DALLAS – Colorful confetti flip-flopping around him, fans in black and gold chanting his name, Tony Temple and his Missouri teammates were basking in a terrific ending to a magical season.
Only one thing was wrong – the setting. See, this was the Cotton Bowl, not the national championship game they were a win away from reaching, and it wasn’t the Orange, Fiesta or Sugar Bowl like they thought they deserved.
Motivated instead of deflated, the guys from the “Show-Me State” did their best to prove they belonged in the BCS by routing Darren McFadden and Arkansas 38-7 on Tuesday. Temple led the way, rushing for 281 yards and four touchdowns, both records in the 72-year history of the Cotton Bowl.
Houston native Jeff Gettys, a starter on the kickoff return team and the Tigers’ walk-on of the year, danced around with his teammates as they celebrated the first 12-win season in team history.
“We were upset for a couple of days,” said Martin Rucker, Missouri’s All-American tight end. “We just felt we’d deserved, we’d earned to be in the BCS. But the Cotton Bowl is a great bowl and we were honored to be in it.”
Mizzou (12-2) was ranked No. 1 after beating Kansas in the regular season finale, then lost badly to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game – so badly that the Jayhawks wound up with an at-large berth into the Orange Bowl.
Coach Gary Pinkel kept his team’s spirits up by having them put together a list of reasons why Dallas was a great place to spend New Year’s Day. Recruiting and appeasing their largest out-of-state alumni base likely were near the top.
“They found out what a great game the Cotton Bowl is and then embraced it,” Pinkel said.
Properly focused, the only thing left for the Tigers was figuring out that No. 25 Arkansas (8-5) had loaded its defense with cornerbacks and safeties to neutralize Missouri’s Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback, Chase Daniel.
Temple cracked the code pretty early, finding no linebackers after he broke the line of scrimmage in the first half. He had three carries of 22 yards, a 38-yarder and a 41-yarder as part of his 159 yards and two touchdowns by halftime.
Temple pulled a hamstring in the third quarter and missed several series, but said he was ready to return about the same time Pinkel heard that Temple was close to the record.
He went back for just one play – a spinning, tackle-breaking 40-yard run into the end zone, then rode back to the bench on the arms of Daniel and a lineman. The lift was part-celebration, part-transportation because Temple tweaked his hamstring around the 5-yard line.
“It was one of the best runs I’ve ever seen,” Daniel said. “That was awesome.”
Daniel was 12-of-29 for a season-low 136 yards with an interception. It was his second straight game without a touchdown pass, but he didn’t care because handing off to Temple was the way to go. Daniel enjoyed it so much that he expects to be chastised by coaches for turning into a spectator; he stopped pretending to have the ball after handoffs to stand still and watch.
Temple’s final run broke the Cotton Bowl rushing record of 265 yards set by Rice’s Dicky Maegle in 1954, a performance that’s best remembered for him being awarded a touchdown when Alabama’s Tommy Lewis came off the bench and tackled him on a breakaway run.
Maegle had three touchdowns in that game, as did Texas’ Bobby Layne in 1946 and Syracuse’s Jim Brown in 1957.
Now put Temple’s name above theirs in the record book. Only one thing could top that thrill – the NCAA saying he can play next season. Missouri is asking for a medical redshirt because he hardly played as a freshman in 2004.
“That would be a nice phone call,” Pinkel said.
McFadden ran 21 times for 105 yards and a touchdown, but didn’t play the fourth quarter. The Heisman finalist pushed his single-season total to 1,830 yards and his career total to 4,590. Both are school records and second to Herschel Walker in SEC history.
Asked after the game if he’s turning pro, the junior said, “That’s something I’m going to sit down with my parents and decide in a little while.”
The rest of the Razorbacks made a horrible first impression on incoming coach Bobby Petrino, from the defense allowing the most yards rushing by a single player to having five turnovers – an interception returned for a touchdown and four fumbles.
Freshman kicker Alex Tejada came in perfect on kicks of 40 yards or less, but missed from 35 and 37. In between, a successful fake punt was wiped out because someone called timeout just before the snap; the Razorbacks tried the play again and lost a yard. Then a squib kick to open the second half backfired.
The final offensive play summed things up: Interim coach Reggie Herring ran about 20 yards asking for a timeout, but didn’t get it and a fourth-down pass was dropped in the end zone.
“The way we played, we couldn’t have beat anyone,” said Herring, who had been defensive coordinator until Houston Nutt stepped down in late November. “We did everything poorly. I’m embarrassed right now.”
Teams with interim coaches are now 0-5 this bowl season, with West Virginia left to go. SEC teams had been 5-0 until Arkansas’ loss.
At least the Hogs looked good. They wore all-red uniforms for the first time, a tribute to outgoing program icon Frank Broyles.
Broyles, whose 50-year tenure ended Monday, led Arkansas fans in spirited chants of “Pig! Sooie!” prior to kickoff. That turned out to be one of the few things they had to cheer all afternoon.
Change is coming quickly. Petrino plans to announce his coaching staff Thursday. Mississippi State already has said its defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, is taking Herring’s spot at Arkansas, while Herring reportedly is headed to Texas A&M.