Missouri falters in Texas Bowl, loses to Texas 33-16

Costly turnovers and mistakes in key moments haunted the Tigers in the postseason loss.

Missouri punter Corey Fatony (left), Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (center), and Missouri placekicker Tucker McCann (right) in a play of the Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium on Dec. 27, 2017.

The 2017 Texas Bowl was set to be a testament to everything promising about the Missouri football program.

It was to represent the resilience of the 2017 team, which received national attention for its rally from a 1-5 start to reach bowl eligibility. A win was supposed to be a byproduct of junior quarterback Drew Lock’s elevated level of play.

Most of all, the game was set to mark Missouri ushering a new era in Missouri football. The game had the potential to be the proverbial “turn of the corner” under second-year head coach Barry Odom.

Then the game kicked off, and none of that came to fruition.

Missouri was flat from the beginning and could never catch up in a 33-16 loss to the Texas Longhorns at NRG Stadium in Houston on Wednesday.

When Tiger fans look back on the game, it’s hard to imagine they will remember the Longhorns outplaying the Tigers. More so, they’ll remember how Missouri beat itself.

The Tigers turned the ball over four times and didn’t record a single takeaway. Missouri looked apprehensive and sloppy early on, allowing an easy scoring drive on Texas’ first offense possession while being called for three key penalties, including two personal fouls.

Missouri started flat offensively but pulled back into the game in the second quarter. With Missouri trailing 14-7, Texas made a defining play when Longhorn linebacker Anthony Wheeler recovered senior running back Ish Witter’s fumble and returned it for a score.

The defensive score widened the gap between the two teams and was a blow that Missouri would never recover from.

Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Missouri responded well, outscoring Texas 9-0 to start the third quarter. The quarter was highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown strike between Lock and redshirt sophomore receiver Johnathon Johnson on the first play of the second half.

After a key defensive stop, Missouri had the ball in its own territory trailing 21-16, and an opportunity to gain its first lead of the game. Redshirt freshman center Trystan Castillo and Lock weren’t on the same page, and Lock fumbled the snap out of the back of Missouri’s end zone, which resulted in a team safety.

Texas then outscored Missouri down the stretch with 10 garbage time points to record the lopsided final of 33-16.

The Longhorns didn’t just beat Missouri on offense or defense; they also dominated on special teams. Junior punter Michael Dickson was named game MVP.

Dickson receiving MVP may seem strange to some, but there’s no doubt that his 11 punts that averaged 41.1 yards per kick negatively affected Missouri’s chances to win the game. He recorded an astonishing 10 punts inside the 20 yard line, the only FBS punter to do so in a single game this season.

More than anything, Missouri's unfamiliarity with its new playcalling on offense affected the team’s performance.

Former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel left Missouri for the University of Central Florida head coaching job in December, so tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley called offensive plays for the Tigers. Missouri struggled to establish momentum offensively, recording eight punts.

After his final game for Missouri, senior defensive end Marcell Frazier didn’t hold back when speaking on Heupel’s departure.

“Realistically, Heupel left us in a bad position,” Frazier told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It is what it is. And [former offensive line coach] Glen Elarbee left us in a bad position. As men they have to look in the mirror. They let us down. They left and they have to do what’s best for their family, but I think it showed up a little bit today.”

Perhaps the biggest storyline regarding Missouri moving forward is whether Lock returns for his senior season or declares for the NFL draft. After the game, he reiterated that he needs more time to make his decision.

Lock must declare for the draft by Jan. 16 if he wishes to leave. In the game, he went 18 of 34 for 269 yards, throwing a touchdown and an interception.

The loss concludes a 7-6 overall campaign for the Tigers. It was the team’s first bowl game under Odom. The team will begin next season at home against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 1, 2018.

“I know I like winning a lot more than losing,” Odom said postgame. “The end of the year was tough on everybody. We will use some of the things that we did down the last half of the stretch to get us started getting into the next year.”

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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