Michael Dickson may not be in the same conversation as Vince Young when it comes to heroic performances in the annals of Texas football but he certainly was — no joke — operating at the same level on Wednesday night. The NFL-bound punter and Ray Guy Award winner put on a special teams masterclass to help the Longhorns (7-6) beat old Big 12 rival Missouri (7-6) in the Texas Bowl 33-16 and cap off the first season of the Tom Herman era with a victory.
Hard as it is to believe, Dickson was a well deserved MVP even if the other two phases of the game also played a big role in delivering Texas their first winning season since 2013. He punted 11 times in the game for nearly 500 yards but most impressively nailed 10 of those punts inside the Missouri 20 yard line.
That backed the Tigers up on a consistent basis and played a huge role in the team’s average starting field position being their own 16 yard line.
Of course it didn’t help that they couldn’t get much going offensively as quarterback Drew Lock came back down to Earth after a hot second half of the season and threw for only 269 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Some of his performance could be attributed to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel departing early in bowl preparations to take the UCF job but it was still a pretty rough outing after the team entered the game as one of the most high-powered attacks in the SEC.
The Longhorns offense wasn’t a world-beater themselves but they had their moments after an inconsistent 2017 campaign. Freshman Sam Ehllinger had a nice game to send him into the offseason with momentum by going 11-of-15 for 112 yards in the air with a touchdown and 17 yards rushing. Fellow signal-caller Shane Buechele was also part of the rotation behind center and threw a touchdown to kick off scoring in the first quarter.
Freshman tailback Daniel Young was the star of the show however and took full advantage of transfers, injuries and suspensions at the position to post a breakout performance. He led the team with 48 yards rushing and led the Horns in receiving as well, hauling in three passes for 64 yards and a wide-open touchdown.
Not to be out done, Todd Orlando’s defense also showed why they were one of the better units in the country this season and proved to be more than capable of replacing a few stars with star defensive back DeShon Elliott off to the NFL and linebacker Malik Jefferson unable to play due to injury. Anthony Wheeler scored Texas’ eighth non-offensive touchdown of the year (most in the FBS) when he recovered a fumble and rumbled 38 yards to the house to help break things open in the second quarter. Corner Davante Davis didn’t wind up in the end zone but may have been more productive with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
While the loss isn’t what Missouri was looking for against their old conference rival, it was still a heck of a turnaround for the Tigers to even play in the game after the start they had, much less to capture seven wins. A lot of eyes will be on Barry Odom over the next few weeks though as he has some big decisions ahead when it comes to his coaching staff and particularly with a pair of new coordinators.
As far as the Longhorns go it was a nice way to close out the beginning of the Herman era on the 40 Acres even if the year overall is a bit of a disappointment given the expectations in Austin. A bowl victory, a winning season, a top three recruiting class and the bulk of the team returning for 2018 is a nice way to transition into Year 2 however and could just what Texas needs to get back on track after a few years in the college football desert.