Gary Pinkel’s 15-year tenure at Missouri deserved a better finale.
Instead, Arkansas’ lopsided, rain-soaked 28-3 victory Friday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium likely serves as the final chapter for the Tigers’ all-time leader in coaching victories.
“Coach Pinkel has done a lot for a lot of guys that comes through this program,” senior safety Ian Simon said. “I know I felt a little more weight on my shoulders to do whatever possible I could to send him out on a high note. That’s something I’m personally disappointed in, but we fought — offense fought, defense fought, special teams fought.”
The results simply weren’t there.
Missouri’s normally stout run defense, which hadn’t allowed more than 168 yards in any game this season until last week, got gashed again.
The Razorbacks, 7-5 and 5-3 in the SEC, tore through the Tigers, 5-7 and 1-7, to the tune of 208 yards rushing with four touchdowns on 52 carries.
Junior Alex Collins did most of the damage, gaining 130 yards with three touchdowns on 30 carries, though MU only allowed 310 total yards. Only Alabama allowed Arkansas fewer this season.
Tennessee shredded Missouri for 248 yards on 51 carries last week in Pinkel’s final game at Memorial Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offense, which struggled all season, was sad-sack again, managing only 171 total yards, the third time this season MU failed to crack 200 yards.
“It’s sad,” senior left tackle Connor McGovern said. “We lost Coach his last home game and his last game ever, so we were pretty disappointed in that. As a senior class, we’ve had some pretty good seasons, so we’re pretty disappointed to go out with the season we had.”
Quarterback Drew Lock went 9 of 27 for a season-low 83 passing yards with no touchdowns and one interception on a lob to the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Lock, who Pinkel said suffered a shoulder sprain against BYU, failed to lead a touchdown drive for the fourth time in eight starts after taking over as the starter.
“Obviously, it’s not the results I wanted this season and not the results that anyone who’s a fan of Missouri would want,” Lock said. “...I’m willing to pay the price this offseason, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Tigers’ run game also produced precious little once again, totaling 88 yards on 25 carries. It marked the sixth time this season MU failed to crack the century mark on the ground.
Sadly, perhaps the game’s biggest highlight for Missouri was freshman punter Corey Fatony, who set the program’s single-season record for most punts with 81.
“It’s not that great of a record, but I’m still glad to have one,” said Fatony, who averaged 40.2 yards on eight punts in passing Jason Smith, who had 79 punts in 1995.
Barring a surprise decision to accept a bowl berth if any five-win teams are needed to fill out this season’s record bowl lineup, the loss ends a tumultuous season that started with Missouri ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and eyeing a third consecutive SEC East division title.
None of the magic from the last two seasons materialized.
Instead, junior quarterback Maty Mauk was suspended twice and didn’t play after the fourth game of the season as Missouri endured the first four-game losing streak since 2004.
The Tigers’ season took another turn Nov. 7 when nearly three dozen players announced a boycott.
Missouri only missed one practice amid racial unrest on campus, but the players’ strike drew national attention.
Less than a week later, Pinkel announced Nov. 13 that he had follicular lymphoma and would resign after the season.
“Obviously, I didn’t want it to end this way,” Pinkel said. “I also knew our players were not focused like they needed to be. I had a challenge to get that done. There was just a lot of uncertainty with the coaches and players, which can’t be prevented. That’s nobody’s fault. … Anyway, it was a great run. I didn’t like it to end this way.”
During the second official meeting in the Battle Line Rivalry and the first meeting between the programs in Fayetteville, Collins’ three first-half touchdowns staked Arkansas to a hefty halftime lead.
Collins scored on runs of 4, 7 and 25 yards, while the Tigers’ only points came on a 25-yard Andrew Baggett field goal midway through the second quarter.
Arkansas junior running back Kody Walker added a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter for the second half’s only points.
“This whole season, it didn’t go as planned, but being a captain and being one of coach Pinkel’s last captains and being in coach Pinkel’s last senior class was a blessing,” senior center Evan Boehm said.