Every so often this season, Arkansas has flashed the ability fans expected to see back when KJ Jefferson was saying the Razorbacks wanted to win 10 games this season, and they were up to that standard when they jumped out to a 42-6 lead over then-14th ranked Ole Miss.
It felt great to watch Jefferson dominate his home state school. Last season, Jefferson was emotional after the Hogs lost a heartbreaker in Oxford, but this weekend there were only fireworks. Had the Razorbacks not had such a huge lead, Rocket Sanders might have made a real run at topping Darren McFadden’s hallowed 321-yard performance back in 2007 against South Carolina. It was a glorious way to enjoy Senior Night in style.
Clinching bowl eligibility should take some of the pressure off the Razorbacks this week and add to their confidence. The dominant performance against Ole Miss, particularly from the offense, shows how dangerous the Hogs can be when they’re playing loosely with confidence. It feels like they can play with anyone in the country when they’re properly motivated and decide to give their full effort, and they’ll likely need that effort to claim the program’s first ever win in Columbia.
An Ugly Trend in Columbia
While it may feel remarkable that Arkansas has never won in Columbia, it’s a somewhat misleading stat in that it sounds like the Hogs have lost a ton of games there, but that’s not the case. Before Missouri joined the SEC ahead of the 2012 season, the only time Arkansas played a football game there was an 11-0 thriller that Missouri won back in 1906.
More recently, the Hogs have been in position to win all their games in Columbia, Mo., that didn’t involve Chad Morris.
- In 2014, Arkansas was super hot. The Razorbacks had just shut out LSU and Ole Miss in Fayetteville, and jumped out to a lead against the Tigers, but Missouri came back late and clinched the SEC East in the process.
- The 2016 game was an egregiously bad loss that truly kickstarted the beginning of the end of the Bret Bielema era for Arkansas. The Razorbacks were clearly the better team throughout the season. Missouri came into the game 3-8 with its only wins against Vanderbilt, Delaware State and Eastern Michigan. Arkansas built a comfortable lead and then inexplicably collapsed, losing 28-24.
- The 2018 game was Chad Morris in all his glory, a 38-0 shellacking.
- In 2020, Jefferson started in place of an injured Feleipe Franks. The Razorbacks, once again, were in position to win in Columbia but couldn’t hold on. This time Arkansas scored 48 points and held a lead in the final minute, but gave up the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
There’s clearly been a trend. In three of the four modern games played there, Arkansas was either the better team going into the game or were in the same conversation. In all three of those games, the Razorbacks held late leads, but lost the games late. This is obviously a streak that Arkansas needs to end.
What’s at Stake for Arkansas Football
The Razorbacks won’t win a championship or hang a banner based on what happens against Missouri. They would get to keep the Battle Line trophy in Fayetteville, and now that Arkansas has lost The Boot and whatever they call the Southwest Classic trophy already this year, you’d like to think there’s some added emphasis to keep that one at home.
Beyond that, this is still college football. Every game matters to programs. Each game is an opportunity to make a statement in front of recruits. It’s a chance to claim a winning record. It’s a chance to go .500 in the SEC, which Arkansas has not done very regularly since joining the league.
A win would also likely clinch avoiding the Birmingham and Gaspirilla Bowls. A 6-6 record would make those games a possibility, and it seems like Hog fans might have a hard time being excited about making a trip to Birmingham or watching them play a Group of Five program.
This is also the last SEC game of the season. It’s the last time some of these players will get to compete in the league this season, and some of them their last time, period.
Cause for Optimism
Despite Arkansas’ up-and-down season, there should be confidence in the Hogs’ chances this weekend. Arkansas has proven themselves on the road this year. The games against BYU and Auburn were some of the best offensive outbursts the Razorbacks showed all season. The team appears to be healthy, and we saw this weekend how important that is to this squad given its issues with depth at critical positions like safety and quarterback. The Tigers are also not an offensive juggernaut, so there is reason to think the resurgent Arkansas’ defense, which for much of the season was a cause of major stress for Hog fans, can have another good showing this weekend.
Sam Pittman has been far from perfect with the Razorbacks this season, but throughout his tenure in Fayetteville, he has made a habit of ending ridiculous streaks (see Texas A&M, 2021; Winning any SEC game at all, 2020) and restoring sanity and respect to the Arkansas program. There is no good reason Arkansas should have any such losing streak in the SEC campus closest to Fayetteville. If the Hogs get a lead against the Tigers, especially a sizable one, he should make sure the Razorbacks continue to be aggressive and finish the game strong to avoid giving Missouri yet another chance to sneak out of the Battle Line Rivalry with a come-from-behind win.
Sure, Arkansas has made its share of mistakes this year. Many fans are still having a hard time moving on from the games the Razorbacks lost that should have been wins, but after the smoke has cleared on all the drama, these Hogs have a chance to claim not just bowl eligibility, but a winning season. All the needed components are in place for them to earn it.
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