SHREVEPORT, La. -– Special teams don’t need to be special for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, but they need to be reliable.
Missouri didn’t accomplish that Wednesday. The Tigers made numerous special-teams blunders in their 27-14 loss to Arkansas.
The first one dug the Tigers a hole. In the second quarter at Missouri’s 48, junior deep snapper Zach Strom directed the ball well over punter Brock Harvey’s head.
The Razorbacks started at Missouri’s 3. Quarterback Matt Jones scored three plays later on a 1-yard run. The Razorbacks converted a two-point play.
Later in the quarter with the Tigers trailing 14-7, senior Marcus James fumbled on his kickoff return. Redshirt freshman safety Josh Hibbets recovered, but the Tigers were called for holding and started their drive at their 14.
“We made too many mistakes, and you can’t do that against a team like Arkansas,” James said.
At the end of the half, a Tigers’ trick play was foiled.
In the final seconds of the first half, kicker Mike Matheny lined up for a field-goal attempt. Holder Sonny Riccio, the Tigers’ second-string quarterback, picked up the snap and looked to the left for receiver Thomson Omboga.
Tom Crowder ran in front of Omboga and intercepted the pass, returning the ball 22 yards as the clock ran out.
Senior tight end Clint Matthews prevented Crowder from scoring.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he knew he would be called a genius if the play worked and unintelligent if it didn’t.
“If you make it, it’s a great call, brilliant, guts,” Pinkel said. “If you miss it, everybody will take that approach. I will make the call that’s necessary to win football games.”
Riccio said at the last moment he noticed the play was broken up. He said the pass was supposed to be quick instead of the floater it became.
“Everything was working, and then they spotted us, and they caught us,” Riccio said. “We didn’t have any timeouts or I would have taken a timeout there so I wouldn’t have had to try to make a play.”
After the botched play, the Tigers trailed 21-7 at the half.
“I thought the fake field goal was just what we wanted, but we didn’t execute it,” Pinkel said.
In the third quarter on fourth-and-18, Crowder made another play and blocked Harvey’s punt. Strom recovered at Missouri’s 35.
“I can’t really explain what happened,” Harvey said. “Guys come through, it got blocked.”
James said special-teams problems are another part of the game.
“It’s very frustrating, but those things happen,” James said.
Players said the special teams’ uncertain play made coming back from a deficit more difficult.
“You look for the special teams to be that special weapon for you,” sophomore cornerback Calvin Washington said.
“You’ve got to have some plays on special teams to give you an advantage. Unfortunately our special teams kind of bended today.”