Arkansas 27, Missouri 14
Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 1:00 a.m.
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Arkansas' bowl drought is over, thanks to a big game from Cedric Cobbs and an opportunistic defense.
Cobbs ran for 141 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown, to help the Razorbacks end a three-game bowl losing streak with a 27-14 victory over Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Wednesday night.
Arkansas' defense made two key fourth-and-1 stops, one of them at the goal line, as the Razorbacks won for only the second time in their last 12 bowl games. In six seasons under coach Houston Nutt, Arkansas is 2-4 in bowl games.
"It gets the monkey off our back," Nutt said. "You know what, we won a bowl game and a very good bowl game. We beat a good team, we really did."
Chris Balseiro kicked four short field goals, an Independence Bowl record, as Arkansas (9-4) rebounded from a 31-point loss to LSU in the regular-season finale. Arkansas' 300 yards rushing also was an Independence record.
Backup DeCori Birmingham added 85 yards on 10 carries and quarterback Matt Jones had 74 yards on seven carries.
"We just ran the ball," Jones said. "We knew their rush defense wasn't sophisticated, and that we could run against it."
The Razorbacks likely benefited from a largely pro-Arkansas crowd. That state's border is only 30 miles away, and there were about twice as many Arkansas supporters as there were for Missouri.
Special teams was a problem area for Missouri (8-5), which lost 41 yards to its own 3 after a high snap went over punter Brock Harvey's head _ essentially handing the Razorbacks a touchdown. Arkansas' Tom Crowder intercepted a fake field pass by holder and backup quarterback Sonny Riccio on the last play of the first half, and Crowder also blocked a punt in the fourth quarter.
"That's very uncharacteristic of one of my teams," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I'm embarrassed. I take a lot of pride in the product we put out there."
Brad Smith of Missouri had 155 yards passing and 96 yards rushing to set the school career total yardage record in just his second season. He scored on a 5-yard run late in the third quarter to cut the gap to 10 points. But he fell 23 yards short of becoming the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in two seasons.
Zack Abron added 137 yards on 19 carries for Missouri, making its first bowl appearance in five years and only the school's third in 20 seasons.
The Tigers had a 407-385 edge in total yardage, but didn't have a lot to show for their 407 total yards.
"I know everybody wanted to win this game," Smith said. "I guess we needed a little extra focus and determination to get the job done."
Cobbs set a school record with his seventh 100-yard rushing game this season _ the 11th of an injury-plagued career. He's totaled 460 yards in his last three games, and was named the game's offensive MVP.
The only time he was touched on his second-quarter scoring run was when he collided with Jones on the handoff. He ran for 99 yards in the first half to help Arkansas take a 21-7 lead.
"I think this definitely puts a stamp on everything for me that I can run for 100 yards against anybody," Cobbs said. "We wanted to go out there and be mistake-free, and we did that."
Missouri was hurt when it came up empty on consecutive 10-play drives, one at the end of the first half and another at the start of the third quarter.
Freshmen Keith Jackson Jr. and Jeremy Harrell stuffed Abron on fourth-and-1 at the Razorbacks 12 with 1:59 left. Then Lerinezo Robinson intercepted a rollout pass from Smith on fourth-and-goal from the 1 as Arkansas preserved its 21-7 lead.
During the regular season, Missouri was 13-for-15 on fourth-and-1. The Tigers also were thwarted on fourth-and-goal from the 8 with about five minutes to go.
"If you make it, it's a great call," Pinkel said. "I think the fake field goal was just what we needed. I don't second-guess myself."
Missouri led 7-6 when Zach Strom's snap sailed high above the head of Harvey and rolled to the Tigers 3. Jones slipped two would-be tacklers on a 1-yard run three plays later, and his conversion pass to George Wilson put the Razorbacks ahead to stay at 14-7.
Arkansas scored on consecutive plays, making it 21-7, as Cobbs scored following a three-and-out for Missouri.
This is the third nine-win season in six years for Nutt, and the second straight.
Balseiro was 4-for-4 on field goals, connecting from 33, 28, 25 and 24 yards. Balseiro didn't get the kicking job until the fourth game of the year and finished 11-for-15 on field goal attempts.
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