Takeaways: Missouri pulls it together for comeback win on Senior Day

The Tigers held Arkansas to zero points in the second half to win the Battle Line Rivalry game.
Senior Tyler Hanneke accepts an embrace from Jason Reese at the senior day game on Sept. 25 in Columbia.

Missouri football came back from a 17-point deficit Friday afternoon to beat Arkansas on senior day, the final game of the season.

Here are six takeaways from the 28-24 Missouri win that was the team’s second Southeastern Conference victory of the year:

Stagnant offense to start

Time of possession told the story of the first half. Arkansas dominated, holding the ball for more than 81 percent of the half — 24:20 to Missouri’s 5:40.

Arkansas converted 17 first downs in the first half, while Missouri converted five. Arkansas was successful on seven of 10 third down attempts. Missouri converted zero of their three attempts.

“On the first play, defensively, I thought we were caught still in the emotions of senior day a little bit,” coach Barry Odom said after the game. “... Offensively in the first half, we were close in a lot of different situations and connecting on some plays — a block here, a catch there. It wasn’t very good, though.”

Sloppiness very nearly cost the Tigers early.

Mizzou’s first score of the game looked like it came on a run from junior running back Ish Witter on first and goal — until officials determined Witter tossed the ball in the air before reaching the end zone.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Odom said. “I instituted a rule right there with Ish: ‘When you score — if we get lucky enough to score again — hand the ball to the official. You do that and act like you’ve been there before.’”

Luckily for Witter and the Tigers, the defense didn’t notice and junior J’Mon Moore casually picked up the ball to complete the touchdown as his teammates celebrated the score.

“If not, it was going to be Arkansas ball with no touchdown,” Odom said. “It makes you sick when you think about what could have happened.”

Later, at the very end of the first half, just as Mizzou was building momentum and entering field goal range, a bad snap led to a fumble to kill the drive.

A gutsy second half led the Tigers back into the game

The Tigers came out of halftime with more fight, and a pair of coaching calls on fourth down helped Missouri mount its comeback.

In the third quarter, senior defensive back Aarion Penton forced an interception nabbed by freshman linebacker Cale Garrett by pressuring Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen.

“It seemed a little surreal,” Garrett said. “It didn’t seem like it had actually happened. I tried to keep the ball, and I tossed it to someone I thought I could trust to hide it for me, but they ended up giving it back to the ballboys.”

To keep the momentum going after that interception, on fourth down with the ball on their own 7 yard line, Missouri faked a punt and had junior Anthony Sherrils run for a first down. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Drew Lock and freshman wide receiver Johnathon Johnson connected for a touchdown.

Odom said the team goes into each game with two punt fake options that they’ve practiced earlier in the week.

“We worked that one since Aug. 4,” Odom said. “... Our kids did a great job executing it, and obviously it helped us gain a little momentum.”

Late in the third quarter, Missouri lined up to go for it on fourth and 1 on Missouri’s 28 yard line with Josh Augusta in at fullback.

But the Tigers wouldn't need the senior defensive lineman to ram the ball to a first down. Missouri got the Arkansas defense to jump early, leading to a penalty and automatic first down.

That drive led to the second Mizzou score of the half, a touchdown from sophomore running back Nate Strong.

The defense sealed the deal, but the offense looked good, too

Missouri’s defense held Arkansas to zero points in the second half. The Tigers haven’t held an opponent to a scoreless half since a win over South Carolina in October 2015.

But in the second half, both sides of the ball were working for the Tigers.

Lock went 16 for 26 and put up 268 yards. Moore led the offense with 135 yards on six catches.

The Missouri run game performed well in freshman Damarea Crockett’s absence due to suspension. Strong made 52 yards and two touchdowns out of his career-high 17 carries, with Johnson rushing for a team-high 82 yards in two carries.

Seniors impress in key moments of sendoff

Missouri football said goodbye to more than a dozen departing players — including Augusta, Penton and tight end Sean Culkin — and the seniors were crucial to the Tigers’ comeback against Arkansas.

Penton in particular shined late. On a pivotal fourth down and goal, after the defense stopped the Arkansas run on three consecutive plays, Penton intercepted the ball deep in the end zone for his fifth interception of the year.

“I was finding ways all week,” Penton said. “Just saying to myself how I’m going to leave my mark out here on Faurot Field. … I had a big goal to getting at least one pick to go out on a good note.”

Senior linebacker Donavin Newsom elected to wear the number of fellow senior linebacker Michael Scherer, who went down with a season-ending injury against Middle Tennessee, in what would have been Scherer’s last game with the Tigers.

“Newsom came up to me on Tuesday and said: ‘Coach, I want to wear Scherer’s jersey number on game day. Are you OK with that?’” Odom said. “And he said, ‘but I don’t want Mike to know.’ … Those guys care about each other.”

Odom spoke highly of the seniors after the game.

“The resiliency of this team — what they’ve been through the last two seasons — I’m proud of the way they finished, no doubt,” Odom said.

“I was looking at those guys, and some have had great senior years, some have not had what they’ve wanted or expected or counted on. But they’re all going to be successful in life. I care for them deeply. I’m going to be part of their life forever.”

Harris declined to be part of Senior Day

Odom asked redshirt junior defensive lineman Charles Harris if he wanted to be included as a departing player in the Senior Day festivities, but Harris said he declined as soon as he was asked.

Harris is getting buzz as a potential first-round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.

“It’s not my senior year,” Harris said. “It’s not my last year. I’m considering coming back next year.”

Harris said he would decide whether to enter the draft before the semester ends.

The state of the Battle Line

The Tigers have won the Battle Line Rivalry game against Arkansas twice now in its three years of existence.

Missouri finishes the season 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the SEC. Their win Friday prevents them from finishing alone at the bottom of the conference, as at least one more team will have a 2-6 SEC record.

“We’ll use any positive momentum we can get,” Odom said. “I’m going to use it for everything that it’s worth. I believe in it. I believe in preparation that allows you the opportunity to be in a position to win a game. If you do those things right, it becomes who you are. You carry good or bad with you, and we’ll carry this one with us and build off of it.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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