No. 16 Missouri evened the playing field in a best-of-three showdown between the SEC and the Big Ten on New Year’s Day. The Tigers outran No. 25 Minnesota in a 33-17 victory at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
Missouri beat the Gophers at their own game by running for 337 yards and winning the turnover battle. Minnesota fumbled five times and the Tigers recovered three of them. Running backs Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough broke off several long runs late in the game that helped boost Mizzou’s average to 7.5 yards per carry and helped close out the win.
The victory ended a three-bowl losing streak for the SEC after a rough day for Mississippi State and Ole Miss on Dec. 31. Wisconsin also knocked off Auburn in overtime less than an hour before the Citrus Bowl ended. The rubber match between the two conferences on Thursday will take place in the Allstate Sugar Bowl between conference champions Alabama and Ohio State.
Game ball goes to: Murphy finished his college career with 157 rushing yards on 12 carries. His biggest run of the day was a 69-yard dagger that set up the Tigers for a game-clinching score in the fourth quarter. He also returned a punt to the end zone before that play was called back because of an illegal block.
What it means: The victory gives Mizzou its best two-year victory total in program history. The back-to-back SEC East winners have won 23 games during the last two seasons and the Tigers have their first three-game bowl winning streak since 1979. The Gophers drop to 8-5 with their third bowl loss in the last three seasons. Despite taking positive steps this season, Minnesota finished with an identical record to a year ago.
Best play: Minnesota’s final lead of the day came on a 54-yard touchdown reception by all-Big Ten tight end Maxx Williams. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams went airborne to get to the end zone. He hurdled one defender in stride at the 15-yard line and launched himself over another to get across the goal line. The score gave the Gophers a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter.
What’s next: Missouri will gear up for a third unexpected SEC East championship next season without Murphy. The Tigers also could be losing redshirt junior Shane Ray, the SEC’s most productive pass-rusher, to the NFL draft. Minnesota heads to the offseason with a degree of optimism after playing in its first New Year’s Day bowl in more than 50 years.