By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange – UPI
HOUSTON — Texas scored two passing touchdowns in the first 11:02 and then turned over the game to its defense and college football‘s best punter, doing just enough to beat Missouri 33-16 in the Academy Sports + Outdoor Texas Bowl on Wednesday at NRG Stadium.
It was Texas’ first appearance in a bowl game since 2014 and first win in the postseason since the 2012 Alamo Bowl. It also granted the Longhorns (7-6) their first winning season since 2013, the last campaign coached in Austin by Mack Brown.
Texas punter Michael Dickson, the Ray Guy award winner, had 10 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, becoming the first punter in the country this year to accomplish that feat. He had 11 total punts in the game — two of which traveled more than 55 yards — and buried Missouri (7-6) in poor field position all game.
The Longhorns did little on offense after the first quarter when they amassed 110 of their 280 total yards. Texas defense forced four turnovers and a safety and held Missouri quarterback Drew Lock to 269 yards passing and one touchdown.
Texas marched 75 yards in five plays (and three big Missouri penalties) on its opening drive to a 22-yard TD pass from Shane Buechele to Daniel Young that granted the Longhorns an early 7-0 lead.
The Longhorns went back to the same play to Young for 42 yards from Sam Ehlinger to set the table for their second touchdown, which came on a 7-yard connection from Ehlinger and John Burt and expanded the advantage to 14-0 with 3:58 to play in the first quarter.
Missouri didn’t have a first down until the 1:07 mark of the first quarter on their final possession of the opening 15 minutes; it was forced to punt on the opening play of the second quarter.
Ish Witter’s 4-yard TD run at the end of a five-play, 50-yard drive brought the Tigers to within 14-7 with 12:10 left in the second quarter.
Witter and Missouri gave that score right back though as he fumbled when hit by P.J. Locke and the bounding football was scooped up by Texas’ Anthony Wheeler and returned 38 yards for a touchdown. It was the Longhorns’ eighth non-offensive TD of the year, the most for the team since 2009.
Missouri outgained Texas 183-164 in the first half but was stymied by two fumbles, five penalties and dreadful field position (the Tigers average field position to start their 10 possessions was their own 16 and five drives began at the 10-yard line or worse).
Lock was the all-SEC quarterback this season and he showed why, finding Johnathon Johnson with a laser-like 79-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the third quarter. But the Tigers flubbed the PAT and were left trailing 21-13.
Missouri crept to within 21-16 on a 28-yard field goal by Tucker McCann with 2:14 to play in the third quarter. Then the Tigers made another mistake, as Lock couldn’t nab a wide snap from center but reacted well enough to bat the football off his leg and out of the end zone while surrendering a safety for two points.
The Longhorns went up 26-16 on a 41-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland with 12:15 to play four snaps after a dubious roughing the passer call that kept Texas’ drive alive. Armanti Foreman capped the scoring with an 18-yard reverse run after Lock was intercepted by Davante Davis late in the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Texas honored Longhorn legend Tommy Nobis, who passed away Dec. 13 in Atlanta, during the game. Although Nobis’ number has been retired by Texas, junior LB Breckyn Hager donned Nobis’ No. 60 against Missouri and the team wore ’60’ decals on the back of their helmets. … Texas junior LB Malik Jefferson, the Big 12’s co-defensive player of the year, was ruled out for the game just prior to kickoff because of a turf toe injury. … Texas and Missouri have now played 24 times, with the Longhorns owning a 18-6 all-time record. The two schools last met in 2011 and had played just once before in a bowl game — a 40-27 Longhorn victory in the 1946 Cotton Bowl. Texas has won 16 of the last 18 meetings against Missouri, dating back to 1931.