This is James Franklin's team. As I wrote during the days leading up to the Independence Bowl, Franklin has established himself as the face of the program, and he is the unquestioned leader of this team going forward. His MVP performance in Shreveport merely cemented what had already taken place, as Franklin takes hold of his place in Missouri's QB lineage.
"I don't really want to step into Blaine's shoes, or Chase Daniel's, or Brad Smith's shoes," Franklin replied earlier this month, when he was asked about what it had been like to step into those big shoes. "I just want to wear my own shoes."
We're getting to know James Franklin. He's a true dual-threat QB. Franklin finished the season with 3846 yards of total offense, which is the fourth-most in school history. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 TDs on the season, an average of 4.5 yards/carry. He completed 63.3% of his pass attempts, for 2865 yards and 21 TDs, against 11 interceptions. He averaged 7.62 yards/pass attempt. In 2011, Franklin was good for 6.5 yards of offense/play, and 295.85 yards of total offense/game.
Missouri had their running game clicking against Carolina. The Tigers gained 337 yards on the ground, to bring their season total to 3172 yards rushing. 2011 is just the third season in the last 30 years that Missouri has rushed for over 3000 yards (2003, 1997). In 2011, Missouri also passed for 3010 yards. This is the first season in Missouri football history that a Tiger team has thrown for over 3000 yards and rushed for over 3000 yards in the same year.
Even without the great Henry Josey, Missouri can still be very effective running the football against a good rushing defense. Kendial Lawrence is not Henry Josey, but he's a pretty effective TB. Playing in 9 games in 2011, Lawrence rushed for 566 yards and 5 TDs, an average of 4.8 yards/carry. Marcus Murphy looked good during the bowl practices, and he'll be back in the mix in the spring. By the time fall camp arrives, Missouri should have added a freshman TB or two.
The Tigers' offensive line fairly dominated the line of scrimmage against North Carolina. Three of Missouri's five starting offensive linemen are seniors, and their playing days at Missouri are over. So, the task of rebuilding Missouri's offensive line begins immediately. Jack Meiners has shown that he can do the job. He'll join Justin Britt and Travis Ruth in the starting line-up immediately. Will Elvis Fisher be granted a sixth year? And if he is, will he return? Depending on what takes place with Fisher, there are either one or two starting positions left vacant. There are nearly a dozen offensive linemen who will be vying for one of those starting jobs. That will be one of the story lines of the spring, and could very well continue into the fall.
Against North Carolina, Franklin completed passes to eight different receivers. Four of those pass-catchers are seniors. Emerging star Marcus Lucas didn't catch a pass in the Independence Bowl. T.J. Moe, L'Damian Washington, Gahn McGaffie, Lucas, and Eric Waters are the more experienced returning receivers. Bud Sasser and Jimmied Hunt saw limited action in 2011, and those two would seem to figure in more prominently heading into the spring. Franklin and the Tigers could really use a boost at receiver from Missouri's 2012 recruiting class.
Another Missouri sophomore, LB Andrew Wilson was named the Independence Bowl Defensive MVP. Wilson recorded a team-high 9 tackles in Shreveport, to give him a team-leading 98 total tackles on the season.
Missouri's senior-led defense shut down North Carolina's vaunted running attack, yielding just 36 yards on the ground to the Tar Heels on 19 rushing attempts. Coach Steckel intimated that Missouri's defensive game plan for North Carolina was to try to take away their running game, and make the Tar Heels one-dimensional.
The Tigers graduate 5 starters from their defense, but in addition to Wilson, Missouri also returns a First-Team All-Big 12 corner, in sophomore E.J. Gaines, and another dozen or so defensive players who have seen considerable playing time.
Spring football will provide considerable insight into the sorting out process on the defensive side of the football for the Tigers, as there's talent enough on the current roster to populate the two-deep depth chart for the Missouri defense, although there is room up front for a February signee or two to lay claim to immediate playing time.
Missouri made a good showing on national TV in the Independence Bowl, and garnered some attention as the Tigers make ready head into the SEC. Missouri finished 2011 on a high note, and with momentum going forward. As Franklin said following his team's domination of North Carolina, this gives everyone "confidence heading into the off-season" and into next year.
* Sophomore QB James Franklin did a great job running the offense, controlling the tempo and not trying to do too much. He looked comfortable and ran the Tiger game plan to pretty much perfection leading scoring drives on their final times with the ball in the first half.
* Tiger Seniors such as Wes Kemp, Jerrell Jackson, Kenji Jackson, Devion Moore, Dan Hoch,etc. all played a role in the big victory to help send themselves out with a win and to keep the momentum of what they have done averaging over 9 wins a year during their time at Missouri going.
* I feel Justin Britt deserves a mention with his play against North Carolina. He has struggled at times against some top competition, but more then held his own against a future NFL player.
* Andrew Wilson was his typical self on the day leading the team in tackles with 9, including 2.5 for loss, a forced fumble and half a sack to be named defensive MVP. It will be great to have Wilson back patrolling the middle again next year.
* The Tiger Defensive line also had a nice game both against the run and put some pressure on the UNC QB. I was particularly happy to see the guys who will be returning such as Richardson, Vincent, Sam and Ealy being so active and aggressive.
* Kenronte Walker had a nice game with 4 tackles and seemed to be around the play a lot on the day. He came on in the second half of the season and I am looking forward to seeing what he brings to the team in the spring and next fall.
Pass defense- There seems to have been coverage problems at times during the season. Luckily, North Carolina wasn't able to capitalize on it early outside of the first touchdown. That is something that will need to be improved in the spring and next year.
Special Teams- I am nitpicking here, but I felt that the return coverage needs help as does the return game.
Hard to find much fault with a blowout bowl game win.
* 2011 marks the first time since 2003 that a Missouri team had more rushing yards (3172) than passing yards (3010). In 2003, Missouri had 3129 rushing yards to 2063 passing yards…
*Franklin finished the year with 3846 yards of total offense, the fourth-most in a single season at Mizzou…
* Missouri has had just three 3000 yard rushing seasons in the last 30 years. Along with this year and 2003, Missouri also surpassed 3000 yards in 1997 (3213)…
* This is the first season in Missouri football history that a Tiger team has thrown for over 3000 yards and rushed for over 3000 yards in the same year.
* Independence Bowl history that a team had two or more 100-yard rushers… • Missouri entered the contest ranked 93rd in the nation in third down conversions, but went 10-for-14 in the game…
* The 41 points scored by Missouri is the most-ever by a MU team in a bowl game…
* Mizzou finished the game with 337 yards rushing as a team, setting a new Independence Bowl record…
* Missouri averaged 7.3 yards per carry, setting a new Independence Bowl record. The previous record was 6.4 by Arkansas against Mizzou in the 2003 Independence Bowl…
* Mizzou ties the Independence Bowl record for most first downs in a game with 27, also held by Oklahoma (1999) and Auburn (1996)…
* The victory marks the first time since 1965 that Mizzou has won their final four games to end a season…
* Head coach Gary Pinkel is now 4-4 all-time in bowl games at Missouri, while MU is now 13-16 all-time…