Texas gets kick out of first bowl win since 2012
HOUSTON — In a game determined by field position and defense, Texas had the right players in the right place at the right time to beat Missouri 33-16 in the Academy Sports + Outdoor Texas Bowl on Wednesday at NRG Stadium.
It sure helped, too, that the Longhorns had the battle’s most important weapon, Australia-born punter Michael Dickson. The Ray Guy Award winner, Dickson was selected the most valuable player of the Texas Bowl.
Texas scored two passing touchdowns in the first quarter and turned over the game to its defense and Dickson, doing just enough to beat a Missouri team that had reeled off six straight wins heading into the game.
It was Texas’ first appearance in a bowl game since 2014 and first win in the postseason since the 2012 Alamo Bowl. It also granted the Longhorns (7-6) their first winning season since 2013, the last campaign coached in Austin by Mack Brown.
“It’s important for our guys to call themselves winners — it’s been a while since this program has ended the season on the positive note we have here tonight,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “Our guys were dialed in and focused. We knew our best would be good enough to win tonight as long as we didn’t make many mistakes.”
Dickson had 10 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, becoming the first punter in the country this year to accomplish that feat. He had 11 total punts in the game — two of which traveled more than 55 yards — and buried Missouri (7-6) in poor field position all game.
“I’ve never seen anything like him,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said of Dickson. “In a field-position game, he allowed Texas to control things. You can’t be minus-4 in turnover margin and expect to win a game like this.”
The Longhorns did little on offense after the first quarter, when they amassed 110 of their 280 total yards. Texas’ defense forced four turnovers and a safety and held Missouri quarterback Drew Lock to 269 yards passing and one touchdown.
Texas marched 75 yards in five plays (and three big Missouri penalties) on its opening drive to a 22-yard TD pass from Shane Buechele to Daniel Young that granted the Longhorns an early 7-0 lead.
The Longhorns went back to the same play to Young for 42 yards from Sam Ehlinger to set the table for their second touchdown. The 7-yard connection from Ehlinger to John Burt expanded the advantage to 14-0 with 3:58 to play in the first quarter.
Missouri didn’t have a first down until 1:07 remained in the first quarter on their final possession of the period before it was forced to punt on the opening play of the second quarter.
Ish Witter’s 4-yard TD run at the end of a five-play, 50-yard drive brought the Tigers to within 14-7 with 12:10 left in the second quarter.
Witter and Missouri gave that score right back though as he fumbled when hit by P.J. Locke. The bounding football was scooped up by Texas’ Anthony Wheeler and returned 38 yards for a touchdown. It was the Longhorns’ eighth non-offensive TD of the year, the most for the team since 2009.
Missouri outgained Texas 183-164 in the first half but was stymied by two fumbles, five penalties and dreadful field position. The Tigers’ average field position to start their 10 possessions was their own 16, and five drives began at the 10-yard line or worse.
Lock was the all-Southeastern Conference quarterback this season, and he showed why, finding Johnathon Johnson with a laser-like 79-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the third quarter. However, the Tigers flubbed the PAT and were left trailing 21-13.
Missouri crept to within 21-16 on a 28-yard field goal by Tucker McCann with 2:44 to play in the third quarter. Then the Tigers made another mistake, as Lock couldn’t nab a wide snap from center but reacted well enough to bat the football off his leg and out of the end zone while surrendering a safety.
The Longhorns went up 26-16 on a 41-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland with 12:15 to play four snaps after a dubious roughing-the-passer call that kept Texas’ drive alive. Armanti Foreman capped the scoring with an 18-yard reverse run after Lock was intercepted by Davante Davis late in the fourth quarter.
Longhorns linebacker Breckyn Hager said things will change for Texas because it finished with a winning record and is carrying a winning attitude going forward.
“Today, Coach Herman won the locker room,” Hager said. “We have always played with a chip on our shoulder, but we’ve never been a team like we were the past three weeks and in this game tonight. It’s important for us to know we are winners.”
NOTES: Texas honored Longhorns legend Tommy Nobis, who passed away Dec. 13 in Atlanta, during the game. Although Nobis’ number has been retired by Texas, junior LB Breckyn Hager donned Nobis’ No. 60 against Missouri, and the players wore “60” decals on the back of their helmets. ... Texas junior LB Malik Jefferson, the Big 12’s co-defensive player of the year, was ruled out for the game just prior to kickoff because of a turf toe injury. ... Texas and Missouri have now played 24 times, with the Longhorns owning a 18-6 all-time record. The schools last met in 2011 and had played just once before in a bowl game — a 40-27 Longhorns victory in the 1946 Cotton Bowl. Texas has won 16 of the past 18 meetings against Missouri, dating back to 1931.