Missouri got exactly what it needed last weekend: a breather against New Mexico State, a low-stress game which allowed players to refill the fuel tank for one last ride in the regular season.
By Matt Zemek
Now the Tigers can gear up for Arkansas, a team they need to beat if they want to make a bowl game in 2022. Arkansas has had a very difficult season marked by underperformance, inconsistency, and injuries to key players such as quarterback K.J. Jefferson. However, Jefferson looked good – in other words, more like himself – this past weekend in a romp over Ole Miss. Arkansas looked a lot more like the team we saw at the start of the season when the Hogs beat Cincinnati and then South Carolina to go 2-0 and set up bigger games ahead. Arkansas stumbled in those big games, but the Ole Miss win clinched bowl eligibility for UA and has the Razorbacks in a much better mood for this Black Friday throwdown versus the Tigers. Let’s see what Missouri needs to do in order to prevail.
1 – Balanced efficiency
When discussing time of possession, it’s notable that one of the games in which Mizzou didn’t control the ball to a considerable extent was against New Mexico State. That’s because they had no need to control the clock. They controlled just about everything else. Brady Cook used his arm as well as his legs to keep the NMSU defense guessing. That balance gave the Tigers a much more complete offense. The running game and the receivers benefited as a result. A similar performance can give them an optimal chance of beating Arkansas.
2 – Force KJ Jefferson to be dynamic
The Tigers understand that allowing Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson to dictate the pace and structure of the game will likely result in a loss. Mizzou has a defense that might be capable of limiting Jefferson’s preferred style of play. If Missouri is able to keep him guessing where the pressure is coming from while standing in the pocket, the Tigers can cause Arkansas to lose the clarity and rhythm it quickly developed in the first half of the Ole Miss win (a 42-27 game in which Arkansas led 42-6) last week.
3 – Brady needs to Cook one more time
However Missouri performs in this game, most of it will depend on the arm of Brady Cook. If Eli Drinkwitz can get Cook to carry his precision and accuracy from last week into this game, that’s a huge step forward for the Tigers. It’s not as though Missouri can count on that type of performance, so the Tigers need to be able to lean on their defense if necessary. However, if this team wants to be its best self, the ultimate version of what Drinkwitz envisions for the program, Cook has to shine. He has been at his best when he has been put in a position to succeed. That happens when balance exists in the offense. When Drinkwitz supplements Cook’s improvisational skills with an effective and timely use of the run game, things work. When he doesn’t, Missouri falls short.
The Tigers can’t afford to fall short here – not if they want to go bowling.