SHREVEPORT, La. — James Franklin’s hard running and timely passing led Missouri to an easy win in its final game as a member of the Big 12.
It also gives the Tigers plenty of hope heading into their new home in the Southeastern Conference.
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 SEC 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.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin has just started to realize his potential.
“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, 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 Independence Stadium. 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.
“(Frankin) 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 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. But Renner couldn’t offset the Tar Heels’ anemic running game, which produced just 36 yards.
Freshman running back Giovani Bernard rushed for 31 yards – more than 70 yards less 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 before the game started.