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December 30, 2009
Texas Bowl: Missouri vs. Navy
TEXAS BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Missouri rush offense vs. Navy rush defense: Mizzou is so-so on the ground. Derrick Washington has had two 100-yard games and 10 rushing TDs this year. Navy has an undersized front seven, but the Midshipmen have some quickness and their aggressiveness masks some talent and size deficiencies.
Missouri pass offense vs. Navy pass defense: The Midshipmen secondary, which was torched by Notre Dame and Hawaii in the final month of the season, looks as if it will be in for a long day. Sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert has become more comfortable in the offense in the second half of the season. He had three 300-yard games among the final four regular-season games, and in the other, he threw for 298. He also threw eight TD passes and no picks in that quartet of games. A lot of his throws went to Alexander. In the last four regular-seasons games, Alexander had 49 catches for 820 yards and six touchdowns. Jared Perry is another weapon. More good news for Gabbert: Navy's pass rush is weak.
Navy rush offense vs. Missouri rush defense: It's no surprise that Navy's triple-option offense ranks fourth nationally at 272.5 yards per game. With 1,026 yards, Navy QB Ricky Dobbs is one of four players with at least 375 rushing yards. FB Vince Murray has 925 yards, and only one of his 172 carries has gone for negative yardage. Missouri is 12th nationally in rush defense, and Nevada - which led the nation in rushing - was the only opponent to rush for more than 131 on the Tigers (the Wolf Pack had 218 in a 10-point loss). LB Sean Weatherspoon must play well.
Navy pass offense vs. Missouri pass defense: The Midshipmen throw for 71.4 yards per game, which is last nationally. Navy passed for 100 yards in three of the first four games, but it didn't reach that plateau in the final nine. No receiver has as many as 10 catches. Mizzou's pass defense is bad, but it shouldn't matter in this one. The safeties will have to act as extra linebackers against Navy's option.
Missouri special teams vs. Navy special teams: The Tigers' return teams are average, the coverage units solid. K Grant Ressel is one of the best in the nation. He is 24-of-25, including 7-for-8 from between 40 and 49 yards; he hasn't attempted any 50-yarders. P Jake Harry averages 42.7 per kick, and only two of his 57 kickoff attempts have gone for touchbacks. Navy is barely pedestrian with its return teams; its punt coverage has been good, the kick coverage shaky at times. K Joe Buckley has a good leg - he's 4-for-4 from beyond 40 yards - but lacks accuracy - he's 4-for-7 from between 30 and 39 yards. P Kyle Delahooke has been solid.
Missouri coaching staff vs. Navy coaching staff: Mizzou had a midseason slump, but coach Gary Pinkel got his team to work through it. Both coordinators are new for Mizzou this season, and offensive coordinator David Yost has done a nice job. Navy's Ken Niumatalolo has kept things humming along in his two seasons since replacing Paul Johnson. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green does a solid job with less-than-stellar talent.
X-factor: Missouri was upset it was bypassed by two other bowls with a Big 12 tie-in and instead fell to the Texas Bowl, which is last in the Big 12 pecking order. A team facing a disciplined Navy program better be ready to play.
Missouri will win if: The Tigers have to play smart, disciplined defense. They have been good against the run. But stopping a "regular" offense or even a spread offense is a lot different than stopping a triple-option attack. If the Tigers hold Navy to 200 or fewer yards, they will be in good shape and should win.
Navy will win if: The Midshipmen need to control the clock and - somehow - find a pass rush. The secondary is going to have a ton of problems with Mizzou's receivers. Navy's best defense will be to keep Missouri's offense off the field. When Gabbert is on the field, he will carve up Navy unless he's facing pressure.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.