It’s worth repeating, Arkansas’ run defense limited LSU to 36 yards rushing on 32 carries in a 17-0 win and only allowed Mississippi 63 yards rushing on 33 carries in a 30-0 win during the two games before meeting Missouri on Friday at Memorial Stadium.
The 17th-ranked Tigers hadn’t been terrible offensively but trailed 14-6 entering the fourth quarter.
Field position had something to do with it, but a couple big pass plays to open the final period allowed the Tigers to tie things up with a season-long 98-yard touchdown drive.
It also softened up the Razorbacks’ run defense, setting the stage for arguably an even more impressive drive that vaulted MU into the lead.
With the SEC East title in the balance, Missouri put together a 12-play, 85-drive.
It featured one pass, an incompletion to Sean Culkin, on the fourth play and also included a false start in the red zone.
The other 11 plays were runs as the Tigers jammed the ball down the Razorbacks’ throat for 90 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
“We were going to do it for the seniors, we were going to do it for the SEC championship and we just put it all on the line,” said senior Marcus Murphy, who had five carries for 37 yards and the go-ahead 12-yard touchdown on the drive.
Of course, it without the Missouri defense’s performance, the touchdown might not have mattered as much. Here are a few other observations:
1. Dominant defense
Arkansas had only one drive longer than 47 yards — an 11-play, 70-yard march capped by Jonathan Williams 23-yard catch and run on its first possession of the game.
The Razorbacks converted all three third downs on that drive, but the Tigers’ defense stiffened the rest of the way.
“We came out a little off and making a few small mistakes,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We needed to tackle better. They were converting on third down by like one yard every time.”
Arkansas went two of 11 on third down and mustered only 218 yards the rest of the way after jumping in front 7-0.
“We felt like we were beating ourselves,” senior defensive end Markus Golden said. “We felt like we were missing tackles and letting them get extra yards by not wrapping up, but we fixed it.”
The Razorbacks’ other touchdown came on a six-play, 31-yard drive after a low, line-drive punt allowed Jared Cornelius to bust a 35-yard return.
It was the longest drive — 3 minutes, 43 seconds — Arkansas managed aside from the initial scoring drive.
The Razorbacks had a nine-play, 47-yard drive that lasted 3:25 in the third quarter.
Arkansas tried two fake punts on the possession.
The first worked for a 23-yard gain on fourth-and-nine, but junior defensive end Shane Ray and sophomore cornerback John Gibson sniffed out a second fake and stopped Kody Walker for no gain.
The Razorbacks’ last gasp was an 11-play, 40-yard drive after the Tigers took a 21-14 lead.
Much like during the loss to Indiana, a key defensive penalty — Ray’s roughing the passer when he drilled Brandon Allen in the back after the play had been whistled dead because of a false start — kept the drive going.
Unlike the loss to the Hoosiers, Missouri got the stop it needed when junior Kentrell Brothers jarred the ball from Alex Collins and Golden won a wrestling match with the Arkansas running back for the loose football.
2. More on Ray’s personal foul
Arkansas drove into Missouri territory looking for the game-tying score late in the fourth quarter after Ray was flagged for a late hit on Allen.
“I didn’t realize there was a whistle until after I hit him and all the guys were jumping on me,” Ray said. “I don’t play dirty. I’m all about playing the right way. It’s unfortunate I got the penalty, but I couldn’t hear the whistle. It was loud in the stadium.”
Six plays later, when Golden recovered the fumble that iced a Tigers victory, nobody was happier than Ray.
“He came to the sideline and he said, ‘Shane, I pulled that ball out,’” Ray said. “I said, ‘Hey, I believe you,’ and we said they need to look at that.”
MU coach Gary Pinkel already was talking to the officials, urging them to take a look at the play, which was originally ruled a 3-yard gain but overturned upon review.
3. Missouri makes its own luck
It never hurts to have a little luck.
Missouri trailed 7-3 when Murphy muffed a punt at the 19-yard line.
Fortunately for the Tigers, he scrambled to recover the ball at the MU 15 and avert an early disaster.
Down 14-3, Missouri’s defense came up with a critical turnover when Golden stripped Williams and Donavin Newsom recovered the fumble.
Of course, Mauk gave the ball right back when a short throw to tight end Sean Culkin was tipped by sophomore tackle Darius Philon and intercepted by sophomore cornerback D.J. Dean.
The Razorbacks didn’t do anything with the gift and the Tigers dodged a bullet on their next drive when a fumble by Mauk was overturned by video review.
Arkansas would have been set up at the Missouri 19-yard line.
Instead, the Tigers — given the reprieve — netted a 50-yard field goal by Baggett as the first half expired and pulled within 14-6 at halftime.
Missouri put together the most promising drive of a scoreless third quarter, but a Bud Sasser personal foul led to a 35-yard field-goal try, which was blocked by Arkansas’ 6-foot-10 offensive lineman, Dan Skipper.
Sasser also had a fumble — only the second one MU has lost this season — that ended a drive near midfield, but the Tigers’ defense held as it did throughout a second-half shutout.