LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With his roster ransacked by injuries, Barry Odom is grateful this Thanksgiving weekend for his Arkansas Tigers.
The five Arkansas natives on Odom’s travel roster, plus a transfer from the Razorbacks, all pitched in with contributions in the Tigers' 24-20 win Friday over Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium, starting with the day’s leading receiver and the quarterback who led the two clinching drives.
In their first game back on the field where they led Fayetteville High School to back-to-back state championships in 2015-16, Barrett Banister led the Tigers with a career-high six receptions, for 60 yards, and quarterback Taylor Powell guided the Tigers on a couple second-half touchdown drives to seal the win.
Defensive tackles Markell Utsey (Little Rock) and Akial Byers (Fayetteville) helped smother an Arkansas offense that finished with just 242 yards. Special teamer Joe Britton (Rogers) made some plays in punt coverage. Then there was Jonathan Nance, a Louisiana native but a former Arkansas receiver who led the Razorbacks in receptions in 2017. He snagged Powell’s 10-yard touchdown toss with 8:47 left to give the Tigers a two-score lead.
“I know what it’s like to go back and play your home(-state) school,” said Odom, an Oklahoma native who played against all three FBS programs in his home state during his career as a Mizzou linebacker: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa. “I’m proud of the effort. I'm proud of the focus, because it's not easy. It’s not easy a lot of times to handle some of those things, and I think they all played really well.”
On his first career touchdown pass, Powell lured a Razorback into jumping offside, and then once the flag was thrown took advantage of the free play with a back-shoulder throw to Nance in the front of the end zone.
“Just like you see it in the NFL, you try to get them to jump,” Powell said. “They jumped.”
Down in the mumps
As if things weren’t bad enough for the Razorbacks this year, the Hogs were without a handful of key players Friday because of a mumps outbreak.
“It’s been a challenge,” interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And don’t know if I will again. We’ve not necessarily been ravaged, but we’ve been dealt some tough blows just through the injury and through the sickness and the illnesses. We were just kind of a shell of ourselves in some areas out there today. And even from a morale standpoint, it’s hard to overcome those types of things.”
It was Tuesday morning when Odom told his players the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee had denied the school’s appeal and upheld the team's postseason ban, meaning no matter what happened in Friday’s game the Tigers wouldn’t be eligible for a bowl game. They had played in bowls each of the last two years.
Not all the players were surprised by the ruling.
“Our expectations were kind of low,” Banister said. “We weren't in control of it from the get-go. So whenever we heard that news, they gave us (the ban) the first time, so we weren't surprised they didn't change their mind on the appeal.”
Odom was disappointed his seniors wouldn’t get the chance to play in one last bowl game. But he didn’t want to dwell on the disappointment with his players.
“It’s what we're handed and our guys responded,” he said. “They played well today, well enough to win a game. That will help them as they get out into the real world on dealing with adversity. … When things don't go your way, life's not fair. But what are you going to do with the hand of cards you’re dealt to make the most of it?”
With six points, senior kicker Tucker McCann moved into second place on MU's career scoring list, with 358 points. He is four behind leader Jeff Wolfert.
• Tyler Badie didn't catch any passes but finished the season as MU's team leader in receptions, with 32. He became MU's first running back to lead the team in catches since Brock Olivo did so in 1995, with 17.
• Linebacker Nick Bolton's team-high nine tackles gave him 107 for the season.
• Freshman cornerback Ish Burdine made his season debut after being sidelined more than three months because of a shoulder injury.