Arkansas 27, Missouri 14 (Final)
Arkansas gave up a lot of yards, but stopped Missouri in the red zone for most of the night en route to a 27-14 victory in the Independence Bowl. The Hogs ended the season 9-4. Missouri is 8-5.
It might have been the last college game for Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, a true junior. Afterwards, Jones said he would rest a day or two, join the basketball team and also begin deliberation on his football future. He said he may declare for the NFL draft in the middle of January.
"I will talk to Coach (Houston) Nutt in the next two days and we'll talk about that," Jones said. "My family has talked to some folks (in the NFL) as far as my evaluation, whether I'd be a quarterback or a wide receiver. I'll think about that and then do what is best."
Asked if he might not play any more college football, Jones said, "That's definitely out there right now. I might not be back for football, but I could still play two more years of basketball. I want to play basketball. I need to rest my body for a couple of days, then I'll be out there with the basketball team."
Lawrence Richardson, Jason Peters and Ahmad Carroll also hinted strongly that they had played their last college football. Richardson and Peters both said they would not return for their senior year. Richardson said Carroll had told him this week that he would also leave a year early, but might not announce for a few weeks, or maybe as late as after indoor track season so he could lower his 40-yard dash times.
Houston Nutt said he had not talked to any of those players about their decisions. As for Jones' future, Nutt said, "I haven't heard anything from him. I want to hear it from him. I want to talk to him first."
Ryan Sorahan started the game as the Hogs drove 55 yards in 12 plays to take a 3-0 lead on Chris Balseiro's 33-yard field goal. He passed 17 yards on the first play for the big play in the march. Cedric Cobbs converted a fourth-and-1 with a 5-yard cutback to the MU 23, but the Hogs didn't block the Tigers on third-and-3 and Cobbs made nothing.
Missouri answered with a superb 8-play, 66-yard scoring march, gobbling up 12, 42, 7, 4 and the final yard on Zack Abron's power plunge over right tackle. It was 7-3 at 6:50 of the first quarter. Abron had a 42-yard sprint through the heart of the defense for the big play in that drive.
The Hogs turned to Matt Jones at quarterback at that point, but the Hogs were three and out after a holding penalty wiped out a Jones scramble for a first down. Jacob Skinner shanked a punt, and the 21-yarder left Missouri at the UA 49-yard line.
The Tigers went away from Abron's running to put the ball in the hands of their big-play quarterback, the swift Brad Smith. The Hogs were ready. On third-and-4, Smith tried to keep on a draw and was held to no gain by the swarming Hogs.
Arkansas kept the ball for over five minutes to kill the rest of the first quarter on a 16-play, 88-yard march for Balseiro's 28-yard field goal. Jones passed 16 yards to Richard Smith on the drive's first play from the UA 1-yard line. The Hogs converted fourth-and-2 on DeCori Birmingham's 5-yard sweep around his left flank. It was 7-6 at 13:09 of the second quarter.
The Tigers made two first downs, but Smith was sacked on third-and-8. The Tigers tried to punt, but the snap was well over Brock Harvey's head. Bo Mosley and three Tigers pounced on the ball at the MU 3-yard line.
The Hogs turned to De'Arrius Howard at tailback with Cedric Cobbs and Brandon Kennedy as the blockers at wingback. Howard made it to just a foot short of the goal line on two plunges over right guard. On third-and-goal, Jones tried a naked bootleg to the right with no receivers in the pattern. He sidestepped two Tigers to roll in around the right side. It was 14-7 when Jones fired to George Wilson for the two-point play at 7:24 of the second quarter.
The Tigers were three and out with Ahmad Carroll knocking a pass away from the receiver on a third-and-2 play. With Matt Jones back deep to his left, Marvin Jackson fielded a 33-yard line drive and returned it 14 yards to the MU 41-yard line. The Hogs were lucky on the next play when Cobbs and Jones collided in the shotgun backfield. Cobbs then dodged two Tigers in the backfield on a cutback to the left that went for a 41-yard spring into the end zone at the left pylon. It was 21-7 at 5:59 of the first half.
The Tigers had two scoring threats the rest of the half, but came away empty. They were stopped two feet short on a fourth-and-1 sweep at the UA 11-yard line with 1:59 left. Abron powered through a wall of Hogs with Jeremy Harrell and Keith Jackson at the bottom of the pile. They got the ball back with 39 seconds left at the UA 46 and moved to the 24 where they had the ball with the clock stopped at :04. They lined up for a 42-yard field goal, but with a wideout flanked far to the MU sideline, 5 yards off the line. The Hogs spied the receiver, and Thomas Crowder sprinted to cover him. The holder's pass was weak and wobbly and Crowder picked it off. He returned it 22 yards before the Tigers got the Hogs' fastest player down with their last man to end the half.
The Hogs outgained the Tigers, 205 to 137, and won the time of possession battle, 16:16 to 13:44, in the first half.
The Tigers wasted another nice march to start the second half. They rolled to the UA 6-yard line for a first-and-goal situation without facing a third down. From there, the Hogs stiffened and stopped a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line when Smith was intercpepted at the goal line when Caleb Miller and Ahmad Carroll pressured him on a deep rollout.
The Hogs rolled 83 yards in 15 plays for Balseiro's 25-yard field goal to make it 24-7 at 5:21 of the third quarter. Jones had keepers of 19 and 15 yards. The Hogs didn't get the call when Wilson was pushed when he went into the air for a Jones pass in the end zones on third-and-goal from the MU 8-yard line. The Hogs faced only two third downs in that drive, the first a third-and-inches.
Missouri answered with a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown march with Smith covering the final 5 yards with a counter over the left side. Smith converted third-and-13, third-and-3 and third-and-6 in the drive. It was 24-14 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
Cobbs made 3 yards on the last play of the third quarter to give the Hogs a 291 to 290 edge in total offense. The Tigers led in first downs, 17-16.
The Hogs pushed the lead to 27-14 on Balseiro's 24-yard field goal at 12:57 of the fourth quarter. It capped a 7-play, 51-drive. DeCori Birmingham had a 40-yard dash on a third-and-7 draw for the big play. Birmingham also had a 39-yard kickoff return to start the Hogs at their own 43. Balseiro's field goal was his fourth, a record for Arkansas kickers in a bowl game and the most ever in the Independence Bowl. Bob White had kicked three for the Hogs in the 1969 Sugar Bowl when the Hogs beat Georgia, 16-2.
The Tigers got a break on the kickoff when the Hogs recovered a fumble, but officials from the Sun Belt Conference ruled it wasn't in bounds. It appeared that the UA defender was pushed across the line after his recovery. The Hogs did get it back on Crowder's blocked punt, recovering at the MU 35-yard line. They wasted that possession when a double pass went incomplete on first down and two sweeps by Birmingham netted only 2 yards. Skinner's towering spiral was caught by Crowder and downed at the MU 1-yard line with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter.
It didn't take long for the Tigers to quiet the partisan Arkansas crowd (paid attendance was 49,6250) when Smith hit Sean Coffey down the sideline for 31 yards to the MU 32. The Tigers ripped off big chunks before they slowed in the red zone. They converted fourth-and-2 on Abron's 3-yard run to the UA 9. On fourth-and-goal from the 9, Smith scrambled and crossed the line before throwing a pass from the 6 while Keith Jackson had him wrapped up. The Hogs took over at the MU 13 with 4:39 left. They ran off all but the final 40 seconds.
The Hogs rushed for 300 yards despite playing without two of their best blockers. All-America right tackle Shawn Andrews and fullback Mark Pierce did not play and will enter the draft and not return for their senior season.
"Zac Tubbs filled in for Shawn just fine at right tackle," said Jerry Reith, the Hogs' senior left guard. "Those were some big shoes to fill, but he did great, in my eyes.
"We had put in a special offense for this game since we wouldn't have those two guys, and especially without Shawn. But, we started out with the basic stuff we've run all year and they never stopped that. The coaches put this one in our laps up front and I felt like we blocked them pretty well. There's a lot of satisfaction in how this game went, to be able to run the ball on them. Yes, Shawn is a great one, but we felt we would just keep doing what we were doing and that's how it went tonight."
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