SHREVEPORT, La. — Missouri made sure its final football game as a member of the Big 12 was decided early.
James Franklin ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and the Tigers easily beat North Carolina 41-24 in the Independence Bowl on Monday night.
Missouri (8-5) ends the season on a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1965. The Tigers will join the Southeastern Conference next fall and showed one reason they should be a factor immediately: The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Franklin, a sophomore who generally did as he pleased in both the running and passing games.
Franklin, named the game’s offensive Most Valuable Player, rushed for 142 yards and threw for 132 despite less than ideal conditions in the cold and rain at IndependenceStadium. He led the Tigers to 31 first-half points — an Independence Bowl record.
For North Carolina (7-6), a season that started with a promising 5-1 record ends 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.
Lawrence rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers racked up 337 yards on the ground.
North Carolina’s poor defense wasted a productive game by quarterback Bryn Renner, who threw for 317 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Missouri’s mascot — Truman the Tiger — shattered most of the original Independence Bowl trophy before the game started in a pregame accident. The Tigers were more than happy to claim the replacement.
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 complete pass of the season.
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-yard line. Washington grew up in Shreveport, just a few miles fromIndependence Stadium.
And Missouri just kept piling on.
The Tigers scored two touchdowns and a field goal during the second quarter to take a 31-10 halftime lead.
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 of the night and the rout continued.
Missouri had played in the Independence Bowl twice previously.
In 2003, the Tigers lost to Arkansas, 27-14. In 2005, when Mizzou rallied from 21 points back and defeated South Carolina, 38-31.
Yet, Monday’s 2011 Independence Bowl game against North Carolina was more than simply another trip to Shreveport.
As a full-color half-page advertisement in the Shreveport Times trumpeted on Friday, these aren’t the Big 12 Conference’s old Missouri Tigers. On display in Shreveport — and across the nation for those parked in front of their televisions sets for a 5 p.m. EST kickoff on Monday— will be the Southeastern Conference’s Missouri Tigers.
The advertisement, courtesy of the LSU Publications Office, shows Truman the Tiger’s newest step-brother — Louisiana State’s Mike the Tigers — holding up the SEC welcome mat and proclaiming:
“From the LSU Tigers to the Missouri Tigers, good luck in the 2011 AdvoCareIndependence Bowl.”
In that sense, Monday’s game was as much a showcase as it is a showdown.