Surging Arkansas looks to end Missouri's season
FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. >> Brandon Allen and the rest of Arkansas' fifth-year seniors have experienced nearly every high and low imaginable, from an 11-win season in 2011 to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference following Bobby Petrino's firing.
The Razorbacks (6-5, 4-3 SEC) quarterback and his emotionally tested teammates hope to put a positive finishing touch on their home careers when they cap the regular season against Missouri on Friday.
"A lot of really good seniors that we're giving tribute to have been through an unusual odyssey coming here at Arkansas several years ago ... and the transition that's happened here," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "They've come a long way and (I) sure would like to send them out on a winning note and propel us into our bowl game as well."
The Tigers (5-6, 1-6) enter Friday with bowl thoughts of their own, though in order to gain eligibility — and extend the career of coach Gary Pinkel — they must win and overcome a surging Arkansas offense that's second in the SEC with an average of 470.2 yards per game.
Pinkel announced two weeks ago that he is resigning at the end of the season, following a diagnosis of lymphoma in May.
Missouri was coming off consecutive SEC East Division titles but has dealt with plenty of turmoil this season. Players chose to go on strike earlier this month because of racial tensions on campus, a move that preceded Pinkel's announcement of his pending exit by just a few days.
Pinkel kept the Tigers together during the declaration of solidarity, but he was less than enthusiastic this week when asked about the possibility of Missouri's players wanting to win for him, saying, "Honestly, I kind of wish I was out of (the spotlight)."
"Obviously, you worry about the focus of your football team and being able to play their best," Pinkel said. "My job is to do everything I can to get them to do that."
Some things to watch as Arkansas tries to win for the fifth time in six games and Missouri plays it final regular season game under Pinkel:
ALLEN'S ASCENT: Allen has been Arkansas' starter in each of Bielema's three seasons with the Razorbacks, and he's saved the best performances of his career for the end. The senior, who began his career with Petrino before a year under interim coach John L. Smith and then Bielema, threw a school-record seven touchdown passes in a 51-50 loss to Mississippi State last week. For the season, he's fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
PINKEL'S RUN: Pinkel has won 191 games in his 25 seasons at Toledo and Missouri, and he became the Tigers all-time winningest coach (102 wins) in 2013 when Missouri won the Cotton Bowl. Pinkel is tied for 19th in all-time college coaching wins with Kansas State's Bill Snyder, and he could tie former Ohio State coach John Cooper at 192 wins with a victory on Friday.
OFFENSIVE SURGE: Arkansas' 50 points in last week's loss to Mississippi State marked the fourth time in the last five games that the Razorbacks have scored at least 50 points. The 251 points Arkansas has scored over that five-game span is more than the school did in Bielema's entire first season in 2013 (248).
DEFENSIVE TIGERS: Despite having an offense that's next-to-last in the SEC in scoring (14.5 points per game), Missouri has stayed close in games this season with a defense that's 10th in the country — allowing only 301.3 yards per game. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers leads the SEC with 140 tackles.
COLLINS' YARDAGE: Arkansas running back Alex Collins is just the third player in SEC history to have three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons to begin his career. The junior would move into second place on the school's all-time leading rushing list, behind only former great Darren McFadden, with 183 yards on the ground on Friday.