FAYETTEVILLE - Kevin Richardson and Bijhon Jackson play their final Razorbacks game Friday in “Lockdown.”
Nickel back and defensive co-captain Richardson of Jacksonville and defensive nose tackle Jackson of El Dorado are among 16 Arkansas seniors to be honored before Friday’s 1:30 p.m. kickoff of Arkansas’ nationally CBS televised season-ending SEC game against the Missouri Tigers and Drew Lock, Mizzou’s strong-armed quarterback, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Coach Barry Odom’s Tigers, a bowl eligible 6-6 overall and 3-4 in the SEC East, will play a bowl game somewhere in December or January.
But for Coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks, 4-7, 1-6 in the SEC West, it’s Friday finale for the season and the Razorbacks’ seniors career curtain call.
Speculation runs rampant it will be Arkansas fifth-year Coach Bielema’s final Arkansas game off a losing season, especially with Jeff Long, the athletic director who hired him, fired last week.
To a man, the Razorbacks seem both trying to block the rumors about their coach from distracting them yet simultaneously yearning they could have more during the previous 11 games for Bielema and vowing to devote all their energy to Friday’s finale.
“We're playing for Coach B,” Richardson, originally a 2013 redshirted walk-on under Bielema vaulting all the way to scholarship team captain, said. “He's done some great things for us. He let me come and do what lot of people didn't think I could do. I came up here and lived the dream that I've had since I started playing Peewee football. For him to give me an opportunity means a lot to me. That's going to be something I remember for the rest of my life.”
To achieve their Friday goal, it seems Jackson and his fellow D-linemen must pressure and Richardson and his fellow defensive backs and linebackers pass-defend against Lock who has thrown an incredible 38 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions while completing 199 of 343 for 3,247 yards.
“I think they're throwing for 300 yards a game,,” Richardson said. “Drew Lock’s got a strong arm. So we know they’re going threaten us deep. He’s got some threats and we’re going to what we can to defend them.”
Jackson vows the D-linemen must do their part to harass Lock and help the secondary but that’s not easy. For while not a classic dual-threat scrambler, Lock maneuvers to extend plays if need be and generally delivers so quickly he’s been sacked but eight times in 11 games.
“They have a good quarterback,” Jackson said. “A really accurate quarterback. Really good receivers probably some of the best in the SEC. The quarterback is good at scrambling when he has to. The O-line holds up good enough for him to get the ball out and do what he needs to do.”
The Tigers aren’t one dimensional. They average 195 yards rushing per game.
Scoring 68, 52, 45, 50 and 45 points on their current 5-game winning streak over Idaho and UConn nonconference and Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the SEC, the Tigers score so prolifically that even the opposing offense feels the pressure it must score to match Mizzou.
“When it gets going like that (a shootout) in the game it certainly does,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said of an offense feeling Mizzou’s offensive heat. “You don't want to waste any possessions against a team like that. I think one of the things we can do to help our defense, help our team is to get first downs, stay on the field and melt the clock. We need to win the possessions and time out there. I do think that will be a real key to the game.”
Austin Allen, the fifth-year senior from Fayetteville quarterbacking his final Razorbacks game with redshirt freshman Cole Kelley reinstated from disciplinary suspension to serve as backup, certainly knows his offense is up against Missouri’s offense almost as much as against Missouri’s defense.
“Yeah, that's one of our keys to victory this week, to be able to control the ball, control the clock and kind of limit their opportunities at the big play and finish our drives with points,” Allen said. “That way we get the momentum, keep the momentum. That's one of our keys.”
Moving against Mizzou was no problem during the Tigers’ 1-5 start yielding 43, 31, 35, 51, 40 and 53 points to Missouri State, South Carolina, Purdue, Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia.
But Mizzou’s D turned stingy yielding just 21, 12, 16, 17 and 17 points winning the last five games.
“ They're playing well right now,” Allen said. “They've got 11 guys flying around to the football. Right gaps. Right assignments. They're just playing good football.”
So will the Hogs, Allen vows, a fifth-year senior first committed in 2012 to former Coach Bobby Petrino and interim Coach John L. Smith and sticking to sign with Bielema’s debut 2013 recruiting class.
“We all came here for Coach B.,” Allen said. “He's the one that recruited us all here. He's our guy. A lot of people say all those things. But that's our coach. We're going to play the first snap to the last whistle for him on Friday. Whatever happens, happens. But that's our coach.”