Independence Bowl Preview

Inside Mizzou is in Shreveport and breaks down the Independence Bowl position by position and makes the pick for the big game. Also, come back and check out Inside Mizzou after the game for postgame reactions and all the coverage from Shreveport.

Quarterback: People have playing the matchup between Brad Smith and Matt Jones as a toss-up, but Smith has the clear edge here. Jones threw for only sixty more yards, and he completed 58 percent of his passes to Smith's 61. Meanwhile, Smith ran for more than twice as much as Jones this season. Jones might be a good scrambling quarterback, but few in college do it as well as Smith.

Advantage: MISSOURI

Running backs: Arkansas' Cedric Cobbs was a bona fide Heisman candidate at the beginning of the season, especially after the Razorbacks' win against then-No. 5 Texas. Cobbs ran for 1,179 yards on only 200 carries, leading Arkansas' No. 7 rushing game. Missouri doesn't have a bad rushing game either, the eighth in the country, but it focuses just as much on Smith as it does the tailbacks.

Advantage: ARKANSAS

Receivers: Missouri's receivers didn't have the kind of season they would have liked this season. Only one, Thomson Omboga, had more than 403 yards receiving. The Tigers have depth with Darius Outlaw, Sean Coffey and then J.D. McCoy at tight end, but they don't have a go-to-guy like Arkansas' George Wilson. Wilson caught 47 passes for 875 yards and six touchdowns this season, and second receiver Richard Smith caught 27 passes for 544 yards. They have much more speed than the Tigers' secondary, so it could be long game if the defensive line doesn't get enough pressure on Jones.

Advantage: ARKANSAS

Offensive line: Missouri gets a great break with Arkansas' Shawn Andrews missing the game with a "sinus infection." Take that to mean what you'd like. Either way, it means that the Razorbacks will be without an Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award nominee. Meanwhile, Missouri has one of the best tandems in the country with Rob Droege and A.J. Ricker.

Advantage: MISSOURI

Defensive line: Missouri defensive line seemed to get stronger as the season went on (with the exception of the game at Kansas State), and it finished the season with 26 sacks, twice as much as the Razorbacks' defensive line. As far as run defense goes, Arkansas allowed seven fewer yards per game. Both have had sound seasons with the exception of a few games.

Advantage: TOSS UP

Linebackers: Another one that's hard to pick. Arkansas has a great set of three linebackers with Tony Bua, Caleb Miller and Sam Olajubutu, but Missouri also got great seasons from James Kinney and Brandon Barnes. Like Barnes, Bua and Miller are players that seem to always be around the ball. Bua had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and Miller and three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. One of the three linebackers could make the play that changes the game.

Advantage: TOSS UP

Secondary: Arkansas has the 23rd-best pass defense in the country, and it gets a break facing Missouri's offense, which hasn't exactly had the most efficient passing game. If Brad Smith takes too long to read, Missouri could be in trouble if Arkansas packs the box. Meanwhile, Missouri's shaky secondary has a challenge in Wilson and Richard Smith.

Advantage: ARKANSAS

Special teams: It goes like this: Missouri has better returners, Arkansas has a better punter and neither kicker can really be relied on. So when it comes down to it, if one team can dominate special teams, it could be a big difference in the end in a game between two so evenly matched teams. (By the way, what happened to Missouri punt rush after the first three games? It was dominant at the beginning of the season.)

Advantage: TOSS UP

Prediction: On the biggest levels, Brad Smith seems to always perform at his best. It's never been much bigger than this for Smith, with a national television audience on New Year's Eve. With two evenly matched teams, the difference could be one big defensive play for a turnover or a big special teams play, but I think in the end, it will be Brad Smith who does what he's done so many times already: lead the Tigers down the stretch for a win.

Missouri 35, Arkansas 31.


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