Tigers drop the ball

After missing out on chance after chance to score, time ran out on the Tigers' bowl game and season with an uncharacteristic loss to Arkansas in the Independence Bowl.

SHREVEPORT, La. – When it all was done at Independence Stadium, Missouri had no need to get back to its hotel and see the New Year's Eve celebration at Times Square.

The Tigers had already dropped the ball.

Missouri spoiled several good chances to score, and a couple other costly mistakes gave Arkansas' powerful running game a chance to get going, and the Razorbacks cruised to a 27-14 win in the Independence Bowl.

"I'm very, very disappointed at the amount of mistakes my football team made," Missouri coach Pinkel said. "I mean, we're a pretty good football team, and we made enough mistakes in one game to last an entire football season."

The Tigers turned the ball over on downs in the red zone three times, failed on a fake field goal attempt, had a punt blocked and snapped a ball 40 yards past punter Brock Harvey. Combine all these mistakes and a few crucial defensive mistakes from usually disciplined Missouri with an almost mistake-free performance from Arkansas, and it amounted to a handy Arkansas win.

"I mean, they outplayed us today," Missouri tailback Zack Abron said.

The Tigers dropped to 8-5 on the season, but it was their first eight-win season and first bowl trip since 1998.

Until the Razorbacks allowed Missouri quarterback Brad Smith one big run midway through the fourth quarter, they had done about a good of a job as anyone at keeping him from breaking anything too long. Smith finished with 20 carries for 96 yards to go with his 17 completions on 30 attempts for 155 yards passing. Abron led Missouri in rushing with 137 yards on 19 carries.

Arkansas ran 47 times for 300 yards in the game, but more important, it never turned the ball over. Kicker Chris Balseiro made all four of his field goal attempts, an Independence Bowl record, for Arkansas.

In a matter of a minute and a half, Arkansas took a 7-6 Missouri lead in the second quarter to a 21-7 Razorbacks lead. It started when the Tigers drove to the Arkansas 48, but when they tried to punt, snapper Zack Strom snapped it a foot over Brock Harvey's head, something Pinkel and Harvey can't remember happening even in practice.

"He's perfect," Harvey said. "He's been perfect ever since I've known him. It's his part of the game, and I don't ever expect it to happen again."

Harvey raced after it, but Arkansas' Bo Mosley beat him to it at the Missouri 3-yard line. Three plays later, Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones juked past Terrence Curry on a bootleg for a 1-yard score. The two-point conversion made it 14-7.

After a Missouri three-and-out, Arkansas returned the ball to the 41. On the next play, Cedric Cobbs ran through a hole to the left and didn't stop until he was in the end zone to give the Razorbacks a 14-point lead.

"For him to just come in, one play, and take it to the house, that demoralizes us as a defense," Missouri cornerback Calvin Washington said. "That's a gimme play in our mind. When you give people more of those, you're going to find yourself behind every single time."

Arkansas would never relinquish that lead, but the Tigers had plenty of chances to cut into it. On the next drive after Cobbs' touchdown run, Missouri drove into the red zone, but Abron couldn't get the first down on third-and-1 and fourth-and-one from the 12. On fourth down, Abron seemed to get past the marker, but the referee spotted it short of the 11-yard line, and Missouri turned it over on downs.

"I did think I got the first," Abron said. "It was a bad mark by the referees."

On the first drive of the second half, Missouri again went into the red zone without any points. After six runs got the Tigers to the Arkansas 6, Missouri ended up with a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Smith bootlegged right, and with several Razorbacks chasing him, he attempted to loft it to J.D. McCoy in the end zone, only to have Arkansas' Lerinezo Robinson intercept it.

After Balseiro had kicked another field goal, Smith scored on a 5-yard run with 39 seconds left in the third to make it 24-14. Balseiro kicked another field goal with 12:57 left in the game to put Arkansas up 27-14, but Missouri had more chances to come back.

But the Tigers' next drive resulted in a blocked punt, and their final drive, outside of Abron running out the clock in the last 30 seconds, finished with yet another failed fourth-down conversion. After getting a first-and-goal on the 9, Missouri couldn't get any closer to the end zone, and it ended on a penalty for Smith throwing the ball past the line scrimmage.

Pinkel said he was "embarrassed" by the mistakes, but he was still proud for his team keeping up its fight at the end.

"Through all the adversity out there, we were still fighting out there, and with five minutes left, we still had a chance to score and get back in the ballgame," Pinkel said.

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