North Carolina (7-6) struck first on its opening possession as Bryn Renner (27-of-42 passing, 317 yards, 3 TD) connected with Dwight Jones (6 catches, 77 yards, TD) for a 22-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone. Renner broke the school's single-season touchdown record on that pass play with 24, but the UNC highlights were shelved for the next 27 minutes.
Missouri (8-5) scored 31 straight points on its five first-half possessions with its balanced spread offense. Wes Kemp opened the Tigers' scoring with a 40-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver T.J. Moe. Quarterback James Franklin (15-of-23 passing, 132 yards, TD; 142 rushing yards, 2 TD) then got into the action with a two-yard touchdown run and an eight-yard scoring pass to Jerrell Jackson sandwiched around a 31-yard Trey Barrow field goal. Kendi Lawrence (108 yards, TD) capped the run with a nine-yard touchdown scamper with 1:58 remaining in the first half.
Thomas Moore tacked on a 21-yard field goal as time expired to cut Missouri's lead to 31-10 at halftime.
Renner found Jhay Boyd (3 catches, 95 yards, TD) for a 44-yard touchdown strike midway through the third quarter to climb back to within 14 points, but Frankin added his second two-yard touchdown run 146 seconds later to push the Tigers lead to 38-17.
Barrow added a second field goal – this one from 26 yards out – before Renner closed the scoring with a 17-yard strike to Erik Highsmith (8 catches, 77 yards, TD) with 4:08 left to play.
Missouri totaled 513 offensive yards while holding North Carolina to 353.
INSIDE THE GAME
The Tar Heels fared well during the regular season against the run, allowing just 106.2 yards on the ground (14th nationally). Only two teams had topped 150 rushing yards on UNC – Virginia (170) and Georgia Tech (312).
Missouri entered Monday's matchup with the nation's No. 11 rushing attack (236.3 ypg), but the loss of All-Big 12 running back Henry Josey to a knee injury in November had appeared to weaken its ground game. The Tigers dispelled that myth against the Tar Heels.
UNC gave up a season-high 192 rushing yards in the first half on an 8.7–yards-per-run clip. Franklin, Lawrence, Moe and De'Vron Moore (44 yards on six carries) all had runs of 10 yards or more before halftime. Moore actually hurt his team's average with a 7.3-yards-per-carry mark.
"I thought they did a great job with four- and five-receiver sets getting our linebackers removed," UNC interim head coach Everett Withers said. "… When you've only got four against five up front, sometimes it's hard to stop them."
North Carolina's halftime adjustments made some dent in Missouri's running game, but the Tigers still rolled up a staggering 337 rushing yards on 46 carries, good for a 7.3 yards-per-carry average.
"We just had some gaps in the defense that they found holes in," defensive end Quinton Coples said. "They executed very well and had a great game plan against that. They just kept going with it and we had no answer to it at the beginning."
Secondary Breakdowns Lead to 14 Points
North Carolina's secondary has been the weak link of the defense for the bulk of the 2011 season due to inexperience and injury, but a late resurgence allowed the Tar Heels to hold their final four regular season opponents to an average of 213.5 yards per game. Cornerback Charles Brown (knee) and safety Jonathan Smith (ankle) were questionable for the bowl game after sitting out practices as late as Wednesday, though both seniors played against Missouri's spread attack.
But while the Tigers leaned on their ground game to dismantle UNC's defense, two busted plays in the secondary resulted in first-half scores for Missouri.
Facing a 2nd-and-4 at the UNC 40 trailing 7-0, Franklin handed off to T.J. Moe, who sprinted out right to the flat. Nickel back Pete Magnum moved up to stop the run, while cornerback Tim Scott followed suit and allowed Wes Kemp to run free behind him. Moe's halfback pass to Kemp tied the score from 40 yards out.
Roughly 15 minutes later, Missouri had a 3rd-and-6 at UNC's 8-yard-line and was looking to open up a three-possession lead. Mangum was set over Jerrell Jackson in the slot at the snap, but he attempted to hand the receiver off to a safety that wasn't there. Franklin found Jackson wide open in the back of the end zone for a commanding 24-7 lead with 5:13 remaining before halftime.