Arkansas defense lapses in regular season finale against Missouri
The resurgence of the Razorback defense was one of the lone bright spots during the final third of the 2022 regular season, but it unceremoniously faded Friday. Missed tackles afforded Missouri dozens of extra yards, and the Hogs’ inability to stop the chunk plays likely cost them the game.
Arkansas surrendered 29 points in the losing effort, the most since Oct. 15, when BYU posted 35, and the fifth-most all season. The Tigers’ 468 yards of offense matched Auburn’s total from Oct. 29, the fourth-most allowed by the Razorbacks in a single game. Further, Missouri’s 7.2 yards per play were the third-most against the Hogs, trailing only Alabama and Ole Miss.
“We had several chances to win the game, but we couldn't convert on offense and couldn't stop them on defense,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said. “They had the more physical team tonight.”
It is worth noting that the struggles coincided with the absences of Bumper Pool and Myles Slusher, whose Razorback careers are over. The former underwent hip surgery Wednesday, and the latter informed Pittman he had quit the team Sunday.
With starters missing in the linebacking corps and the secondary, Tiger quarterback Brady Cook appeared to have an easier time throwing the ball and running it.
Big-yardage gains killed the Razorbacks all afternoon. They gave up nine different plays of at least 20 yards. Among them were a 55-yard completion that preceded a touchdown, a 37-yard Cook run that led to a field goal and a 23-yard Luther Burden score that featured a devastating missed tackle near the line of scrimmage.
Cook accounted for 380 yards in the contest, including a career-high 138 on the ground. In the first half alone, he carried the ball 10 times for 125 yards.
Cook was a dual-threat signal caller who gave Arkansas fits unlike any other this season. No quarterback had run for more than 102 yards against the Hogs all season until he did.
“Over the last 2 ½ games, (Cook)'s been their best runner,” Pittman said. “Certainly came in here — we had him hemmed, then he'd bounce outside and we lost contain. We couldn't ever get him turned back inside.”
Another glaring issue for the Razorback defense was the zero in the turnover column. Friday marked the fifth time this season Arkansas accomplished such a feat this season and the sixth time that it lost the turnover battle. Missouri State and Auburn were the only two teams the Hogs beat without intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble.
“Their receivers and their quarterback and their skill players, all their players up front, they kind of beat us physically, so we’ve got to take that and learn from it for the bowl game,” Hudson Clark said.
At 6-6, Arkansas has done the bare minimum to qualify for a bowl. The defense will have at least a few weeks to gear up for a game to be determined and adjust to playing without two of its leaders.
“We definitely don’t want to finish the year on this note,” Clark said. “We want one more chance to play with these seniors and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”