Perhaps nobody has ever loved being a Missouri Tiger more than senior defensive end Markus Golden, so it’s fitting that he ended his career Thursday with an MVP performance against Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl.
Golden led an MU defense that allowed only 240 yards, including 30 yards rushing, after the first quarter in a 33-17 victory.
There could be no more fitting end to Golden’s career. He racked up team highs with 10 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 1 1/2 sacks, three quarterback hurries and also forced a fumble in his final game with the Tigers.
“It’s a blessing just to be part of the Mizzou team, just to be out here playing,” Golden said. “But for me to get MVP, it’s amazing. It’s one of the best days of my life. Like I said, coming to Missouri is one of the best things that happened to me.”
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As good as junior defensive end Shane Ray, who finished with an MU single-season record 14 1/2 sacks, and Golden were, the win truly was a team effort.
Special teams ignited Missouri, 11-3, in both halves, and the offense, particularly a run game that churned out 337 yards in 45 carries, dominated the fourth quarter, turning a two-point game into a rout.
“I can’t say enough about my staff, my players,” Pinkel said. “That’s 23 wins in the last two years, the best back-to-back (seasons) in the history of University of Missouri. That was also coming off of a 5-7 year, when things were kind of dismal, things weren’t very good.”
MU has won three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1973-79 and sent defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who is leaving the Tigers after 14 seasons to become the Missouri State head coach, out a winner.
The announced crowd of 48,624, the first Citrus Bowl crowd under 50,000 since 1979, witnessed three turnovers in the opening 3 minutes, 22 seconds — including two interceptions by sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.
The first proved harmless after Golden’s sack and strip of Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, but the second — when Minnesota junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun wrestled the ball from Missouri senior Darius White at the goal line — led to the game’s first touchdown.
Rodrick Williams Jr. capped an 11-play march with 20-yard burst.
It was sophomore defensive tackle Harold Brantley’s 19-yard run on a fake punt that finally provided a jolt, one of three critical special-teams plays for the Tigers.
Missouri didn’t score immediately, but it helped flip the field and the Tigers broke through on its next drive, cutting into Minnesota’s 7-0 lead with a 21-yard field goal by junior Andrew Baggett.
Baggett’s 33-yard field goal early in the third quarter came after junior Ian Simon recovered a surprise onside kick along the MU sideline and boosted the lead to 13-7 before tight end Maxx Williams put Minnesota back in front with a touchdown worthy of Chiefs’ Travis Kelce.
A muffed punt recovery followed and allowed Missouri to take the lead for good.
After those early picks, Mauk, who finished 12 of 19 for 97 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, steadied himself.
His first touchdown toss — a 25-yard strike to senior Bud Sasser, who flipped his body 180 degrees at the last second to haul in the pass — put Missouri up 10-7 at halftime.
Three plays after Marcus Jones’ muff, Mauk staked the Tigers to a 19-14 lead with 18-yard touchdown run, leveling Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells at the goal line and knocking him from the game.
Minnesota answered with a 38-yard Ryan Santoso field goal, but Missouri dominated the fourth quarter.
Junior Russell Hansbrough’s career-long 78-yard touchdown re-established breathing room. It’s also the longest play from scrimmage for MU this season, the longest in the program’s bowl history and tied for the longest run in Citrus Bowl history.
Oklahoma State’s Terry Miller also had a 78-yard touchdown run during a 49-21 win against BYU in 1976.
After the score, Hansbrough, who finished with 15 carries for 114 yards, told senior Marcus Murphy, “‘Murph, you got the next drive,’” because he was tired.
Murphy, who had 157 yards in 12 carries, his first career 100-yard game, responded with a career-long 69-yard run that set up Mauk’s second touchdown to Sasser, a 7-yard hookup that made him MU’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2010.
Sasser had seven catches for 68 yards, while Murphy joined Jeremy Maclin as the second Tigers player to top 5,000 career all-purpose yards. He totaled 207 in the game and finished with 5,112 for his career.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.