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December 29, 2008

Alamo Bowl preview and prediction

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The Missouri Tigers look to close out 2008 with an Alamo Bowl win on Monday night. PowerMizzou.com has looked at the matchup all week long. We now break down the individual aspects of the game and offer our thoughts on what will transpire:

When Missouri runs the ball: The last two games (both losses) have fallen into a familiar pattern for the Tigers. Fall behind early, totally abandon the run, commit a couple turnovers that hinder the comeback, lose. Derrick Washington is eight yards away from a 1,000-yard season and the Tigers should try to get him significantly above that early. The Tigers ranked sixth in the Big 12 in rushing, but second in yards per carry. Meanwhile, Northwestern had a stingy run defense. The Wildcats were fourth in the bruising Big Ten, despite a schedule that included Shonn Greene, Beanie Wells and Javon Ringer. Northwestern gave up 3.6 yards per carry and 127 a game. Edge: Push

When Missouri throws the ball: The interceptions have gone up, but from a passing game standpoint, few are any better. Chase Coffman should be as healthy as he's been in two months. Jeremy Maclin should go over 100 catches. Nothwestern was eighth in the Big Ten is pass defense, giving up 215 yards per game, despite not playing Penn State, which has the only passing game that could do an even passable imitation of a Big 12 offense. The Cats did have a league-high 33 sacks (thought that number was inflated against a marshmallow-soft non-conference schedule highlighted by Duke) and may be able to put some pressure on Daniel. They will get a couple of stops, but Mizzou should be able to move the ball through the air. Edge: Missouri

When Northwestern runs the ball: This one is a little bit tricky. Northwestern was eighth in the Big Ten in rushing. They had the league's lowest number of rushing touchdowns and fewer 100-yard games than anyone except Purdue an Minnesota. But their best back wasn't healthy the entire season either. Tyrell Sutton was a 1,000-yard rusher as both a freshman and sophomore, but has battled injuries the last two seasons. This year, he averaged five yards per carry, but carried it just 155 times due in large part to a wrist injury. He is expected to be back and at full strength against the Tigers. Mizzou has had its problems defensively, but has been pretty good against the run. The Tigers give up 128 yards a game on the ground and were third in the Big 12 in yards per carry defensively. If you knew Sutton was 100%, the verdict here might change. Edge: Missouri

When Northwestern throws the ball: The Wildcats are the only team in the Big Ten that really spreads it out. Missouri's defensive players say the Wildcat offense looks a lot like what the Tigers run. C.J. Bacher is a good quarterback, but he's not Chase Daniel. Northwestern is averaging 209 yards a game through the air and Bacher is completing 60% of his passes. But he also has as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns. He should give the Tigers a chance to make a big play or two. Still, other quarterbacks have done that and the Tigers have not taken advantage. The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in pass defense. With an average performance, the Tigers could end up 118th in the nation, ahead of only Nevada, in passing defense. Can't give that group the edge on anybody right now. Edge: Northwestern

Special Teams: Maclin is one of the most dangerous in the country. Perhaps Northwestern has seen little enough of him that they will kick it to him and give him an actual chance to showcase his skills. But probably not. If the Cats do kick to him all night, look for Maclin to bring one back. Jeff Wolfert's exploits are well-known and the Tigers rank fourth in the Big 12 in net punting. Mizzou ranks higher in punt returns, kickoff returns and net punting than the Wildcats. Edge: Missouri

Intangibles: This is the big question: Does Missouri feel motivated to show up and put its best foot forward? There is plenty at stake, but being completely honest, the Tigers did not plan on being done with the season before the calendar turned to 2009. Last year, Missouri was stuck in a bowl game it did not deserve and responded well. The difference is that this year, the Tigers are exactly where they deserve to be. Mizzou is the better team. But if they don't put everything they've got into this game, there's no doubt Northwestern is good enough to beat them. Gary Pinkel will earn his paycheck getting this team to believe the game is as important as it is. Northwestern, meanwhile, has a chance to cap a season that is far better than most thought it could be. The one big edge for the Tigers is that they have played in far bigger games the past couple years and in no way will be intimidated by the atmosphere. Northwestern's roster isn't exactly stacked with guys that have big-game experience. Edge: Missouri

Bottom Line: As was said above, the Tigers are the better team. Missouri has played five games against teams that are better than the Wildcats. But Missouri is just 2-and-3 in those five. The key is quite simple: If Missouri holds on to the ball, it will win. If the Tigers turn it over more than once, the playing field levels in a hurry. If Northwestern can't take it away at least twice, the Tigers should roll.

Prediction and Star of the Game: The Tiger defense is what it is. We have long ago quit predicting the Tigers are going to hold anybody to 17 points. That's just setting yourself up to be disappointed. But we fully expect to see the Tigers' best offensive effort of the season. Daniel's legacy has taken a beating in the last couple of games, but he isn't going to go out on a clunker. With big numbers, the Tiger quarterback will go out with a season of more than 4,500 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Daniel reminds Tiger fans just how good he can be, throwing five touchdowns as the Missouri offense puts on a show. The Tigers win this one comfortably 51-33.

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