SHREVEPORT, La. — Missouri freshman Xzavie Jackson has added some fuel to help ignite a Missouri-Arkansas border war.
At a media day in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s Independence Bowl game between the two teams, Jackson criticized the Razorbacks for a lack of team unity. Two players, including All-American offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, have left the team to prepare for pre-NFL draft workouts. Other players have said they are considering leaving school early to declare for the draft.
Jackson, a defensive end, told reporters that the Tigers had none of those problems.
Missouri responded by refusing further interview requests for Jackson. Arkansas responded by posting Jackson’s comments in its locker room.
“He’s gotten a lot of criticism about those couple comments,” Russ Bell, a senior defensive tackle, said. “Everyone just asked him, ‘What were you thinking?’”
Some Arkansas players replied harshly to Jackson’s statements. Those comments now hang in the Tigers’ locker room. The banter has added extra anticipation for the matchup for both teams, Bell said.
“It maybe gave them a little motivation,” Bell said. “But we haven’t been to a bowl in a while, we’re pretty pumped about it.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Missouri practiced in Shreveport for the first time on Sunday. The Tigers wore full pads, going through workouts that occurred on Tuesdays throughout the season. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called it a “work day”.
“We get after it, we really practice physical,” Pinkel said.
Arkansas practiced Saturday and Sunday. Pinkel said Saturday’s travel arrangements prevented the Tigers from practicing that day. The Missouri players had traveled home for a break prior to the trip, and flew to Shreveport from several states.
“For the most part, it worked out pretty well,” Pinkel said. “A couple problems, but for trying to transport 100 players, it worked out pretty good.”
After arriving Saturday, the Tigers took the rest of the day off. On Sunday, players said the intensity of practice pleased them.
“We’ve been given a lot of free time because we worked hard in Columbia,” offensive tackle Rob Droege said. “Coach told us if we did that, if we could be mature enough, we’d be able to do it. We came out today and proved that we were mature enough to practice and focus on what we needed to do.”
Said defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison: “Everybody was still keyed in, nobody was like, ‘vacation time.’ We didn’t have to keep starting periods over and keep doing stuff over. I think pretty much everybody knows how important this game is.”
OVER-THE-TOP OVERTIMES: Wed-nesday’s game might take a while.
Missouri and Arkansas are notorious for playing overtime games.
The Tigers have played in nine overtime games, tied with Cincinnati for most in the nation. Missouri has won an NCAA-best six overtime games. In the past three years, the Razorbacks have played in two seven-overtime contests, the most overtimes in a game. Last season Arkansas also played in a six-overtime game.
Bell said he didn’t care if the game went into overtime but groaned when he realized that with a 6:30 p.m. start, that might mean the game would last into 2004 and cut into New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Bell quickly composed himself, though.
“Well, as long as we win, that’s a good New Year’s for me,” Bell said. “I don’t care how long we have to play.”