“I always count the quarterback in the spread stuff as an extra running back, and that’s what he was.”
After Renner’s game-opening touchdown pass, not much went well for UNC during the remainder of the first half.
North Carolina struggled to stop Missouri’s offense all night, and on the Tigers’ second scoring drive of the game, the UNC defense allowed the Tigers to convert three third downs. Missouri went into the locker room at halftime with 192 rushing yards, while the Tar Heels had just 13.
But especially in the first half, North Carolina didn’t need any help limiting its own chances.
With just more than nine minutes to go in the second quarter, UNC redshirt freshman tailback Giovani Bernard fumbled the ball, Missouri recovered, and an eight-yard touchdown pass from Franklin to Jerrel Jackson gave the Tigers a 17-point lead.
Four minutes later, Jones bobbled a pass from Renner before it rolled out of his hands and into the outstretched arms of Missouri linebacker Zavier Gooden.
Minutes after the interception, another Missouri touchdown helped the Tigers reach their 31-point first-half total, an Independence Bowl record for the most points scored in one half.
“Just little things like (turnovers) really slow down the offense and it helps the defense and it gets their offense back on the field,” Bernard said. “I know Coach Withers always talked about keeping our offense on the field and keeping their offense off, and that’s something we didn’t really do too well.”
In the third quarter things began looking up for the Tar Heels, as UNC linebacker Zach Brown intercepted a pass from Franklin, and Renner threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Jheranie Boyd, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 14.
But on the ensuing kickoff, T.J. Moe’s 49-yard return set up the Tigers’ sixth scoring drive of the game and all but dashed the Tar Heels’ hopes for a comeback.
“(The return) was very hurtful,” UNC defensive end Quinton Coples said. “It’s one of the phases that you have to win. And once you don’t win it, that’s how things get ugly… It definitely limited our chances of coming back.”
Bernard said the loss could be attributed in part to a lack of focus, but from a defender’s perspective, Coples thought the Tigers’ offensive scheme caused the Tar Heels the most strife.
The senior defense end insisted that his team did its best to prepare for its Independence Bowl opponent.
But parts of Missouri’s game plan, Coples said, the Tar Heels just couldn’t stop.
“We definitely were the better talented team, but they outplayed us and they did things that hurt us and we just couldn’t come back from it,” Coples said. “They threw some things in there that we hadn’t seen before, and I think that was the difference maker.”