FAYETTEVILLE — The same Missouri Tigers that ended the 2016 regular season starting Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks skid concluded Bielema’s Arkansas career on a long Friday afternoon into evening at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Shortly after Tim McCann’s 19-yard field goal with seven seconds left eked the bowl bound 7-5, 4-4 in the SEC East Tigers, by 48-45 over Bielema’s 4-8, 1-7 SEC West Razorbacks, Bielema was told by Arkansas interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples that it was Bielema’s final game after five years at Conway.
Bielema’s fate has been speculated season-ending sealed after Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long was fired last week.
Bielema, 29-33 at Arkansas after going 68-24 from 2006-2012 with three Big Ten Championships at Wisconsin, was cruising 7-4 last season and leading Missouri, 24-7 at half before a stunning 28-24 loss followed by losing 35-24 to Virginia Tech after leading 24-0 at half of the Belk Bowl. It started a derail off the tracks from which the Hogs never quite reconnected.
“We were on a steady climb until we ran into a speed bump that we just never were really able to get back out of,” Bielema said. “We lost six out of our top nine players for either for the year or significant time. I was informed I would no longer be the coach at Arkansas. I’ve never been let go before.
“I feel bad for the kids but I know we left this (coming on the heels of coach Bobby Petrino’s scandalous spring 2012 exit followed by a chaotic 2012 season under interim coach John L. Smith) a better place than I left it. Moving forward I will do everything I can to help Arkansas as long as I am not working some place else. I am a bigger fan of Arkansas than ever.”
Bielema said his Razorbacks, coming off a heartbreaking 28-21 SEC loss to Mississippi State last Nov. 18 Saturday here, gave it all they had but lost for some familiar reasons.
“A hard-fought game,” Bielema said. “We just gave up too many things. Offensively we kind of stalled out in the second quarter and defensively the long ball was the breaking point. Give a lot of credit to Missouri. They played a great game and have played well down the stretch.
“It just kind of summarizes the whole year for us.”
Missouri amassed 697 yards on Arkansas’ beleaguered defense with Tigers junior quarterback Drew Lock completing 25 of 42 passes for 448 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions, both by Arkansas senior cornerback Henre Toliver.
Missouri wideout J’Mon Moore caught 10 alone for 160 yards and a touchdown while Tigers, Emanuel Hall, 2 for 111 yards, Al Okwuegbunam, 5 for 63, caught two touchdowns, caught two touchdowns each.
Arkansas couldn’t stop Missouri’s ground game, either. Mizzou running back Ish Witter netted 170 years and a touchdown on 39 carries as the Tigers rushed 248 yards on 60 carries.
Conversely, Mizzou couldn’t find a handle on Arkansas senior quarterback Austin Allen, stellar in his final Razorbacks game completing 14 of 29 for 313 yards while running for one touchdown and passing for two others against one interception.
Allen threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Jordan Jones of Smackover and had completed a 65-yard pass to Jones to the Mizzou five before scoring the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run running left after faking a handoff right at 12:19 of the first quarter.
Allen also completed passes of 24, 30 and 32 yards to senior running back David Williams and wideouts Brandon Martin and Deon Stewart.
Williams caught his 24-yarder off a short pass weaving by two tacklers for Arkansas’ last touchdown for a 42-38 lead with 10:42 left in the fourth quarter and led the Razorbacks rushers netting 75 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
Senior Toliver’s two interceptions, the first prefaced Arkansas’ first touchdown, plus his 33-yard interception made him Arkansas’ defensive standout of the day though he and fellow cornerbacks Kamren Curl and Chevin Calloway both freshman, obviously encountered major problems with Lock and crew.
Arkansas led, 28-14 after the first quarter but suffered the second-quarter offensive slump that Bielema spoke of to trail, 31-28 at half with McCann kicking a tie breaking 37-yard field goal seven seconds before intermission.
Mizzou’s final first-half drive started at its 21 after Allen’s lone interception.
Arkansas regained the lead, 35-31 on running back Devwah Whaley’s 28-yard touchdown run at 2:02 of the third quarter.
Lock regained it , 38-35 on his 8-yard TD to Okwuegbunam.
D’Vionn Warren’s 46-yard kick return plus a 15-yard Mizzou personal foul penalty set up Arkansas to regain the lead 42-38 as Allen threw safety valve pass to Williams who stunned the Tigers taking it 24 yards to the end zone.
Lock and Moore, with Bielema disputing that Moore pushed off Toliver in the end zone, put the Tigers up 45-42 with 8:14 left in the game.