Posted December 27, 2011 on AP on Fox
Now that Missouri has won its final game as a Big 12 member, coach Gary Pinkel figures he'll be inundated with questions about how his Tigers will fare in their new home - the Southeastern Conference. Considering quarterback James Franklin is coming back, the forecast might be better than expected. Franklin ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score, and the Tigers beat North Carolina 41-24 in the Independence Bowl on Monday night. ''We're going to get asked this a million times, or maybe a hundred million times about the SEC,'' Pinkel said. ''And my whole thing is this: Anytime you're new in a league, you're going to have to prove yourself.'' The Tigers' final impression from their Big 12 days is certainly a good one. Missouri (8-5) ended the season on a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1965. The Tigers will join the SEC next fall and showed one reason they should be a factor immediately in Franklin, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore who generally did as he pleased in both the running and passing games. ''After the game, I gave him a hug and said congratulations,'' Pinkel said. ''Then I went back and asked `What happens when you get really good?' ... He kind of gave me a look, but that's a huge compliment.'' Franklin, the game's offensive Most Valuable Player, ran for 142 yards and threw for 132 in less than ideal conditions in the cold and rain at Independence Stadium. He led the Tigers to 31 first-half points - an Independence Bowl record. ''I'd give myself a B or B-minus in this game, mostly because of the interception I threw,'' Franklin said. ''Everyone on the team played really well and definitely helped me play better. That O-line and receivers were blocking well, especially on my scrambles. So their efforts might have made me look better than I actually did.'' For North Carolina (7-6), a season that started with a 5-1 record ended with a lopsided loss. The Tar Heels lost five of their final seven under interim coach Everett Withers, who leaves to become defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer. North Carolina had the Atlantic Coast Conference's second-best rushing defense, giving up just 106.2 yards per game. But the Tigers found plenty of running room with Franklin and Kendial Lawrence, repeatedly gashing the Tar Heels for big gains. ''(Franklin) is just such a dynamic guy running and throwing that you have to respect both,'' Withers said. ''I always count the quarterback as an extra running back in the spread and that's exactly what he was.'' Lawrence ran for 108 yards and a touchdown and the Tigers racked up 337 yards on the ground. North Carolina's poor defense wasted a productive game by Bryn Renner, who threw for 317 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. But Renner couldn't offset the Tar Heels' anemic running game, which produced just 36 yards. Freshman running back Giovani Bernard ran for 31 yards - more than 70 yards under than his season average. Withers said he didn't think the program's upcoming coaching change had any bearing on the outcome. The Tar Heels hired Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora last week. ''We've had issues for two years so I don't know why tonight would be any distraction,'' Withers said. Missouri's mascot - Truman the Tiger - shattered most of the original Independence Bowl trophy in a pregame accident. The Tigers were more than happy to claim the replacement. Pinkel didn't shy away from the importance of the game, saying the result would be ''a trivia question after I'm long gone.'' North Carolina scored first, with Renner hitting Dwight Jones for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 12:12 left in the first quarter. That would be the high point for the Tar Heels. Missouri responded with a 40-yard touchdown pass from receiver T.J. Moe to Wes Kemp after a lateral from Franklin. Moe hadn't thrown a touchdown pass since his days as a high school quarterback in suburban St. Louis, and it was just his second completion of the season. ''I saw the corner bite and I just let her go,'' Moe said. The Tigers scored again on Franklin's 2-yard run to take a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. The touchdown was set up by Franklin's 16-yard pass to L'Damian Washington that put the Tigers at the 2. Washington grew up in Shreveport. And Missouri just kept piling on. The Tigers scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter to make it 31-10. North Carolina had a glimmer of hope late in the third when Jheranie Boyd caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Renner to pull the Tar Heels to 34-17, but Missouri responded minutes later with Franklin's second touchdown run. --- Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
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