My name is MizzouRah (well okay that's not my real name) and I am a fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks. The reason for this is simple. I live and work in Fayetteville, Arkansas and living here you either are a fan of the Hogs (as I consider myself to be) or you hate the Hogs (as some of my friends do but that's a small minority of folks). I have season tickets for the games in Fayetteville, pretty decent seats as well. Now, I always at least wear my Mizzou hat or my Mizzou coat to any Arkansas game I go to because, let's face it Tiger fans need to stand strong no matter where they are. People that know me fairly well have actually been naïve enough to ask me: "Hey Rah (okay that's not my real name) who are you cheering for in the Bowl?" People that know me well say, "Hey Rah, don't be so obnoxious when cheering for Mizzou that you get folks around here angry with you." Or the folks I really know have already starting talking some good natured trash about how the Hogs are going to win.
This year I have been to ten college football games. It is my favorite thing to watch and follow. I have seen the Hogs play Florida, Mississippi State and Tulsa in person and watched them on TV several times. I have seen Mizzou play Illinois, MTSU, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Colorado and got to see the Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State games on TV. I feel like I have as good of a grasp on these two teams as anyone. I didn't want to see this match up because I do enjoy cheering for the Hogs but I think it is a match up that gives Mizzou a real opportunity to continue the momentum they have built up during this season and in the early recruiting period.
I am going to break down the game the way that they would do it in the newspaper.
When Arkansas Runs the Ball - When the game was announced this appeared to be a huge edge for the Hogs. Shawn Andrews would have been the best player on the field and that includes MU's all everything Brad Smith. His missing the game will really make a huge difference as will the absence of very athletic and big fullback Mark Pierce. The Hogs are kind of like the Chiefs when Jason Dunn enters the game. You know they are running to the right side but they are almost impossible to stop. The loss of Pierce and particularly Andrews CANNOT be understated. It's still a senior dominated line and Bokermann at Right Guard is the kind of guy Gary Pinkel would not have let out of St. Louis. Dan Doughty is a solid Center. Cedric Cobbs is a power back that will wear out a defense. I think that DeCori Birmingham is more of a threat to Mizzou but I am unsure how much of a shot he will get to run the ball. Matt Jones is not used exactly the way Brad Smith is but he has run for over 600 yards and seven TD's. You don't want to see this guy on a bootleg, it is scary. It is wise that MU will rotate a lot of guys into the game on the D line so they do not get worn down by this physical line. You have to still give the Hogs a "medium edge" on this part of the game. If Arkansas sticks primarily to the power running game as I suspect they will, MU will be able to bend but not always break.
When Missouri Runs the Ball - MU will be the best running team that Arkansas has faced all year with the possible exception of LSU. Arkansas fans only are talking about Brad Smith they don't understand how good Ricker and company are at leading the way for Zack Abron, Damien Nash and Smith. I can see the QB draw working well against the Hogs. The Hogs D line is not the strength of the defense. The linebackers and safeties are not used to having guys like Brad Smith coming at them although Caleb Miller is a strong player. Some of the Hog defenders have a bad habit of not wrapping up when they tackle. If they try to do this to Abron the result will be a good one for the Tigers as Hog defenders bounce off big Zack. I saw the quick little back for Mississippi State have some success between the twenty's. Nash can also do the same. The MU O line will be ready to go in this one and all signs are positive. MU - Strong Edge.
When Arkansas passes the ball - George Wilson is the kind of Wide Receiver that gives MU fits. He runs great routes and doesn't drop the ball, ever. Let's face it; MU is not the best at pass coverage although we are much improved. Richard Smith is a very good speed WR although his routes aren't as good as Wilson's. That's not a shot at Smith but Wilson WILL get open against our corners. The Tigers are going to have to blitz from time to time or have real trouble. Oh, and Jason Peters is a tremendous match up problem for MU. The Hogs have 9 INT's on the year and I think MU can get one in this game. Arkansas has the medium edge here.
When MU passes the ball - Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson are shut down cover corners. I don't look for Outlaw or Omboga to have huge games in this one. Can Tiger fans say bubble screen? I know you can gang. When Arkansas blitzes they are EXTREMELY vulnerable to this play. Please RUN THE BUBBLE SCREEN (I can't believe I am saying this), IT WILL WORK! J. D. McCoy should have his typical solid game. The Hog corners like to talk trash and the safeties can over commit so it's not impossible for MU to burn the Hogs deep with a guy like Ekwerekwu to get open deep. Slight edge to the Hogs here.
Kicking Game/Special Teams - After a nice start, Hog fans are somewhat worried about Chris Balseiro. Mike Matheny is kicking the ball well. The Hogs haven't had the type of return game you would expect with the type of speed they have. Marcus James and Mitchell will cause problems on returns. Arkansas has the better punting game. Slight edge to Mizzou.
Coaching/Intangibles - Are you kidding me? The Hogs have two guys that played against LSU that have chosen not to play in this game! They will have the edge in terms of number of fans at the game though. The Hogs have 22 turnovers on the year and are on the plus turnover side but MU will be less error prone in this game (10 turnovers on the year) as they are in nearly all their games. I have no doubt that MU will be ready to play this game. Arkansas has been penalized for 57 yards per game. MU has been penalized for 48 yards per game. My biggest problem with being a Hog fan (and remember except for 12/31 I am a Hog fan) is watching them make stupid penalties that show a lack of discipline, of turning the ball over and not wrapping up on tackles. You know the kind of things that MU has taken care of under Pinkel. As great as the seven overtime win over Kentucky was, it should have been a blowout in regulation but the Hogs tried to beat themselves. MU will NOT beat themselves. Edge to GARY PINKEL and Mizzou.
Overall - Arkansas has to deal with the players not playing in this game. I know that Arkansas fans like to talk about how great their SEC schedule is but they have only beaten one team as good as or better than Missouri is and that was Texas early. MU has only beaten one team as good as or better than Arkansas and that is Nebraska, Texas Tech is almost as good as the Hogs and completely different but that bodes well for MU as well. The Braggin Rights game in St. Louis should help MU for an almost neutral site experience.
Pick: Mizzou wins this one 31-24. Fewer turnovers, fewer penalties and Brad Smith and Marcus James (on punt returns) running the ball makes the difference in this one. Arkansas has a fine team and if they beat the Tigers I will be less surprised than I was in '97 when we lost to Colorado State (who had a better team than I realized).