Orlando, Florida (January 1, 2015) – Missouri (11-3) led Minnesota (8-5), 19-17, heading into the final period of play. The Tiger defense had held Gopher RB David Cobb well under his 128.8 ypg rushing average (21 carries for 81 yards) to stay in front in a close, low scoring game. In the final period, it was the Mizzou running game that sealed the victory in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Russell Hansbrough (15 carries for 114 yards) broke through the middle of the Minnesota defense for a 78-yard touchdown run and Marcus Murphy’s 69-yard run (12 carries for 157 yards) on their next possession set up a seven-yard TD pass from Marty Mauk to WR Bud Sasser that finished off the Gophers for their 33-17 win. In the end it was defensive end Markus Golden who won game MVP honors with ten tackles including 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and four tackles for losses. For CFF.com, we had a later start than anticipated as our 5:30 am wakeup call in Miami did not come through. We started our drive to Orlando an hour and a half later than expected, but we made it on time and it was well worth the trip as we’d received press credentials to cover the game from press row, a great experience put on by a very hospitable bowl committee. As you can imagine, they provided all the Buffalo Wild Wings we could eat!
Following a Minnesota interception of a Marty Mauk pass on the first possession of the game, a fumble caused on a sack by Golden and fellow DE and All-American Shane Ray only resulted in a second pass interception by Minnesota. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun’s pick in the end zone started the Golden Gophers from their 20. They took it the length of the field with Rodrick Williams posting the first score of the game with a 20-yard run.
In the second period, the Tigers finally got on the scoreboard with Andrew Baggett’s 21-yard FG. After taking over on the next punt from their 33, the Tigers drove down the field culminating with a second score as Maty Mauk (12 for 19 for 97 yards, 2 INTs, 2 TDs) tossed a 25-yard TD pass to WR Bud Sasser with 1:04 left in the half. With time-outs still in his back pocket, Minnesota HC Jerry Kill displayed no sense of urgency to get into scoring position again before the half. A few short passes took them only 11 yards as time expired. That’s the way the half ended, 10-7. I snapped a few pictures from my front seat in press row, and it was time to go back to the buffet to get some more wings. The two teams seemed to be sparring with one another during the first half still feeling each other out. Missouri HC of 14 years, Gary Pinkel, went back to the locker room and planned to come out swinging.
Mizzou’s PK Andrew Baggett launched a perfectly placed floater on the kickoff near the right sideline where Ian Simon recovered it at the Minnesota 47 against the unsuspecting Gophers. The eventual result was a 33-yard FG by Baggett for a 13-7 Missouri lead. Minnesota didn’t take that lying down. It seemed to light a spark back in the offense. From their 46, QB Mitch Leidner (21 of 31, 258 yards, 1 TD) connected with TE Maxx Williams along the left sideline. He charged up field, hurdled one would-be tackler and dove past another into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown to give the Gophers a 14-13 lead. Could this be the spark the Golden Gophers needed? The defense forced the Tigers to punt after a three and out, but a fumble of the punt by Marcus Jones put the Tigers back in business at the Minnesota 34. A roughing the passer call moved the ball another 15 yards before Mauk scrambled and took it through the middle of the Minnesota defense for an 18-yard scoring run putting DB Derrick Wells flat on his back in the end zone. He had to be helped off the field. The two-point conversion was intercepted by Boddy-Calhoun who was stopped up field. Jalen Myrick returned the kickoff 57 yards to Missouri’s 43. The big return resulted in a Ryan Santoso FG from 33 yards away. The Tigers took the 19-17 lead into the final period before they broke off the big runs to extend their lead and then seal the victory, 33-17. It was a competitive game for the most part, but the Tigers found the holes to get past the tiring Gopher line to put them away for a fruitful victory in the Citrus bowl.
Extra points: We can’t thank the Florida Citrus Sports Communications group enough for all their hospitality, support, and ongoing communications before and during our visit to Orlando for the game. It was first class all the way. With our tight schedule attending four games in four days, they did a great job keeping us informed of what was going on and how to get credentials and where to be, etc. Our favorite piece of pre-game information: Minnesota bested Missouri at the luncheon on New Year’s Eve held at a local Orlando Buffalo Wild Wings. The Gophers prevailed 2,760 wings devoured to 2,070 by the Tigers. Watch out for gophers hanging near the hen house!
“SEC! SEC! SEC!” was the post-game chant by the victorious Tiger fans. At first as I stood on the field near the podium, I couldn’t figure out why they thought it made any sense to celebrate being in the SEC. I didn’t understand where they were coming from. The Tigers kind of deserved a chant to celebrate their own success. To heck with the rest of the conference. They’ve had the same coach for 14 years now, they’ve won 23 games in two years for the first time ever, they won the SEC East two years in a row, they have been quite successful bringing in recruits they initially recruited to play Big 12 football…THEN it hit me! Had they stayed in the Big Twelve as they’d played in for years, they probably couldn’t have been as successful. A&M hasn’t done badly since their transition from there either. Maybe more teams should join the SEC to turn their programs around. There must be something to this: two titles in three years. It didn’t take them long to enjoy the spoils of this move.