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2011 Independence Bowl Recap

Missouri Tigers vs North Carolina Tar Heels - Missouri 41, North Carolina 24

The Missouri Tigers didn’t produce a memorable regular season by any appreciable standard or measurement. They did manage to create a special bowl memory, and that’s what they’ll hang onto as they move to the Southeastern Conference.

It’s the night before a new dawn for Missouri. The Tigers are leaving the Big 12 and will compete in the SEC come September of 2012. Coach Gary Pinkel needed a strong send-off to his season on Monday afternoon in the 2011 Independence Bowl against the North Carolina Tar Heels. He received exactly what he was looking for, and now a program can look forward to the future with a certain level of optimism.

Missouri slogged through a 7-5 regular season, partly crippled by injuries but also the victim of its own shortcomings in an early-season game against Arizona State and an October setback against Kansas State. One of the reasons why the Tigers never fully hit their stride is that quarterback James Franklin was very inconsistent. Franklin was the kind of player who would dazzle crowds in one moment and then cough up a head-scratching fumble on the very next play. Franklin killed many Missouri drives this past season with clumsy fumbles that hurt not just because they were so markedly inelegant, but primarily because they proved to be so untimely. Franklin is still at an early stage in his development, so the sophomore needed to use this bowl as a launching pad for the 2012 season and Missouri’s arrival in the SEC.

He succeeded handsomely.

Franklin threw for 132 yards and rushed for 142, completely flummoxing North Carolina’s defense and giving Missouri the balance it needed to roll up 513 yards of total offense. Franklin lived entirely within his element and proved to be thoroughly comfortable in his own skin against the Tar Heels. The ease demonstrated by Missouri’s main man under center was evident in the first half, when the Tigers scored 31 straight points in under 25 minutes to blow the game open. Franklin’s passing, ballhandling, faking and running all puzzled UNC’s defensive front, enabling the Tigers to establish the tempo and flow they craved. Pinkel and his braintrust – especially on the offensive side of the ball – unsheathed several wrinkles that the Carolina defense was simply not expecting. The result was a game that was never closer than 14 points throughout the second half (and that 14-point lead lasted for only two minutes and 26 seconds; Missouri extended it back to 21 points shortly after the Tar Heels tried to rally).

The season ends for North Carolina in a cloud of darkness. Head coach Everett Withers – who was thrust into his position of responsibility only after former boss Butch Davis was forced out at the end of July – decided before the Independence Bowl that he would become Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State. This part of the backdrop to the game surely detracted from the Tar Heels’ energy and focus. Unfortunately for the young men on North Carolina’s roster, upcoming NCAA penalties are likely to ensure that UNC won’t be able to play in a bowl for the next few seasons. This was not a night to treat lightly, but Carolina’s lack of effort in Shreveport, Louisiana, indicates that the Tar Heels really didn’t give this game the commitment and dedication it deserved.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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