SHREVEPORT, La. –- Gary Pinkel has made his name as a coach who preaches discipline and mistake-free football.
That’s why this one hurt so badly.
Pinkel’s Missouri Tigers did well against Arkansas on the statistic sheet, but Missouri made too many mistakes to overcome in a 27-14 loss to the Razorbacks in the Independence Bowl on Saturday at Independence Stadium.
“I’m very, very disappointed in the amount of mistakes that my football team made,” Pinkel said. “We’re a pretty good football team, and we made enough mistakes in one game to last an entire football season.”
The mistakes led to a snowball effect that allowed Arkansas (9-4) to take the momentum late in the second quarter. It took the Razorbacks fewer than three minutes to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 21-7 halftime lead from which Missouri couldn’t recover.
The Razorbacks took advantage of Missouri’s special-teams blunders to build the lead, recovering an errant punt snap and intercepting a Santino Riccio pass on a fake field goal. The Tigers (8-5) had chances to cut into the lead, but two interceptions, Riccio’s and one Brad Smith threw, as well as several special teams mistakes, ended those hopes.
With Missouri leading 7-6 in the second quarter, Zach Strom snapped the ball over punter Brock Harvey’s head, and Arkansas’ Bo Mosley recovered it at the Missouri 3. After two De’Arrius Howard carries took it to the 1, quarterback Matt Jones rolled out to the right, juked past Terrence Curry and walked into the end zone. Jones then hit Wilson for a two-point conversion to make it 14-7 Arkansas.
After a holding penalty negated Marcus James’ nice kickoff return, the Tigers went three-and-out, giving Arkansas good field position. Marvin Jackson returned a Harvey punt to the Missouri 41, and Cobbs took it from there. On first down, he cut back to the left and ran untouched into the end zone, and Arkansas led 21-7.
“We made a lot of mistakes, and they capitalized on those mistakes,” Curry said. “You can’t win football games making mistakes like that. You can’t let your guard down any time.”
Missouri failed to score when in the red zone on three occasions, failing to convert on fourth down each time. On one of those drives, the Tigers couldn’t get in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Pinkel said he made the decision to go for it because he thought it was the right thing to do, given the situation.
“I don’t care what other people say,” Pinkel said. “I make the calls I think are necessary to win the football game. We’ve been very good on fourth-and-1 all year.”
The Tigers got off to a good start, taking a 7-3 lead after holding Arkansas to a field goal on the opening drive. In a game in which Arkansas’ Cedric Cobbs and Smith overshadowed him, Missouri tailback Zack Abron made sure he wasn’t forgotten.
Abron gained 43 yards on Missouri’s 66-yard scoring drive on its first possession. He broke away for a 42-yard gain on first down from the Missouri 46, plowing over cornerback Lawrence Richardson along the way. After Damien Nash carried twice to the Arkansas 1, Abron scored his 42nd career touchdown, adding to his school record and making it 7-3.
Arkansas wasted no time going to the pass with Ryan Sorahan in the game. Sorahan started but played only the first series before giving way to Jones.
On the first play, Sorahan hit George Wilson on the left sideline for a 17-yard gain, setting up the run for the rest of the drive. Cobbs went right to work, carrying seven times for 21 yards on the drive.
Cobbs kept the drive alive on fourth-and-inches from the Missouri 28, sidestepping a Missouri defender to get 5 yards and a first down. He couldn’t prolong the drive on third-and-3 from the 16, though. .
Missouri’s James Kinney and Zach Ville stopped him for no gain. The Razorbacks had to settle for a 33-yard Chris Balseiro field goal and a 3-0 lead.
With Missouri leading 7-3, Harvey pinned Arkansas at its 1. The Razorbacks put together a 16-play, 88-yard drive, though, capped with a 28-yard Balseiro field goal to pull within 7-6. Tailback DeCori Birmingham kept the drive going, converting a fourth-and-2 from the Missouri 20 when he got 5 yards on an option play.
The Tigers tried to mount a charge when they put together a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to cut it to 24-14. Smith and Abron did most of the damage running, but Smith and receiver Thomson Omboga, who led Missouri with eight catches for 63 yards, hooked up for two third-down conversions to keep the drive going.
Smith hit Omboga for 13 yards on third-and-13 from the Missouri 27 and for 11 yards on third-and-6 from the Arkansas 37. Smith scored on a 5-yard run off left tackle to cap the drive.
Despite all their problems, the Tigers had a chance to get back in the game. With 4:39 left, Missouri failed to convert on fourth-and-goal from the 9, effectively ending the threat.
“I was very pleased with my team, through all the adversity we had out there, that we were still fighting at the end and had a chance to score and stay in the ball game,” Pinkel said.