Entering the 72nd annual Cotton Bowl Classic as a mere afterthought to more high profile players Chase Daniel and Darren McFadden, Temple wasn’t even the best running back on the field. In fact, he wasn’t even close.
With No. 25 Arkansas featuring both McFadden and Felix Jones, Temple was a distant third in the tailback race at best. But now, after the greatest rushing performance in Cotton Bowl history, things may change.
Facing a Razorbacks defense determined to slow down No. 6 Missouri’s spread offense passing attack — led by Heisman Trophy finalist Daniel — the stage was set for Temple to run wild. And run wild he did.
On 24 carries, Temple made Arkansas’ defense look almost nonexistent, racking up a bowl record 281 yards while also scoring a bowl record four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 38-7 blowout victory.
“Like coach (Gary Pinkel) said, Arkansas came in with a great plan to slow down our wide receivers and our passing game,” Temple said. “And I was just doing my job.”
In doing his job, that’s where Dicky Maegle comes into the story. All the way back in the 1954 Cotton Bowl, Maegle rushed for 265 yards for Rice against Alabama, setting a bowl rushing record that would stand for 54 years.
That is until Temple came along.
“I had never heard of (Temple), but I was familiar with Missouri based on the play of their quarterback” said Maegle, who watched Tuesday’s Cotton Bowl. “Honestly, I thought if anyone had a chance of breaking the record, I would have thought it would have been one of the Arkansas running backs.”
So did everyone else, probably. But with the way the Tigers (12-2) performed on offense — taking everything Arkansas’ defense was given them — this day was all about Temple.
“He obviously did an outstanding job,” said Daniel, who threw for a season-low 136 yards. “Everybody was talking about Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis and those guys are great. But I wouldn’t trade my guy Tony for anyone.”
Of course, Arkansas wouldn’t trade its guys either. But the Razorbacks (8-5) would more than likely trade in their defensive effort against Temple.
“He was running on air, guys,” Arkansas interim head coach Reggie Herring said. “That guy’s running on air.
“They blocked us, we didn’t get all the blocks. It was a bad day defensively. We never played the run that poorly. We’re trying to give credit to Missouri. We give all the credit to them. Temple is a great back. They ran for 300 and something yards, but regardless of who we’re playing today I think the way we didn’t pursue the football and get all the blocks, I mean half his runs were on air.”
On air, on the ground, down the sidelines, it really didn’t matter. A crowd of 73,114 came to the Cotton Bowl expecting a marvelous tailback to have a magnificent day. And they weren’t disappointed.
The only surprise, though, came when a back named Temple — not McFadden — put his name in the Cotton Bowl record book alongside a man named Maegle.
“Man, it’s a great feeling,” Temple said. “But I’m just happy that our team won, that we got the opportunity to do that.
“I mean honestly, it really comes down to Chase and my wide receivers and my tight ends. They’ve been setting it up all year for this.”