FAYETTEVILLE — The season will end for Arkansas on Friday when they play host to Missouri at 3 p.m. in Razorback Stadium.
The Battle Line Rivalry trophy is at stake. Arkansas ( 4-7, 1-6) is coming off a 44-20 win over FIU. Missouri (9-2, 5-2) escaped past Florida 33-31 Saturday night in Columbia. The only blemishes on Missouri’s record are losses to LSU, 49-39, and Georgia, 30-21. Sam Pittman knows the Tigers will come into Razorback Stadium ready to play.
“Excited to play Missouri,” Pittman said. “You know, obviously we’re disappointed we’re not going to be bowl eligible. But we have a lot to play for, especially since we’re playing our rival and a really, really good, really good football team in Missouri. Offensively, just outstanding everywhere. Really good offensive line. Quarterback’s fast, mobile can throw got great receivers. Running back is a beast.
“And then on defense they’re playing really well in the secondary. Safeties are very, very physical. Obviously up front, (Darius) Robinson has got a lot of sacks (7.5). And they out-physical us last year and certainly have a physical team, really good team. Eli’s done a really good job there. But we’re excited to obviously play our rival.”
Missouri got a great running back when Cody Schrader transferred in from Truman State. Schrader has rushed 220 times for 1,272 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also has caught 22 passes for 191 yards. Pittman has been impressed with the 5-foot-9, 214-pound senior transfer.
“One is his determination and his drive,” Pittman said. “Obviously he’s very talented. Fast, reads holes unbelievably well, and can run over you. Run away from you. But he went to Truman State, and Truman State used to be old Northeast Missouri State (in Kirksville). When I was at Pitt State, we played them in the Moila Shrine Bowl. Got beat by the way. In my opinion, he fits Missouri well. He would fit into our place. Tough, physical programs, things of that nature.
“What he’s done has earned every accolade and he’s over 1,200 yards rushing right now. Obviously you’ve got to have a really good offensive line, and wideouts blocking on the edge and stuff, to get that that as well. I’m happy for him that he took that chance, went in there and is one of the top running backs out there in the country. And it’s a really, really neat story.”
Pittman will likely have cornerback Jaylon Braxton and right tackle Patrick Kutas back for Missouri. They are practicing this week. But a pair of running backs, Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and Rashod Dubinion, won’t be able to play.
“Rocket has labral tear (shoulder) and so he at some point here in the next few days he’ll have to get that repaired,” Pittman said. “Rashad has a meniscus tear, which is actually better news than what I thought on Saturday. And he is probably just getting out of that surgery right now (Monday at noon).”
That means Pittman will lean on AJ Green, Dominique Johnson and true freshman Isaiah Augustave Friday. Augustave topped the Hogs with 14 carries for 101 yards against FIU. Johnson added 62 yards on six carries including a 31-yard run for a touchdown. Green had nine carries for 23 yards.
“We have three left,” Pittman said of the running backs. “Isaiah earned his carry time. Dominique earned, he looked really good the other night I thought. And certainly AJ. We’re going to try and rev up 23 a little bit more after his performance and again I really like how Dominique when he got his shoulders turned he did some good things of moving the pile. He’s a big man. More importantly, I think he probably got some confidence out of it. He really hadn’t had a lot of confidence in that knee. He just hasn’t. Some guys get over it earlier, faster than others, but I think he got some confidence out of a few of those really good runs he made the other night.”
The Missouri offense is an explosive one led by Schrader, quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden. Cook has completed 221-of-330 passes for 3,077 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has rushed 88 times for 239 yards and seven touchdowns. Burden has caught 71 passes for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns. PIttman talked about the challenges of the Missouri offense.
“Well, a lot,” Pittman said. “Because you know, are you going to try to play man-to-man coverage and try to stop all the stretch plays, the naked’s? Because Cook is fast. I mean, like fast fast and can hurt you with his legs and his arm. (Theo) Wease, transfer that came in there, he’s outstanding. They have — with (Mookie) Cooper, too, the other wideout — they’re talented. It’s going to be very difficult.
“We’re going to have to show them a lot of different looks. Show them a lot of different things. Obviously, they have a check system too. So we’re going to have to be ready if they check, to check the check and things of that nature. We’re going to have to tackle well in space. We’re going to have to tackle the running back. We’re going to have to get him on the ground without him breaking tackles. It’s a very, very tall task. They’ve got a really good offense, but we’ve played a lot of good offenses this year. They are probably the most balanced of star skill players as anybody in the conference. They have a lot of stars there that can hurt you on any given play. So we’re going to have to play really well.”
Pittman went into more detail on what Cook does well at quarterback.
“Confidence, what they do is exactly what he does well,” Pittman said. “He can throw it out of the pocket, they move him a lot. Play-action. Their entire team is just playing with a tremendous amount of confidence as they should. They are 9-2 and ranked in the top 10 in the country. You can just see him just grow each and every week.
“I remember seeing a press conference from Eli (Drinkwitz) and he’s talking about how Missouri booed him during the game and he was upset about it and talked about it. From that time on, he’s been good, and he was probably good that game, too. He’s a really good player, and a lot of people would like to have him.”
Wease has caught 44 passes for 624 yards and six touchdowns. Cooper has grabbed 34 passes for 429 yards. Pittman was asked how Missouri has been better than Arkansas since they joined the SEC going 7-2 against the Hogs. The two Arkansas wins in the series were both in Fayetteville. Pittman and Arkansas defeated Missouri 34-17 in 2021.
“Well, Barry (Odom) was over there for four of them,” Pittman said. “What are we, 1-2 (since 2020)? I don’t know, there were times when Missouri’s been really good too. Let’s say this, they’ve had better seasons than we’ve had over the last — well, not necessarily the last year or two, but before that they have. And this year. But most of the time it’s a close game, we just haven’t come out on top. If it’s 7-2, I didn’t know that. But thinking about it, it can’t be very good because Barry beat us four times in a row I think.
“I don’t know, there’s been some times in there where Missouri’s been really good too. Let’s say that they’ve had better seasons than we’ve had over the last well… not necessarily last year and the year before, but you know, before that and this year. Most times it’s a close game and we haven’t come out on top. 7-2, I didn’t know that, but thinking about it, it has to be not very good, they beat us four times in a row.”
Pittman also talked about Drinkwitz’s success as head coach of the Tigers.
“Well, I think he’s a really good play caller,” Pittman said. “I think he’s really good at organizaton and those things. This year’s been a wonderful year for him and I just think he’s done a really good job of getting his roster like he wants it.”
This will be the first game since it became official that Pittman would return as head coach. Pittman was asked how this game can help the future of the program?
“That’s a good question,” Pittman said. “I think it’s important. I don’t know that it’s going to hurt us in recruiting if we happen to not win, but I know it could really, really help us and give us a spark in everything, and that’s the plan. We’re going out to play really well. I think that it could certainly, we haven’t beaten a ranked opponent this year, and we have all three of the other years, that would be our opportunity to do that.”
The game will be televised on CBS.