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Mizzou defense steals spotlight as Tigers bury Arkansas 38-0

Mizzou defense steals spotlight as Tigers bury Arkansas 38-0

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UPDATED, 8 p.m.

COLUMBIA, MO. • Ten weeks ago the idea that Missouri’s defense could hold a team scoreless for a quarter, much less a full game, would have sounded absurd. The Tigers were lucky to escape West Lafayette, Ind., with a last-second victory on Sept. 15 after Purdue incinerated Missouri’s defense with 614 yards of offense, most of those through the air.

But on a dark and dreary Black Friday, Missouri’s defense gave the most loyal of its poncho-wearing fans who braved the elements a beautiful sight at Memorial Stadium: a clean half of the scoreboard.

In front of an announced crowd of 52,482, the Tigers continued their November surge with a defensive masterpiece, a 38-0 victory over Arkansas in the regular-season finale to keep the Battle Line Rivalry trophy in their possession for another year. The shutout was Mizzou’s first in a Southeastern Conference game and first in league play since blanking Iowa State 14-0 in 2010.

• BOX SCORE: Mizzou 38, Arkansas 0 

From the regulars who played the first three quarters to the backups who came out for the final few possessions, Barry Odom’s defense dominated from start to finish.

“A goose egg,” defensive end Akial Byers said. “It’s just beating your man at the snap and not letting him get an inch.”

In a game billed as quarterback Drew Lock’s final home game, the record-breaking passer treated the fans and one very notable observer to another strong outing in his Faurot Field finale, throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns plus two rushing scores. With running back Damarea Crockett out with an injury, Larry Rountree got the bulk of the carries, finishing with 119 yards on a career-high 29 carries. Wide receiver Emanuel Hall had a big day in his final home game, catching six passes for 153 yards and two scores.

But it was Odom’s defense that grabbed the spotlight and refused to let go. Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott had three of MU’s season-high five sacks. Linebacker Terez Hall had a sack and his first career interception. The Tigers broke up six passes. The Razorbacks converted just 3 of 18 third and fourth downs. Arkansas finished with just 187 yards of offense, its lowest output in six years.

“The defensive performance was as solid as we’ve had,” Odom said after running his November record to 10-2 with a ninth straight win in November games. “It was good to see that with the tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hurries. I thought we matched up the coverage well on the back end of things. Overall a very dominating performance, which is good to see. I think we’re getting close to playing our best ball.”

With their fourth straight victory to close the regular season, the Tigers (8-4, 4-4 SEC) now wait for bowl pairings to be announced Dec. 2. Arkansas (2-10, 0-8) plunges straight into the offseason after a miserable first year under Chad Morris. He can trace Friday’s struggles to the line of scrimmage, where the Tigers have dominated play the last month. 

“Our inability to sustain some blocks was disappointing,” Morris said. “It put us behind the chains. And anytime you get put behind the chains like that it’s difficult.”

Life was no easier for Arkansas’ beleaguered defense.

With a three-man contingent from the Denver Broncos in the press box watching closely, including general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, Lock put the Tigers in front with a designed keeper for 9 yards, then did it again early in the second quarter for 3 yards, good for a 14-0 Mizzou lead.

The Razorbacks moved the ball just 30 yards on their first three series, but Missouri’s defense was just getting started. On Arkansas’ next series, Elliott came screaming off the back side and hammered Ty Storey from behind, knocking the ball free on his second sack of the game. Byers chased the ball down into the end zone for the defensive score and a 21-0 lead.

Byers, a Fayetteville, Ark., native who grew up a Razorbacks fan had to think for a moment when the last time he scored a touchdown.

“Middle school,” he said. “When I played running back.”

For the rest of the half, Arkansas had no answer to Mizzou’s defensive pressure. A quarterback change to Connor Noland didn’t make any difference. The Tigers smothered another drive with Trajan Jeffcoat’s third-down sack. On Arkansas’ next series, Hall burst into the backfield off the edge on fourth-and-5 and dropped Noland for MU’s season-high fourth sack.

Missouri's offense wasn’t done. A 32-yard Tyler Badie run got the Tigers back into the red zone and five snaps later, Lock connected with Hall on a 6-yard slant for his first of two touchdown passes.

In the second half, Arkansas got as close as MU’s 4-yard line but never closer.

Lock continued his proficient day on Mizzou’s next series. On third and 7, an Arkansas lineman jumped into the neutral zone and Lock capitalized on the free play with a heave to Hall down the sideline. The senior wideout did the rest, making a defender miss in the open field then sprinting to the end zone for a 67-yard score.

By then the only uncertainty was whether the Tigers could preserve the shutout. On their final four series, the Hogs crossed midfield just once. For the game, eight of their 15 possessions failed to get more than 10 yards.

Purdue couldn’t have seemed further away.

The defense "gave up a ton of yards to that kid at Purdue,” offensive guard Kevin Pendleton said. “Our guys like (safety) Cam Hilton and (cornerback) DeMarkus Acy took that to heart, because people were blaming them and telling them they weren’t worth anything. We’ve got a lot of fighters and a lot of dogs in that locker room, guys that are prideful about what they do on the field. When they get called out like that they take it personal to make changes. That leads to a performance like tonight.”

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