LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— It was a forgettable affair to close out a season to forget and the tenure of Barry Odom as head coach. In what started as promising and quickly veered toward disastrous, the Missouri Tigers’ 2019 season ended with a far-from-convincing 24-14 win against Arkansas on Friday afternoon.
The victory ended Missouri’s five-game skid and means the Tigers finish the year at 6-6. But there was little else at stake and the game reflected it, even if, as receiver Jonathan Nance said afterward, “Our coaches were coaching like we had a national championship coming up.”
Friday’s play didn’t resemble anything close to a national championship, however. And with a bowl ban now in effect, the .500 record is mostly a reflection of the disappointment of this season. An unconvincing win over the Razorbacks, who entered the game 2-9, adds little luster.
“I wish we had the opportunity to play in a bowl game somewhere,” former head coach Barry Odom said. “But they can’t take those six (wins) away.”
Just three days after learning that a series of NCAA sanctions appealed by the university were upheld Tuesday by the Infractions Appeals Committee, Missouri had to play a football game and finish out a bizarre season.
It felt appropriate, then, that the Tigers’ day was atypical from the start in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. Instead of Kelly Bryant, who has been plagued by injuries over the last month-and-a-half, true freshman Connor Bazelak opened the game under center.
Bazelak’s first career start offered a brief glimpse into the future, and it was a hopeful one. Bazelak finished 7-of-9 for 80 yards before a right knee sprain in the second quarter kept him out for the rest of the game. That might have been the perfect metaphor for the 2019 Tigers — a promising start that ended up yielding little.
During his stint, Bazelak found success throwing to Arkansas native Barrett Banister, who racked up a career-high 60 yards on six catches, five of which came from Bazelak. The pair hooked up three times on third down on the team’s second drive, which ended with a 5-yard touchdown run for Larry Rountree III.
Bazelak was replaced by Taylor Powell, who made his own first start when Bryant was sidelined against Georgia, a performance that did little to earn him a second start. When Powell entered the game Friday, he began slowly, and made a costly mistake early in the second half. On the first play of the third quarter, he underthrew Banister, and the pass was picked off by Arkansas cornerback Greg Brooks Jr. Brooks had open field ahead of him, but Banister made an alert touchdown-saving tackle. It didn’t matter much, though, as Arkansas scored a few plays later, taking a 14-10 lead.
It was a peculiar day for the Razorbacks, as well. Before the game, it was reported that 10 Arkansas players would not play because of a mumps outbreak. In addition, Jack Lindsey started his first career game, making him the fifth Razorback to start at quarterback this season.
He wasn’t great. Entering halftime, Lindsey had completed just one pass, a 19-yard touchdown throw that gave Arkansas a 7-0 lead. His next completion came in the third quarter, also for a touchdown.
As the game wore on, Powell improved and made the plays that needed to be made. Tyler Badie ran for a combined 53 yards and a touchdown that put Missouri up 17-14 in the third quarter, and Powell led the Tigers on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.
“Our coaches stick with us regardless of the situation,” Badie said. “We weren’t successful early in the season running the ball. Everyone knows that.”
Missouri finished with 144 rushing yards, its most since the loss to Vanderbilt on Oct. 19.
The fourth-quarter scoring drive, which had Missouri up 24-14, put the game out of reach. The key play came on third down, when receiver Tauskie Dove, who was only on the field because of injuries to regulars Jalen Knox and Kam Scott, made a difficult leaping catch over a defender to keep the drive alive.
“You’ve got to stay ready and be ready,” Dove said after the game. “I prepared all week and I was ready for my number to be called.”
The drive ended when Powell found Nance, a former Razorback, in the end zone for his first career touchdown pass.
The win won’t satisfy many, and the fact that Arkansas was able to stick around for so long is concerning.
With now bowl game to look forward to, all attention now turns to a coaching search.
After the game, Odom didn’t gave any inclination he felt his job was in danger.
“(I am) going to wake up in the morning and go to work,” he said.
But the five-game losing streak on his watch means his four-year tenure is up.
Still, despite the poor season, players insisted their coach was well-liked in the locker room.
“We love him,” senior kicker and punter Tucker McCann said after the game. “Through thick and thin, he’s a stand-up guy. From Day 1, I could tell he was there for us.”
Graduate transfer safety Khalil Oliver came to Missouri before the 2018 season, and only played under Odom for two years. He had only positives to say about his coach following the game.
“(Odom) was definitely fiery in the locker room afterwards,” Oliver said. “I love coach Odom. I thank him for this opportunity and I’m just proud of what he’s done here.”
Regardless of what the players said, though, it is hard to describe this season as anything but a failure. Missouri went 8-4 a year ago and 7-5 in 2017. The regression in 2019 came despite ample returning talent and an experienced graduate transfer quarterback in Bryant.
Without a bowl game next month, the Arkansas game was the last for the 2019 Tigers. The future might be bright, with talented players such as linebacker Nick Bolton, safeties Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie, and running backs Rountree and Badie all eligible to return. But with Odom fired, transfers almost certainly will follow, as they do with any coaching change. And any new coach will face scholarship reductions that are part of the sanctions, making building for the future more difficult. There is a lot that needs to be figured out.
It will be an interesting winter.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.