving him 43 for the season, breaking the Southeastern Conference single season record of 40.
Arkansas answered with a field goal to tie the game at 45, but then Missouri drove down and bled the clock, with Tucker McCann kicking a short little 19-yard field goal for the win with five seconds left.
Missouri’s offense had another big day, piling up 696 yards, and Lock threw for 448 yards. Moore and Emmanuel Hall both had over 100 receiving yards. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri’s freshman tight end sensation, caught two touchdown passes.
Senior running back Ish Witter had one of the great days of his career in his final regular season game, going for 170 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries.
A robust contingent of Missouri fans made the trip down to Arkansas’ beautiful campus in the Ozarks for the game. The Tigers had already locked up bowl eligibility, but it was a gorgeous, warm late November day in the Ozarks and another Missouri win in the Battle Line Rivalry. Other rivalries are bigger and more weighty, but few, if any, rivalries have a bigger and more weighty rivalry trophy than this one, a massive silver outline of Missouri and Arkansas that is more than four feet tall and weighs nearly 200 pounds.
In clinching a winning record for Missouri, Friday’s game looked back on the achievement of salvaging this season over the last six weeks, but it also pointed ahead to a intriguing future for the Tigers. Even facing several programs in disarray, Missouri’s six straight wins after a 1-5 start was an impressive display of competitiveness and plain old persistence.
As for next season, assuming Lock returns for his senior season, the Tigers have a shot to begin the season ranked or close to it, with a September game against Georgia at Faurot Field already looking big.
But first Missouri is off to a bowl game. We should know where on Sunday. The Music City Bowl in Nashville and the Liberty Bowl in Memphis seem like frontrunners, but there are several possible destinations for the Tigers. Wherever they go, it’ll be a nice reward for not giving up on this season.