Murphy, Hansbrough lead Tiger offense in Citrus Bowl

Mizzou’s 337 rushing yards are a season-high.
Missouri Tigers running back Marcus Murphy (6) runs the ball Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium, in Orlando, Florida.

ORLANDO, Florida — Maty Mauk looked at once brilliant, and then frustrating.

Midway through the third quarter of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, the sophomore quarterback escaped pressure by stepping up in the pocket. He slipped a tackle, then another. As he inched toward the goal line, he dropped his shoulder and knocked down a Minnesota safety, completing an 18-yard touchdown run.

Missouri tried a two-point conversion, and Mauk threw it into the hands of a Minnesota defender.

In the end, with No. 16 Mizzou topping the No. 25 Golden Gophers 33-17, the failed conversion proved nil. It wasn’t Mauk’s 12-of-19 passing performance for 97 yards and two interceptions that carried the Tigers; it was Mizzou’s running game.

Missouri ran for a season-high 337 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Marcus Murphy and junior Russell Hansbrough each finished with over 120 yards — the first time this season that two Tigers ran for triple digits.

“The running game really, really helped us tonight,” Mauk said.

In the first quarter, when Mauk threw both of his interceptions, the Tiger offense looked helpless. Mauk was forcing throws, and Mizzou was averaging just 1.6 yards per rush on five attempts.

After that, things changed. Mizzou rushed 40 mores times in the following three quarters, averaging 8.2 yards per carry.

“At the beginning of the game, they were fresh, we were fresh, but our O-line, they kept banging the entire game, kept fighting,” Murphy said. “And you could eventually see the Minnesota defense get tired.

“When they got tired, we kept going.”

Murphy almost had a special teams touchdown as well. But a penalty brought back Murphy’s fourth-quarter punt return to the end zone.

It didn’t matter though. Five plays later, Hansbrough shed an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and went 78 yards for a touchdown. When he returned to the sideline, he had words for his teammate.

“He said, ‘Murph, you got the next drive,’ cause he was tired,” Murphy said of Hansbrough.

The next Mizzou possession, Murphy had a 69-yard run that set up a short touchdown pass from Mauk to senior wide receiver Bud Sasser — one of two scores in the game from the duo.

Missouri’s offensive performance was reminiscent of the Tigers’ mid-season games against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, when Mauk struggled through the air but found support from his backfield.

“They took a lot of stress off everybody,” Mauk said.

In total, four Tigers had runs of 15 yards or more, including sophomore defensive lineman Harold Brantley, who ran 19 yards for a first down during a fake punt in the second quarter.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he told Brantley before the game he could play in the offense’s goal line package next season if the trick play worked out.

“Next thing you know, I’m going both ways,” Brantley said.

The Tigers finished with more rushing yards against the Golden Gophers than any other team Minnesota faced all season.

In his last college game, Murphy crossed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career.

“This is by far one of the most special things I’ve been a part of,” Murphy said. “Just to go out with a bang like this, not only getting the win, just celebrating with my teammates and finally hitting that 100-yard mark. It was special.”

Murphy wanted to savor the moment after the game was finished.

Mizzou fans chanted his name. He ran toward them and gave high-fives.

He tried to take a selfie with fans before realizing his arms were too short to fit enough people in the frame, so he handed a person on the field the phone to take the picture instead. Then Murphy handed the photographer another cell phone.

“Another one,” Murphy said.

Another one, for this was his last.

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