SHREVEPORT, La. — North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers didn't blame the distraction of the program's upcoming coaching change. Instead, he blamed Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
Franklin ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and the Tigers easily beat the Tar Heels 41-24 in the Independence Bowl on Monday night.
"He's 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."
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 Withers, who leaves to become defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer.
Now the UNC program belongs to Larry Fedora, who left Southern Mississippi after a 12-2 season to lead the Tar Heels. But Withers said the imminent change wasn't on anyone's mind.
"We've had issues for two years so I don't know why tonight would be any distraction," Withers said.
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. 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.
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.Comment on this story
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 at Independence Stadium. He led the Tigers to 31 first-half points — an Independence Bowl record.