Both sides’ runners sparkle

Missouri and Arkansas combined for 552 rushing yards.
Thursday, January 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:26 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

SHREVEPORT, La. -– As expected, Missouri and Arkansas did what they do best: They ran the ball. They ran it a lot.

The Razorbacks and Tigers, ranked seventh and eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game in the regular season, combined for 552 rushing yards, the most in Independence Bowl history.

Both teams’ star tailbacks, Missouri’s Zack Abron and Arkansas’ Cedric Cobbs led the way, but elusive quarterbacks Brad Smith and Matt Jones did their part, too.

Cobbs had 141 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Abron wasn’t far behind with 137 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The backup tailbacks fared well, also. Arkansas’ DeCori Birmingham ran for 85 yards, and Missouri’s Damien Nash chipped in 60.

Smith gained 96 yards on 20 carries, and Jones had 74 on seven carries.

The Tigers racked up 252 rushing yards, but it wasn’t enough to console center A.J. Ricker after having lost the last game of his college career.

“We ran the ball pretty well,” Ricker said. “We’re in the top 10 in the nation in rushing, so we should rush the ball well. We would have liked to go out with a win.”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: The history books will forget about it as time passes, but Missouri and coach Gary Pinkel missed several opportunities.

Pinkel had a chance to even his record at Missouri, instead dropping to 17-19 in three seasons. He also dropped to 1-1 as a coach in bowl games, having won his only bowl game while coach at Toledo, 40-37 in overtime against Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Tigers also had a chance to buck a trend of alternating wins and losses. After starting 4-0 with a 41-40 overtime win against Middle Tennessee State, Missouri didn’t win or lose two straight games for the rest of the season.

PACKING ’EM IN: Although the crowd was not a sellout, the 49,625 on hand marked the third best for the Independence Bowl. The crowd was nearly evenly divided, but Arkansas appeared to have slightly more fans that Missouri.

Smith said although the game was technically at a neutral site, he sometimes felt as though the Tigers were playing a road game.

“They had a lot of people here,” Smith said.

Glen Krupica, the bowl’s executive director, said the game and the week leading up were an overwhelming success.

“It was a great week,” Krupica said.

KICKING TO RECORDS: Arkansas’ Chris Balseiro set an Independence Bowl record with four field goals. With kicks of 33, 28, 25 and 24 yards, Balseiro passed three others who had kicked three field goals in the Independence Bowl.

Balseiro also set an Independence Bowl record for kickers with 13 points. Both mark Arkansas bowl records.

PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Cobbs was named Offensive Most Valuable Player, and Arkansas’ Caleb Miller was named Defensive Most Valuable Player. Miller had 16 tackles, including one for loss, and broke up a pass.

POTPOURRI: Ricker added to his school record, starting his 47th straight at center. The streak covers Ricker’s entire career at Missouri.

Missouri receiver Thomson Omboga set a career-high with eight catches. Omboga caught seven passes against Eastern Illinois earlier this season.

Missouri, whose most recent bowl win was a 34-31 victory against West Virginia in the 1998 Bowl, is 1-3 in bowl games since 1983.

Missouri and Arkansas have met four times with the series tied at 2.

The Tigers will get more of the state of Arkansas soon. Their season opener next year is set for Sept. 4 against Arkansas State in Columbia.

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