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Bowl season has just given us the Michael Jordan Shrugs Game of punting

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Wednesday’s bowl games were highlighted by Texas’ Michael Dickson. We are not worthy.

Academy Sports & Outdoors Bowl - Texas v Missouri Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Texas Bowl: Texas 33, Missouri 16

On June 3, 1992, Michael Jordan put on one of the greatest displays of basketball ever seen. To date only a 28 percent 3-point shooter for his career, Jordan found The Zone, nailing six long balls in the first half of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Portland. It was a Finals record that stood until 2010. After the last, Jordan shrugged his way down the court. Jordan scored 35 points in the first half as the Bulls bolted to a 15-point halftime lead. They would eventually win by 33.

On Dec. 27, 2017, we saw the Jordan Shrugs game of college football punting.

  • From 2006 to the start of bowl season, 2,426 games featured a punter with at least eight punts.
  • Only 16 of those punters had at least three-quarters of their punts downed inside the 20.
  • Only seven also allowed zero (or fewer) punt return yards with no touchbacks.
  • In the Texas Bowl against Missouri, Texas’ Michael Dickson punted 11 times. Ten of them were downed inside the 20. None bounced into the end zone for a touchback, and none were returned.

That wasn’t all, though! Eight of his 11, 73 percent, were downed inside the 10. This genuinely may have been the best punting game of the last 10 years in college football, and I’m not sure it was close.

Texas averaged just 3.9 yards per play on offense and allowed 5.7. In terms of raw yardage, the Horns were outgained by 110. And after the first quarter, it was even worse: over the last 45 minutes, Mizzou gained 329 yards (6.5 per play) to Texas’ 170 (3.3).

The Longhorns not only punted 11 times but also went three-and-out six times. That all but guarantees you a field position disadvantage, and for a team that drove more than 50 yards just twice all night, it all but guarantees defeat.

Texas won by 17.

  • Average starting field position: Texas 39, Missouri 15
  • Average field position following punts: Texas 41, Missouri 11

Missouri scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives that began outside of its 10. But the third such drive didn't take place until the beginning of the second half. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Jon Finley stayed incredibly conservative when Missouri was backed up, and it made at least a little sense — the Tigers have a pretty good punter (Corey Fatony), and he and head coach Barry Odom probably believed they’d actually be able to flip the field.

Dickson made sure that wasn’t the case. Mizzou began one drive all night beyond its 30. Texas had eight. Toss in Anthony Wheeler’s 38-yard return of an Ish Witter fumble, and you’ve got the recipe for an easy with with almost no offensive yardage.

Dickson was named the game’s most valuable player. Naming a punter the MVP is rare, but this was the easiest choice you’ll ever see.

I noted following Louisiana Tech’s Frisco Bowl win over SMU that we had just witnessed one of the strangest games of the season. This result was nearly as incongruous with the box score as that one, but while it did feature some turnovers luck (Texas recovered all three of the game’s fumbles), Dickson was the reason the Horns were able to finish at 7-6, their first winning record in four years. If any punter has ever earned the right to jump to the pros early, it’s him.

Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa 27, Boston College 20

Texas wasn’t the only team to win a Wednesday bowl with things other than “yards” or “sustained drives.” Iowa gained just 200 yards in 54 snaps on an icy pitch in Yankee Stadium; the Hawkeyes went three-and-out five times in 12 possessions and twice scored points on drives of fewer than 20 yards.

Boston College nearly doubled their yardage (383), but thanks to the timely plays we’ve seen countless times during Kirk Ferentz’s 143 career wins at Iowa, the Hawkeyes did exactly what they needed to do and nothing more. They set up an early field goal with a deflected interception. When BC scored to take a 7-3 lead, they returned the kickoff 72 yards to set up a short TD drive.

BC owned the first half from a yardage perspective but only held a seven-point lead. And in the second half, the Hawkeyes got stingy, forcing punts on the Eagles’ first three possessions and turnovers twice in a row in the fourth quarter.

And to make the thing even more Iowa, linebacker-turned-fullback Drake Kulick scored the game-winning points. As God intended.

Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue 38, Arizona 35

Back when pairings were announced, I named the Foster Farms Bowl one of the coolest matchups of bowl season: “You’re interested in fun tactics, big plays, and two teams that are excited to be playing, right? Thought so.”

Wow, did this one live up expectations.

Purdue limited Arizona's Khalil Tate to just 75 non-sack rushing yards, so he threw for 302 yards and five touchdowns. And despite a torn ACL, Purdue's Elijah Sindelar threw for 396 yards and four scores. The Boilermakers ran Jeff Brohm's signature trick play, there were five lead changes and 985 combined yards ... this was beautiful, beautiful college football, easily the most thrilling iteration yet of the Foster Farms/Fight Hunger/Emerald/San Francisco Bowl. (Apologies to those who look back fondly on Illinois’ 20-14 win over UCLA in 2011.)

The Boilermakers pulled out the win with a manly 38-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Mahoungou...

...and to the victor go the narratives. The win gave Purdue only its second winning season in 10 years and capped an incredible one-year turnaround.

The Boilermakers had six wins in three years before winning seven this fall. Brohm is indeed a damn miracle worker. Now we’ll get to find out how good a program builder he is.

Independence Bowl: Florida State 42, Southern Miss 13

It was fair to wonder if FSU would find the motivation to take care of business in Shreveport. Interim coach Odell Haggins and quarterback James Blackman made sure that wasn’t an issue.

Haggins did a masterful job of managing distractions as the program changed hands from Jimbo Fisher to Willie Taggart. Blackman made sure FSU’s receivers had a reason to run their routes with full effort.

The freshman completed 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns and rushed six times for 29 yards to boot. He threw a perfect 20-yard strike to Auden Tate for a 20-yard score on the Seminoles’ first possession, threw a 14-yarder to Cam Akers to put the Noles up 13-6 early in the second quarter, hit Tate again late in the first half, and that was that. FSU scored on eight of its first nine drives, and despite some nice running by Ito Smith (20 combined rushes and receptions for 118 yards), the Golden Eagles had no chance of keeping up.

The main story was the potential presence of Deion Sanders on Taggart’s coaching staff, but as fun as that would be, perhaps the headlines should have belonged to Blackman.

The freshman became the starter by default following Deondre Francois' season-ending injury in Week 1, and he was handed a receiving corps that couldn't keep anybody healthy. He showed flashes of potential but lost five of his first eight starts while producing a 56 percent completion rate and a passer rating of just 121.6.

His last four games: 4-0 record, 63 percent completion rate, 168.9 passer rating. Early on, it was easy to see Francois resuming his post as QB1 in 2018. But now? Taggart’s got some intriguing options heading into spring ball.


College football's first bowl game was almost its last