In its first year as the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Orlando’s New Year’s Day bowl treated fans to antics that only a brand like Buffalo Wild Wings could deliver.
Fake punts, fake field goals and a QB throwback were just some of the plays that Minnesota and Missouri pulled out of the playbook in a wild affair before 48,624 fans at the newly reconstructed Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium.
The Golden Gophers (8-5, 5-3 Big Ten) kept up with the Tigers (11-3, 7-1 SEC) for most of the game but fell late 33-17 in their first New Year’s Day bowl since 1962.
“We have a lot of great seniors who’ve been though a lot of things and I’m proud of those kids,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “We played hard today, we really did but at the end of it we just didn’t execute.”
The Tigers, lead by RB Marcus Murphy’s 157 yards, won their third straight bowl and extended the SEC’s winning streak in the Citrus Bowl to five.
“I’m very proud of our team,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “We battled. A lot of the struggles we had today was because they are a good football team. Everything didn’t work out like we wanted it too but we made plays on offense, we made plays on defense especially in the fourth quarter.”
Defensive end Markus Golden was named game MVP for a performance that let the Missouri defense: 10 tackles including four for a loss and 1.5 sacks, three QB hurries and a forced fumble. In a game full of turnovers and lead changes, Golden and the Tigers D stepped up to hold the Gophers scoreless in the fourth quarter and secure the win.
Tigers QB Maty Mauk started off shaky as he threw two interceptions in the first quarter and it looked like the Tigers would have to rely on their run game to be successful. But in the closing minute of the first half Mauk connected with Bud Sasser on a 25-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 10-7 lead going into halftime.
“I have no idea how he made that catch,” Pinkel said.
But that wasn’t the highlight of the half for Missouri. On their first drive of the second quarter the Tigers faced a fourth down on their own 17-yard line. Instead of punting it away like everyone expected, the Tigers faked the punt and defensive tackle Harold Brantley ran the ball 19 yards for the first down.
“I’m always in my coaches ears begging for the ball,” Brantley said. “Anytime I get the ball in my hands it feels amazing.”
Though the momentum seemed to be in Missouri’s favor, the play of the day came from Minnesota’s Maxx Williams. In the third quarter, on Minnesota’s first drive, QB Mitch Leinder hit Williams for a 54-yard touchdown where Williams hurdled two Missouri players on his way into the end zone.
“I saw a guy running with me then he came in on me and I just closed my eyes and I said ‘hey I might as well go for it,’” Williams said. “After I went over the first guy I saw the second guy come in and I said again ‘might as well go for it’ and it worked.”
Missouri’s rushing game provided the big plays in the second half. Russell Hansbrough broke a 78-yard run for a touchdown, tying a bowl record for longest run and longest scoring run. His backfield partner Marcus Murphy added a 68-yard run of his own; his 13.1 yards per rush average set a new bowl record. Together, Hansbrough, Murphy and Mauk combined for 336 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The bowl victory gives Missouri 23 wins in the last two years, a school record for wins in a two-year span. The Tigers also sent defensive coordinator Dave Steckel out with a win in his final game. Steckel will leave the Tigers after 14 seasons to become the head coach at Missouri State.
The Tigers take home the redesigned George L. Stuart Sr. trophy, which now features a bowl of Florida citrus at the top and a special time capsule compartment in the middle. Teams can place iconic keepsakes from their bowl trip in the capsule to personalize it.
“I would put in a little plastic Shamu,” linebacker Michael Scherer said. “I tell you what, that Shamu show was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
However, Brantley said he wanted to remember his coach.
“I would have to put in our takeaway card that coach Steckel gave us,” Brantley said. “Our defense has played so hard and fought every single game this year and with coach Steck leaving his emphasis from the beginning has been ‘takeaways equal victory’ and it’s more fitting.”