Missouri against Arkansas is like Romeo and Juliet according to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
“It’s like a perfect match,” Pinkel said.
The teams, which will play in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 31 in Shreveport, La., have much in common. Like the Tigers, Arkansas, which plays in the Southeastern Conference, finished the season 8-4 and 4-4 in its conference.
Though the schools’ states border each other, the teams have rarely played. MU leads the series 2-1, but the teams have not played in 40 years. The Tigers beat the Razorbacks 7-6 on Sept. 28, 1963 in Little Rock, Ark.
One glaring difference between the teams is their recent bowl experience. The Tigers will play in a bowl for the first time in five seasons. Arkansas, meanwhile, has played in six straight years, starting in coach Houston Nutt’s first year as coach.In 2002, Arkansas lost 29-14 to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl.
Senior running back Cedric Cobbs is Arkansas’ biggest offensive threat. Cobbs rushed for 1,179 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He led the SEC with 107.2 rushing yards per game.
A strong Razorbacks offensive line has helped Cobbs. Junior Shawn Andrews, a 6-foot-5, 370-pound tackle, leads the unit and is a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi trophies.
Arkansas started the season 4-0. A 38-28 upset of then-No. 5 Texas highlighted the streak. The Razorbacks lost three straight games in October, won their next four games and finished the season with a 55-24 loss at No. 2 Louisiana State.
Junior quarterback Matt Jones threw for 1,868 yards and 18 touchdowns for Arkansas. Jones also ran for 633 yards and seven touchdowns.
At his press conference on Sunday, Nutt said he saw several similarities in Jones and MU quarterback Brad Smith.
“Both of them are outstanding players that mean a lot to both of their teams,” Nutt said. “They make plays. They’re run-first quarterbacks. They can escape problems, and that’s what always keeps defensive coordinators up at night.”
The Razorbacks have a gap in their defense after some players had run-ins with the law. Linebackers Sam Olajubutu and Jimarr Gallon were charged with driving while intoxicated in separate incidents occurring within a week of each other in late November. Nutt dismissed Gallon from the team and indefinitely suspended Olajubutu.
Pinkel said he has not started to study Arkansas extensively yet, but he knows a few initial facts. Pinkel said Cobbs and the Texas win stood out to him.
“Their tailback’s a great player; I’ve seen him on TV a couple of times,” Pinkel said. “They played Texas, beat Texas. I know that, that got my attention fast.”
In anticipation of the matchup, MU and Arkansas exchanged game film this past week.
“I think we did Friday, just in case it happened,” Pinkel said. “And that’s just being prepared. We decided we’d send it back if it didn’t happen.”
MU players have peeked at the film, and will receive additional footage of the Razorbacks at a team meeting today.
“I’m not going to lie to you, we’ve watched some film on Arkansas already,” senior center A.J. Ricker said.
Even if the game isn’t Shakespeare, Ricker thinks it will resemble a movie.
“I think it’s just going to be Braveheart out there,” Ricker said.