First-year Missouri coach Barry Odom played the role of Dr. Frankenstein at halftime Friday during the Battle Line Rivalry at Memorial Stadium.
The lifeless Tigers dug a 17-point hole against Arkansas before intermission only to rally for a 28-24 victory after Odom reanimated his squad at halftime, then rode a gutsy fake-punt call to a second win in the season’s final three games.
Rather than pack it in, Mizzou, 4-8, pitched a second-half shutout and scored three unanswered touchdowns for the largest halftime comeback in program history, sending 17 seniors out with a win in front of a crowd of 51,043.
“There’s been a lot of distractions these past 12 months … last year with the protest and coach (Gary) Pinkel retiring,” said junior defensive end Marcell Frazier, who finished with a career-high three sacks and four tackles for a loss. “We’re kind of used to distractions, honestly. It’s kind of sad to say, but we’re used to it, so this was just another week for us.”
But it wasn’t just another win.
It’s the second-largest comeback win in MU history, topped only by the 21-point rally in the 2005 Independence Bowl against South Carolina.
“It felt great to get the win, especially the seniors,” said junior defensive end Charles Harris, who will take a few weeks to decide if he’ll declare for the NFL Draft or return for his senior season. “ … Just the look on their face, it made the season and all the ups and downs worth it.”
Arkansas, 7-5, dominated time of possession nearly five-to-one in the first half, including three scoring drives of at least 5:22 compared to a grand total of 5:40 time of possession for Mizzou.
The Hogs needed only two plays — a 66-yard bootleg pass from junior Austin Allen to senior wide receiver Keon Hatcher, which set up a 1-yard score by sophomore Rawleigh Williams III — to grab the lead.
Two plays after recovering his own muffed punt, redshirt freshman Johnathon Johnson dashed 82 yards on a jet sweep. That led to J’Mon Moore’s non-traditional ninth touchdown of the season on a fumble recovery in the end zone.
Running back Ish Witter appeared to score on an 8-yard run, but replay showed that he flipped the ball from his hand before reaching the end zone.
“I instituted a rule right there with Ish,” Odom said. “If we get lucky enough to score again, hand the ball to the official.”
Fortunately for the Tigers, video also showed Moore scooped up the loose ball.
“I knew he fumbled, but I didn’t want to sprint to the ball, because I didn’t know if an Arkansas defender was going to notice that I was trying to get on the ball,” said Moore, who finished with six catches for 135 yards. “I had to play it off and sneak up on it.”
The Razorbacks scored the next 17 points, including a 16-play drive that went 91 yards and lasted 9 minutes in building a 24-7 lead at halftime.
The Tigers, who were outgained 318-137 in the first half as Arkansas ran 49 plays — 30 more than Mizzou — discovered a pulse in the locker room.
Sophomore Nate Strong capped the opening drive of the second half with a 2-yard touchdown, igniting the comeback.
Freshman linebacker Cale Garrett — who finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including two for a loss — snuffed out the Hogs’ ensuing 13-play drive, intercepting Allen at the goal line.
Odom then green-lighted a fake punt from MU’s 7-yard line, which junior safety Anthony Sherrils picked up with a 14-yard run off a direct snap.
“I knew at that point in the game it would be a momentum boost for us if we could go get it,” Odom said. “It would look bad if we didn’t get it, but I didn’t think about that part of it.”
Two plays later, Lock lobbed a perfect pass that Johnson hauled in for a 67-yard touchdown, and the Tigers took their first lead on the next drive after a critical three-and-out by the defense.
Strong — who finished with 17 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs — did the honors with a 1-yard plunge after Moore topped 1,000 yards for the season with a field-flipping 49-yard reception.
“We finally played as a full team, offense and defense, in one half and came out with the win,” said Lock, who finished 16 of 26 for 268 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Arkansas’ final two drives ended with an interception by senior cornerback Aarion Penton — “That was in the north end zone, by the way,” Odom noted — and Frazier’s third sack on fourth-and-10 at the MU 20, a situation eerily similar to a Sept. 17 loss against Georgia.
Penton admitted the Georgia loss briefly entered his mind, but he said, “I kept yelling and telling the team, ‘Let’s finish. This is it. It’s the last game of the season, so give it all you’ve got.’ The 11 men on the field, we did it.”
Missouri 28, Arkansas 24
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
ARK: Ra.Williams 1 run (McFain kick), 14:05
MU: J’.Moore fumble recovery in endzone (McCann kick), 9:44
ARK: Whaley 30 run (McFain kick), 4:13
ARK: Cantrell 5 pass from Allen (McFain kick), 8:05
ARK: FG McFain 33, 1:08
MU: Strong 2 run (McCann kick), 11:53
MU: J.Johnson 67 pass from Lock (McCann kick), 2:07
MU: Strong 1 run (McCann kick), 12:48
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Arkansas, Ra.Williams 25-117, Whaley 8-54, Hammonds 3-10, D.Morgan 1-8, Cornelius 2-(minus 2), Allen 7-(minus 32). Missouri, J.Johnson 2-81, Strong 17-52, Sherrils 1-14, Witter 5-12, Floyd 1-5, J’.Moore 0-0, (Team) 2-(minus 7), Lock 2-(minus 26).
PASSING: Arkansas, Allen 24-39-2-348. Missouri, Lock 16-26-0-268.
RECEIVING: Arkansas, D.Morgan 6-54, Sprinkle 4-48, Reed 4-46, Hatcher 3-106, Cornelius 3-23, Ra.Williams 1-52, H.Johnson 1-7, Whaley 1-7, Cantrell 1-5. Missouri, J’.Moore 6-135, Mason 5-62, J.Johnson 2-70, Blanton 1-1, Culkin 1-0, Witter 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Arkansas, McFain 48.