2009 Texas Bowl Preview
Navy (9-4, Independent) vs. Missouri (8-4, 4-4; Big XII)
December 31st, 2009 @ 3:30 PM (EST) – ESPN – Houston, Texas
The Texas Bowl is the successor to the Houston Bowl, which was last played in 2006. While the city of Houston has a long bowl history with the thirty year tradition of the now-defunct Bluebonnet Bowl, this is only the 4th time that the Texas Bowl will be played. This year’s game matches up the Naval Academy with the bowl’s long term tie-in, the Big XII conference.
Missouri came into the season as two time defending Big XII North Champions but fell to a 4-4 conference record thanks to a 1-4 stretch at midseason. The Tigers are led by Gary Pinkel, who is finishing his 9th year at Missouri and 17th season as a head coach overall. He has led the Tigers to a 67-45 during his tenure and is 140-82-3 in his career with a bowl record of 4-2, 3-2 at Mizzou.
The Tigers took an expected step back this year on offense after graduating so many productive players, including all-time leading passer Chase Daniel. However, they were still the 33rd ranked offense in the country at 30.3 points per game. Their philosophy didn’t change despite the personnel upheaval as they finished 13th in the country in passing and 82 nd in rushing. First year starter Blaine Gabbert (23 TDs and only 7 picks) built an excellent repertoire with star receiver Denario Alexander, who had 107 catches for over 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns! This is a very strong passing offense.
Mizzou’s defense was far less spectacular, allowing 24.6 points per game, only 56th in the country. However, they match up well with Navy as their pass defense was a lowly 109th but their run defense was an impressive 12th nationally. The Tigers also forced 21 turnovers and were generally a solid unit.
Navy extended their streak of winning seasons to seven with this year’s 9-4 record and they have the chance to win ten games for only the second time this decade. The highlights of the season included their 2nd victory over Notre Dame in three seasons and winning the Commander In Chief’s Trophy for a record 7th consecutive year. Coach Ken Niumatalolo improved his two year record to 17-10 but his bowl record is 0-2 and the Midshipmen are riding a three game postseason losing run.
Navy’s offense is built completely around their ability to run the football and it was one of the country’s most proficient, finishing 4th on the ground at 272 yards per game! However, that didn’t really translate into points because Navy only finished 59th in scoring at 27.5 points per game. Slowing the run is really the key to beating the Mids because their passing game was ranked dead last in the country. Navy showed their trademark discipline as they only turned the ball over 12 times all year (6th nationally), were called for the fewest penalties in the country and finished 6th in the country in time of possession.
The Navy defense benefitted from their offense’s ball-control abilities, finishing 20th in scoring defense at 19.9 points per game. The Mids finished 38th against the run and 48th against the pass and forced 20 turnovers to post an impressive +8 turnover margin.
One major factor to consider in analyzing this game: Missouri was extremely miffed that the Big XII passed them up repeatedly in the bowl pecking order and you have to wonder how that will affect their players. On the flip side, Navy’s goal all along was to make it to this game and the Naval Academy never fails to bring a great effort.
So how will this contest play out? Expect Navy to come out and move the ball against Mizzou’s stout ground defense. However, there has been an increasing sentiment in recent years that triple option teams become easier to defend with an extended layoff and the facts back it up: triple option teams are 0-6 in the past three years in bowl games.
Furthermore, it appears that Missouri has a solid matchup advantage in the passing game and Navy won’t have anyone capable of covering the extremely dangerous Alexander. While Navy will certainly be able to move the football, Missouri has the advantage of extra time to prepare for the option and they are riding a two game winning streak of their own in bowl games. Expect Mizzou’s powerful passing game and excellent assignment defense to make the difference in a close Tiger victory.
Texas Bowl Pick: Missouri 27, Navy 23
by Matt Baxendell
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