Navy (9-4) vs. Missouri (8-4)
Thursday, December 31st, 2:30 p.m.
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Navy Midshipmen and Missouri Tigers meet for the first time in 49 years, as they do battle in the 2009 Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The two teams are meeting for the third time and the first since the Tigers notched a 21-14 victory in the 1961 Orange Bowl. The only other encounter took place in 1948 and Missouri won that clash as well by a 35-14 score in Annapolis.
The Tigers weren't expected to be all that competitive after losing some key players from a year ago, but they started and finished strong en route to an 8-4 record. Missouri, which opened the season 4-0, lost four of five games in the middle of the campaign before closing the regular season with three straight victories. This is the program's fifth consecutive bowl game and 27th all-time. The Tigers are 12-14 all-time in bowl games.
For the Midshipmen, they are looking for their first 10-win season since 2004 following a 9-4 showing during the regular season. Navy is making an academy- record seventh consecutive bowl appearance and the team is seeking its first postseason win since defeating Colorado State (51-30) in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl.
Behind their option attack, Navy once again ranks among the top rushing teams in the nation, gaining 272.5 ypg and 40 touchdowns on the ground this season. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs makes this ground game go and he has turned in quite a season thus far. The junior gunslinger has gained 1,037 yards on the ground and has already set an NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 24. Dobbs has thrown for five more scores, but expect him to do damage with his legs, not arm.
Vince Murray is another option for the Navy attack, which is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The 6-1, 215-pound back ranks second to Dobbs with 925 yards and six scores and he is posting 5.4 yards per carry.
Navy's defense has been rather good this season and the unit even played well down the stretch, holding its last four opponents to 21 points or less. For the season, the Midshipmen are holding foes to 19.9 ppg and 333.6 total ypg. The unit is giving up 126.5 ypg on the ground and 207.1 ypg through the air and those numbers are pretty respectable.
The Midshipmen however, have only forced 20 turnovers and recorded just 18 sacks, so their is room for improvement.
Ross Pospisil highlights the defense with 98 stops, including seven for losses. Wyatt Middleton and Ram Vela are two other players to keep a look out for, as they have combined for six of the team's 11 interceptions.
Missouri takes a different approach than Navy on offense, as the Tigers prefer to air the ball out, averaging 285.0 passing ypg. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has flourished in his first season as the starter and he has thrown for 3,302 yards, with 23 scores against only seven picks. The sophomore gunslinger can also get the job done with his legs, rushing for 228 yards and three more touchdowns.
Danario Alexander not only emerged as Gabbert's main option, but he came on to be one of the best receivers in the nation. After making just 78 catches over his first three seasons, Alexander hauled in 107 balls for a nation-high 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. Alexander saved his best for late in the season as well, notching 49 receptions for 802 yards and six scores over his last four games.
In the backfield, Derrick Washington has made the most of his chances this season and he leads the Tigers with 803 yards and 10 scores on the ground. The Tigers have struggled versus the pass this season, allowing 261.6 ypg, but lucky for them they are facing a run oriented team in this game. Against the run, Missouri has been one of the best teams in the nation, holding opponents to just 96.4 ypg and only 2.9 yards per carry. This unit will obviously be put to the test against Navy.
Bringing pressure has helped Missouri to stop the run as well as deter quarterbacks from spending too much time in the pocket. The Tigers have come up with 30 sacks and that has led to 237 yards lost.
Aldon Smith, the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, is the team's top pass rushing threat, racking up 11 sacks and 18.5 TFLs. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is another big part of this defense and he has made a team-high 104 stops, to go with 14 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
This is an intriguing matchup, as Navy's potent ground game faces the Tigers' stingy run defense. Missouri however, has a big advantage with its passing attack and the Tigers should have their way through the air en route to the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Missouri 33, Navy 18