December 28, 2010/10:00 pm Eastern
Tempe, AZ – Sun Devil Stadium
There was a point midway through this season when this bowl matchup could easily have been projected as a BCS showdown. The Tigers entered the last weekend of November 7-0, coming off a defeat of then-#3 Oklahoma; they would lose their next two to Nebraska and Texas Tech to tumble out of the running for the North Division crown. Iowa, meanwhile, had a bad time in their last trip to the Copper State, where they lost to the Wildcats in a Big Ten/Pac-10 thriller. They rebounded into October, defeating Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State and losing to the Rose Bowl-bound Badgers by a single point. But three straight losses to end the season saw the Hawkeyes plummet down the conference standings. Now, instead of a later date against one another on a bigger stage, the two teams get a December date at Sun Devil Stadium…
- Missouri: The Tigers focused on finding better balance in their offense, and the rushing game managed to actually put up more yardage than the more highly-touted Hawkeyes did this season. But this spread offense lives and dies by the pass, and QB Blaine Gabbert will have to take advantage of an Iowa secondary that has been susceptible at times to getting carved up by good passers. Gabbert improved his accuracy this season, completing 62 percent of his passes, but he also has seen his yardage drop significantly. He will have to elevate his game in a showdown — and watch out for former high nemesis Adrian Clayborn coming off the edge — to give the Tigers the inside track at victory.
- Iowa: Brandon Wegher left the team before the season started, and will transfer out of Iowa City to another program. Jewel Hampton played three games early, blowing out his ACL in the Arizona loss. He recently announced his intentions to transfer as well. And Adam Robinson, the team’s leading rusher in each of the past two seasons, won’t head to the desert with the rest of the Hawkeyes after being suspended for what coach Kirk Ferentz has cryptically noted are “academic issues”. So the burden in what was once a stacked backfield falls to true freshman RB Marcus Coker. With Ricky Stanzi having lost another big weapon, key receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, to a positive drug test, it now falls to Coker to loosen up the Missouri front seven. If he can’t keep them honest, Stanzi will have a tough time finding enough time to hit the receivers he does have.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
In a reversal of normal roles, it was the Missouri D-line that outplayed their opposite number on the Hawkeyes this season. Aldon Smith and company racked up 37 sacks this season, a top-ten unit nationally, terrorizing opposing quarterbacks and getting the kind of pressure that allowed them to get to ten wins in the first place. The Iowa O-line has had its troubles this season, letting Stanzi get dirty nineteen times, and they could be without the services of goard Adam Gettis for their encounter. If the Tigers get pressure on Stanzi, we could see a repeat of the Arizona game. Back in September, the Wildcats got to the quarterback six times and disrupted Iowa’s rhythm in crunch time, getting to Stanzi thrice on the final drive. Mizzou must find its way into the backfield with regularity to prevent the ultra-efficient Stanzi to carve them up.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Motivation: For Missouri, they were ecstatic to be selected for the Big XII’s spot over a Nebraska team which defeated them right before Halloween and represented the North in the Big XII title game. For Iowa, the blows have just kept coming — first it was a three-game skid to end the regular season, then it was the Johnson-Koulianos and questions about the program’s drug testing protocols, and now tailbacks are dropping out of the equation like canaries in a coal mine. We know that Gary Pinkel’s squad is happy to be headed to Tempe. Can Ferentz motivate the players he will have on his travel squad to play to their full potential after they slumped their way through November?
The two teams are largely a wash in terms of the numbers they put up both offensively and defensively this season. But Missouri made more out of their efforts, three wins better than their counterpart in this contest. If Iowa were showing up with its full complement of players, this would be a different story. But with so many key cogs missing from their offense, the Hawkeyes will be hard-pressed to match their output from earlier this season. And with a defense that seemingly regressed from last season, all the momentum is with the team from Missouri. When in doubt, bet on the team that actually wants to be here rather than the one that lusted after so much more…
PREDICTION: Missouri 38, Iowa 21