Pretty Enough: Missouri takes the Cotton Bowl

It wasn’t pretty last night, but it was pretty enough. There are times when one of us in the Law family puts a movie on our Netflix list that we don’t remember putting there, and due to poor Netflix list management, it comes through the mail. That movie was Animal Kingdom, a crime film from Australia with Guy Pierce that was like watching Missouri’s offense in the third quarter of last night’s game. We figured there was something more to it. There really wasn’t.

Luckily for me, there was more. I’m going out on a limb and calling this Gary, aka Pinky, Pinkel’s finest season as a football coach. Missouri was uncompetitive in the SEC last year, with a couple of moments of strength. In this season, save a bad quarter or two, the offense chugged along and the defense created turnovers and sacks when needed.

It’s true that I didn’t like the jerseys, called urine-colored by one of my friends, and the connection between James Franklin and his huge receivers wasn’t there most of the evening. The running game was amazing all evening, led by Henry Josey. The little dude became Missouri’s Barry Sanders with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and three overall, the best Missouri RB game in a bowl since a guy named Tony Temple set the Cotton Bowl record in 2008.

James Franklin wasn’t good last night. 15-40 throwing, 4.4 yards per attempt, and an interception. Maty Mauk came in during the second quarter and led the team to a TD. He did it the Mauk way, running twice for 69 yards and completing the drive with a TD pass on first and goal at the 24. Mauk came in during the third quarter, or “the longest quarter” as it was a three-and-out fest.

It’s hard to say whether bowls are that important in today’s college football scene. After all, there’s only one game that’s for the national title and that mediocre trophy. For Missouri, this was a big deal, especially when the defense was steamrolled in the SEC title game, and this was a game against a former conference rival in the state from which Missouri gets a lot of its players.

It was a sloppy game, what with six turnovers and the officials overturning three Missouri catches that were initially called out of bounds. Without those overturned catches, Missouri throws for less than 30% on the day. In the third quarter, one bad handoff and one terrible option pitch from Franklin were picked up by Oklahoma State and finally broke the defensive struggle. It was the second one, at the Missouri 11, when the defense made one of their best stands, holding the Cowboys to a field goal.

There were key plays that seemed little but were huge. Andrew Baggett has been shaky since his game-ending miss against South Carolina. He was perfect on the day. The Okie State kicker doinked a kick off the top of the right upright after a delay-of-game penalty. If the kick was a foot higher, it probably goes over the post and most refs give that to the kicking team. Mauk’s coolness after two penalties pushed Missouri back was important. Josey, Ryan Hansbrough, and Marcus Murphy all didn’t go down easily. Missouri’s 47/256 rushing day was the key stat.

As for next year, it’s hard to say if the team can maintain its perch on top of the SEC East. Georgia and South Carolina will be loaded. Mauk will need to be more consistent. If the RB trio stays (Josey’s a redshirt junior), that’s pretty important. The OL was strong and injury-free most of the year. Most of the giant wideouts are leaving. It will be the Dorial Green-Beckham show next fall, and that will be his last one as a collegiate.

For now, the future doesn’t matter. 2007 was a pretty fun ride, with the team being ranked #1 in a crazy year of college football and finishing out with a Cotton Bowl blowout. This year’s team met the challenge of the best conference in the country and played in the title game, which was more than even the most optimistic fan could expect. The team started the year unranked, struggled a bit in an easy out-of-conference slate, then rolled through the SEC East like an invading army from the north. Sorry, Southern folk.

It is odd that Missouri didn’t play a single team that’s further West than Columbia until Oklahoma, and they won’t play a team further north than Columbia until they inexplicably travel to Toledo next fall. I don’t know, maybe Lexington, Kentucky is further north. Hard to tell.

Next year’s schedule looks fun. Should I watch them plow the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the home opener? Will I travel to sunny Toledo for the first SEC team to travel to a MAC school perhaps ever? Pinky coached at Toledo. I’m hoping that Blake Bortles goes to the NFL since the UCF Knights travel to Missouri in September. I think Missouri should be able to take Indiana, and they should have another 4-0 OOC record, although it’s a little tougher than this year.

Conference road games are at South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. I have to go to Tennessee with my dad and father-in-law (new tradition). I’d love to go to College Station but it probably will have to wait for 2016.

I’ll close with one random stat. The last non-SEC team to win the Cotton Bowl was Missouri, in 2008. I think the bowl, like Missouri, traded up when it went from SWC to Big 12 versus SEC.

Oh yeah, two teams Missouri played this year play in bowl games later than the January 3 Cotton Bowl. Vandy’s playing today in a bowl named after a compass and Auburn’s in the big title game on Monday.

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