December 27, 2010

Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri

INSIGHT BOWL

Iowa (7-5) vs. Missouri (10-2)
WHEN: Dec. 28, 10 p.m.
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough will do play-by-play, with Matt Millen as the analyst).
THE LINE: Missouri by 3.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Iowa 3-4, Missouri 6-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Iowa 18th, Missouri 9th.
BCS RANKINGS: Iowa unranked, Missouri 12th.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the MAC
COACHES: Missouri - Gary Pinkel (4-3 in bowls); Iowa - Kirk Ferentz (5-3 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Don't be fooled by the records, as these teams are evenly matched. True, Missouri won its last three and Iowa lost its last three, but the Hawkeyes' three losses in November were by a combined 10 points. In fact, all five of their losses were by seven or fewer points.
KEY STATS: Missouri leads the nation in red zone defense. The Tigers have allowed opponents just 17 scores (13 touchdowns, four field goals) on 31 penetrations into the red zone. But Iowa has been efficient as closing out drives. The Hawkeyes have converted 45 trips into the end zone into 40 scores (30 touchdowns, 10 field goals).

Midwest neighbors Iowa and Missouri head to Arizona for an Insight Bowl matchup - their first meeting since 1910 - but they appear to be going in different directions.

Missouri closed the season with a three-game winning streak to reach the 10-victory plateau for the third time in four seasons. The Tigers hope to close another strong season with their third bowl victory in four seasons. Mizzou hasn't finished a season with four consecutive wins since 1965.

Missouri's offense worries Iowa coaches.

"It's stuff you draw up in the sand at the beach," Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker told the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette. "But they know what they're doing with it. There's a method to their madness."

Iowa lost its last three regular-season games, then lost two offensive stars. Leading rusher Adam Robinson is suspended, and the Hawkeyes' best receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, was arrested earlier this month on drug charges. A bowl victory could at least put a positive finish on what has been a disappointing season.

Mizzou players aren't taking Iowa lightly.

"If you go into a game going, 'Oh, my God, they're having problems,' or 'It's going to be easy,' it's not going to turn out the way you want it to turn out," Tigers running back De'Vion Moore told the Kansas City Star. "They're still a great program."

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Iowa rush offense vs. Missouri rush defense: The Hawkeyes appear to be in trouble here. They had some problems on the ground during the season and leading rusher Adam Robinson has been suspended for violating team rules. That leaves true freshman Marcus Coker at the likely starter. Coker has rushed for 403 yards, with 160 coming in the final two games. Missouri has been inconsistent against the run. The Tigers held Oklahoma to 99 rushing yards and Texas A&M to 57, but allowed San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman to rush for 228, Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. to rumble for 307 and Kansas State backup QB Collin Klein to rush for 141. In fact, five players exceeded 100 rushing yards against the Tigers. LB Andrew Gachkar has a team-leading 81 tackles. Edge: Even.

Iowa pass offense vs. Missouri pass defense: QB Ricky Stanzi has had a good season. He's thrown for 2,804 yards and 25 touchdowns while lowering his interceptions total to just four. But he threw for fewer than 200 yards in each of the final two regular-season games - both losses. That's not nearly the biggest issue facing the Hawkeyes, though. Big-play WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who had 10 touchdowns, was dismissed from the team after an arrest on drug charges. He's a tremendous loss, though WR Marvin McNutt (51 catches, eight touchdowns) still provides a deep threat. Missouri's pass defense is average, at best. The Tigers allowed five of seven bowl teams they faced to throw for at least 235 yards. But they have compensated with 16 interceptions, and no one player has more than two. Brad Madison and Aldon Smith lead a good pass rush that has produced 37 sacks; Iowa has allowed 20. Edge: Missouri

Missouri rush offense vs. Iowa rush defense: Mizzou's passing game is the strength of the offense, but the Tigers rushed for more than 200 yards in three of their past four games. They also had 178 yards on the ground against Oklahoma. RBs De'Vion Moore, Henry Josey and Kendial Lawrence have gained between 380 and 490 yards. Running isn't easy against Iowa, which has allowed an average of 103.0 rushing yards to rank sixth in the nation. But Minnesota stunningly picked up 216 yards on the ground against the Hawkeyes to pull the upset in the regular-season finale. LB Jeremiha Hunter leads Iowa with 85 tackles, and big-play DT Karl Klug has 11 tackles for loss. Edge: Iowa

Missouri pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: Although the Tigers' passing game hasn't been as overwhelming as in recent seasons, it's still dangerous. QB Blaine Gabbert has thrown for 2,752 yards, but the receivers aren't as explosive as a year ago. Still, four players have at least 32 catches, TE Michael Egnew has made some All-America teams and sophomore WR T.J. Moe has emerged with 77 catches for 893 yards. Iowa has been rather mediocre in pass defense. The Hawkeyes have a good set of safeties in Brent Greenwood and Tyler Sash, but the pass rush has been disappointing. Five of the six bowl teams Iowa faced passed for more than 200 yards and three had more than 300 yards. Edge: Missouri

Iowa special teams vs. Missouri special teams: Iowa's kickoff-return team is damaged by the loss of Johnson-Koulianos, who was averaging almost 30 yards per return. K Mike Meyer has hit 12-of-15 field-goal attempts, with his longest from 42 yards. P Ryan Donahue, a Ray Guy Award finalist, averages 44.6 yards and has killed 21 inside the 20. Iowa's punt coverage has been excellent, its kickoff coverage adequate. Missouri K Grant Ressel has converted 16-of-18 field-goal attempts, including a 50-yarder. One miss was from 54 yards. P Matt Garbner has averaged 42.6 yards, with 27 kicks killed inside the 20. The return teams are mediocre, but at least the Tigers have their best return guys on hand. As with Iowa, Mizzou's punt coverage has been excellent, its kickoff coverage adequate. Edge: Missouri

Iowa coaches vs. Missouri coaches: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz generally is regarded as one of the premier coaches in the Big Ten. He has an 88-60 record in 12 seasons, which includes a couple of conference championships. Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe has been criticized for being too conservative. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who had to have a foot amputated in September because of the effects of diabetes, is an old-school coach whose units always play tough, smart football. In 10 seasons, Gary Pinkel has built a perennially underachieving Missouri program into a consistent Big 12 contender. He has led Missouri to at least 10 wins in three of the past four seasons and at least eight victories in five consecutive years. Offensive coordinator David Yost has done good work this season despite lacking a feature back, and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel - an ex-Marine - oversees an aggressive unit. Edge: Iowa

X-factor: Motivation always is a key in bowl games. The winner is often the team that most wants to be there. Missouri was hoping to play in the Cotton Bowl, so there is some question as to how focused the Tigers will be. But Iowa has even larger issues. The suspensions of Robinson and Johnson-Koulianos no doubt have been major distractions; can the Hawkeyes adequately replace their production? Plus, Iowa fell apart down the stretch, and a season that was supposed to end in a BCS bowl instead ends in a pre-Jan. 1 bowl.

Missouri will win if: The Tigers need a strong outing from Gabbert. He completed fewer than half of his passes in Missouri's two losses. Defensively, the Tigers must contain Iowa's running game and force long-yardage situations, which would enhance their pass rush.

Iowa will win if: Like Gabbert, Stanzi must have a strong performance. The uncertainty at running back figures to put more emphasis on Stanzi. The Hawkeyes must protect him, and they also need someone to step up to take up Johnson-Koulianos' slack. Pressuring Gabbert will be vital, too. Senior DE Adrian Clayborn hasn't had a dominant season, and Hawkeyes coaches obviously hope Clayborn - from suburban St. Louis, which is a Mizzou stronghold - can go out on a high note.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Missouri 24, Iowa 17
Tom Dienhart: Missouri 36, Iowa 14
David Fox: Missouri 35, Iowa 17
Mike Huguenin: Missouri 24, Iowa 17
Steve Megargee: Missouri 23, Iowa 20

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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