After Missouri’s 33-16 Texas Bowl loss to the Texas Longhorns, MU head coach Barry Odom was red faced during his press conference, and he nearly choked up.
The second-year coach delivered a fiery rant and lit newspaper clippings on fire this year. But on this night, after a down-then-up season ended with an uninspired dud, he was solemn and frank.
“You can’t walk away from an evenly matched game and be minus-four in the turnover margin and have a chance to win the game,” Odom said. “Turn it over four times, give up a couple explosive plays defensively. We couldn’t get anything going in the run game. ... That’s kind of a recipe for getting beat like we did.”
The plays that ultimately decided this game were a safety late in the third quarter and a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty that was called early in the fourth quarter, which led to a 41-yard field goal that put the Longhorns up 10 points. Armanti Foreman’s 18-yard rushing touchdown with less than two minutes remaining rubbed in the loss.
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But there’s a reason Texas could never settle on which quarterback to play this season, even in its bowl game. The Longhorns’ offense isn’t impressive. They required Missouri’s help to win, and the Tigers provided it.
The last time Missouri was minus-4 in the turnover category was after its big home loss to Auburn, when Odom delivered an impassioned plea that he was the right man for his job.
His team would end up coming into this bowl game — the program’s first in three years — with a chance to become just the second Power Five team ever to win eight games in a season that started 1-5. That was supposed to motivate the Tigers, who were facing a Texas team that was missing eight players for various reasons, including three who skipped the game after declaring for the NFL Draft.
Instead, though, the MU players appeared either nervous or unfocused. Maybe both.
Missouri recorded four penalties on the game’s first eight snaps. A pass interference by Kaleb Prewett, a hold by DeMarkus Acy and a facemask by Brandon Lee facilitated an opening possession that ended with Texas running back Daniel Young catching a 22-yard touchdown.
“They pulled the guard in front of me, brought a running back straight through the gap,” linebacker Terez Hall said of the play, rolling his eyes back and shaking his head as he recalled it. “I don’t make mistakes like that.”
A couple of drives later, a play-action pass to Young moved the ball 42 yards. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass that put the Longhorns up 14 points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Tigers offensive line had a false start on each of its their first two drives. Missouri began the game with four straight three-and-outs. For the first time since playing Kentucky on Oct. 7, Mizzou didn’t score in the first quarter, and it trailed going into halftime — 21-7 — for the first time since a loss at Georgia, the week before Missouri’s six-game winning streak began.
Mizzou’s offense finally broke through on its first drive of the second quarter, when a couple of J’Mon Moore catches set up a 4-yard Ish Witter touchdown run.
Midway through the second quarter, though, Witter fumbled for the first time this season. Safety P.J. Locke III stripped the ball from him, and linebacker Anthony Wheeler returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
It only got worse for MU. A play after Texas seemed to get away with grabbing Moore’s facemask on what would have been a big pass completion, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam fumbled at the Texas 44-yard line.
The Tigers, who scored at least 45 points in each of their past six games, utilized an offense full of deep passes to get here. But on Wednesday, without former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel — who left to become head coach at Central Florida — Missouri’s offense didn’t look the same.
Missouri’s greatest deep threat, Emanuel Hall, struggled with a hamstring injury, played limited snaps and didn’t catch a pass. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock had just two completions of more than 25 yards, and one was a screen pass. The other was a 79-yard touchdown to Johnathon Johnson on the first play of the second half. But that big play was an anomaly against the Longhorns.
Texas punter Michael Dickson became just the second punter to ever win MVP honors of a bowl game, and this is why: He took away Mizzou’s greatest strength. Eight of the Tigers’ 17 drives began on or inside their own 10-yard line thanks to his punts, and Lock couldn’t step back in the pocket to launch balls down field when he was so close to his end zone.
“You’re starting in a hole, basically,” said Moore, who led the Tigers with five catches for 65 yards. “You’ve got to dig out of the whole before you can open up the playbook.”
Mizzou remained in this game because Texas’ offense was almost as miserable.
Texas averaged 2.7 yards per carry. The Longhorns were 1 of 8 on third down in the first half, and eight straight Texas offensive possessions — stretching from the first quarter to the fourth — ended in punts.
During that time, Lock connected with Johnson for the 79-yard touchdown, and Mizzou didn’t convert an extra point. A couple of drives later, running backs Witter and Larry Rountree highlighted a 16-play, 87-yard drive that ended in a field goal, putting Missouri down just 21-16 late in the third quarter. Rountree and Witter combined for 136 yards on 31 carries.
But Missouri’s momentum faded on the next drive, when a snap flew over Lock’s left shoulder. The football was catchable, but the play ended in a safety. Lock didn’t seem ready for the ball, and it rolled out of the end zone.
On the following drive, officials called a costly roughing the passer penalty on Acy, who knocked over quarterback Ehlinger while landing after trying to jump and block a pass. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to Missouri’s 29-yard line, and it led to that 41-yard Longhorn field goal, which ended Texas’ offensive scoring drought and put the Longhorns up 26-16.
“Every call ain’t going to be your call,” Terez Hall said of the play. “If I was him, I’d do the same thing. Honestly, I would have went full speed and hit him and made him pay for it.”
During the winning streak that propelled Missouri to bowl eligibility, a 10-point deficit could have disappeared with two Lock throws — but not against the Longhorns, not against Dickson.
Dickson’s final punt placed the ball at Missouri’s 4-yard line, and Kevin Pendleton committed his second false-start penalty of the night on the drive’s first play. Lock threw an interception a play later, effectively sealing the game.
The Missouri quarterback, who is still undecided whether to return for his senior year or turn pro, completed 18 of 34 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown. He also fumbled the football on Mizzou’s final possession, with mere seconds left and the game out of reach.
After the interception of Lock, a few Texas players ran to midfield and performed the celebration Lock did after so many of his 44 touchdowns this season: They slid an imaginary backpack over both shoulders and tightened the straps.
While the Longhorns mocked the Tigers, they looked at the Missouri sideline, where the swagger and confidence built up over more than two months of winning appeared to have faded.
Texas 33, Missouri 16
TEX: Young 22 pass from Buechele (Rowland kick), 13:28.
TEX: Burt 7 pass from Ehlinger (Rowland kick), 3:58.
MU: Witter 4 run (McCann kick), 12:10.
TEX: Wheeler 38 fumble return (Rowland kick), 7:47.
MU: J.Johnson 79 pass from Lock (run failed), 14:42.
MU: FG McCann 28, 2:44.
TEX: safety, 1:10.
TEX: FG Rowland 41, 12:15.
TEX: Foreman 18 run (Rowland kick), 1:39.
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Texas, Young 12-48, Porter 11-30, Foreman 1-18, Ehlinger 11-17, Buechele 3-12, Heard 1-0, (Team) 1-(minus 5), Hemphill-Mapps 2-(minus 7). Missouri, Rountree 14-74, Witter 17-57, Lock 2-0, (Team) 1-(minus 10).
PASSING: Texas, Buechele 6-14-0-55, Ehlinger 11-15-0-112. Missouri, Lock 18-34-1-269.
RECEIVING: Texas, Foreman 4-19, Young 3-64, C.Johnson 3-40, Heard 2-6, K.Moore 1-13, Porter 1-10, Burt 1-7, Joe 1-6, Hemphill-Mapps 1-2. Missouri, J.Moore 5-65, Okwuegbunam 4-43, J.Johnson 3-85, Rountree 3-37, Blanton 1-23, Collins 1-13, N.Brown 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.