Texas coach Tom Herman knows he has a long way to go to get the Longhorns where he wants them to be.
But finishing with the school's first winning record since 2013 following a 33-16 victory over Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Wednesday night certainly has them on the right track.
"It's really important for these guys to call themselves a winner," Herman said, "and to be able to walk around their hometowns over the next few weeks of Christmas break knowing they had a winning season. It wasn't going to be life or death. We would have been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward."
Freshman running back Daniel Young had 64 yards receiving with a touchdown and added 48 yards on the ground to pace Texas (7-6).
The Longhorns, in a bowl for the first time since 2014, bounced back from a loss to Texas Tech in their regular-season finale to finish with their first winning record since going 8-5 in coach Mack Brown's final season in 2013.
Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger split time at quarterback for Texas, and both players threw a touchdown pass. The defense helped out, too, with Anthony Wheeler scoring a TD on a fumble return in the first half and Davante Davis grabbing an interception with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Armanti Foreman dashed 18 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing drive to extend the lead to 33-16 and put the game out of reach.
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Michael Dickson, who won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter, was selected the game's Most Valuable Player, making him the first non-offensive player to be Texas Bowl MVP and the second punter ever to win MVP of a bowl game, joining Florida State's Graham Gano, the MVP of the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl.
Dickson, who will forego his senior season to declare for the NFL draft, punted 11 times for 452 yards, with four landing inside the 5.
He was shocked that he won the honor.
"I didn't believe it when they told me at first," he said. "I was like, `Wait, why am I going on stage?' It's still kind of sinking in now."
Missouri coach Barry Odom said he's never seen a punting performance like Dickson's.
"I guess that's why he won that award," Odom said. "He's pretty good and they played well off of it."
Drew Lock passed for 269 yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception and lost a fumble in the loss, which snapped a six-game winning streak for the Tigers. Lock led the nation during the regular season with a Southeastern Conference-record 43 touchdown passes and had thrown three or more in eight straight games.
"We'll use this as a learning tool and motivation and continue to build our program and build our team," Odom said. "We've got a lot of exciting things happening."
Buechele connected with Young on a 22-yard touchdown pass to put Texas up 7-0 early in the first quarter. Ehlinger found John Burt for a 7-yard score later in the first to push the lead to 14-0.
The Tigers (7-6) got within 14-7 when Ish Witter ran 4 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. But Witter fumbled later in the period and Wheeler scooped it up and rumbled 38 yards for a touchdown to leave Texas up 21-7 at halftime.
Lock threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Johnathon Johnson on the first play of the second half, but the 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Tigers down 21-13.
They cut the margin to 21-16 with a 28-yard field goal by Tucker McCann with about three minutes left in the third quarter, but weren't able to move the ball much after that.
The Longhorns went up 23-16 when a bad snap sailed over Lock's head and rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety near the end of the third quarter.
Texas used a 41-yard field goal early in the fourth to make it 26-16 with about 12 minutes left.
Ehlinger was 11 of 15 for 112 yards, and Buechele finished 6 of 14 for 55 yards.
Texas: Herman's first season with the Longhorns was somewhat of a disappointment, but his team's performance against Missouri should give fans hope that the program is back on the right track.
Missouri: Texas found a way to stymie Missouri's potent offense after the Tigers scored 45 or more points in each of their previous six games, a school record.
Texas junior linebacker Breckyn Hager honored former Longhorns star Tommy Nobis, who died this month at 74, by wearing his retired No. 60 jersey. The Longhorns also wore stickers on their helmets with No. 60 to honor Nobis. The linebacker played for Texas from 1963-65 and was the top pick in the 1966 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He was a five-time Pro Bowler who played in the NFL until 1976.
Texas: Herman appears to have two improving quarterbacks in Buechele and Ehlinger, but to develop more consistency next season the coach might need to pick one as his starter and stick with him.
Missouri: Lock will have to decide if he'll declare for the NFL draft or return for his senior season. With offensive coordinator Josh Heupel leaving to coach Central Florida, Lock's decision could hinge on his feelings about the new offensive coordinator.
"This game won't affect my decision at all," Lock said. "If we had come out and scored 150 points on them, it wouldn't have made a difference. If we had scored zero, it wouldn't have made a difference. I still have things to evaluate, and I'm going to take in a little more information before the deadline."