Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Appearing in a bowl game for the sixth straight year, Missouri is looking to finish off one of its best seasons in style.
A school-record third consecutive postseason victory for Iowa, meanwhile, would put a positive end to a disappointing campaign that now includes the arrest of its all-time leading receiver and benching of its top running back.
The Hawkeyes will face 14th-ranked Missouri for the first time in a century Dec. 28 at the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
The Tigers (10-2) started the season ranked just outside the Top 25 but nearly advanced to their third Big 12 championship game in four years. Only consecutive losses at Nebraska and Texas Tech prevented them from accomplishing that feat.
Missouri rebounded from those defeats to win three straight and has a chance to record 11 victories for the third time in school history. The Tigers won a school-record 12 games in 2007.
"We really got better as the year went on," coach Gary Pinkel said. "We had a lot of players who had really good years. That's why we're 10-2."
The Hawkeyes entered this season as the nation's ninth-ranked team, with hopes of a Big Ten title and a second consecutive BCS bowl appearance. Instead, they lost their final three games of the regular season to finish 7-5 and were fourth in the conference.
"To finish up like we did, I think, left certainly a real bad taste in everybody's mouth," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're anxious to get back on the field and have a chance to compete again."
Ferentz probably wishes a miserable finish is all he had to deal with right now.
Instead, he had to handle the arrest of all-Big Ten wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on drug charges Dec. 7. Officers reportedly found cocaine residue, "small quantities of marijuana" in Johnson-Koulianos' bedroom, and a variety of legal painkillers and muscle relaxers for which he did not have prescriptions. He agreed to take a urine test and tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.
Ferentz immediately suspended the senior, who had 46 receptions for 745 yards and a career-best 10 touchdowns this season. He was the first player to lead the Hawkeyes in receiving in his first three seasons.
Ferentz then announced Dec. 13 that sophomore running back Adam Robinson would not play in the bowl game for failing to comply with "team expectations and policies." Freshman Marcus Coker will likely start in place of Robinson, who had 941 yards and 10 TDs this season.
The loss of those two players could make scoring on one of the nation's stingiest defenses even more difficult.
While known more for its spread offense in recent seasons, Missouri relied more on a unit that allowed 15.2 points per game, sixth-fewest in the FBS. Iowa finished one spot behind (16.4 ppg allowed) but gave up at least 20 points in each of its final three games.
The Tigers' offense averaged 401.1 yards despite the dismissal of leading rusher Derrick Washington before the season. Missouri got at least 380 yards from three different backs and a career-best 62.2 percent completion rate from second-year starter Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert had 308 yards and a TD in a 36-27 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 23, helping the Tigers improve to 7-0 for the first time in 50 years. His favorite target, tight end Michael Egnew, was a finalist for the John Mackey Award after catching 83 passes for 698 yards.
Gabbert, though, has sometimes had trouble when pressured. He completed 18 of 42 passes in the loss to Nebraska while being sacked six times.
In this game, he'll have to avoid one of the nation's top defensive linemen, St. Louis native Adrian Clayborn. The Lombardi and Hendricks Award finalist had nine tackles and two sacks while earning MVP honors in last season's Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech.
Along with Clayborn, defensive backs Tyler Sash and Shaun Prater also were named first-team all-Big Ten. Sash was third on the Hawkeyes with 73 tackles and Prater tied for the team lead with four interceptions.
Iowa senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi had a career-low four INTs this season while registering a career-best 25 touchdowns.
With Johnson-Koulianos out, Stanzi could rely more on another St. Louis native, Marvin McNutt, who led the Hawkeyes with 51 receptions for 798 yards. Coker had 403 yards and two TDs on 81 carries.
While Iowa will try to win its third straight bowl game, Missouri will attempt to bounce back from last season's 35-13 loss to Navy in the Texas Bowl. The Tigers beat West Virginia 34-31 in the 1998 Insight.com Bowl.
"I think there's some things that we have to do better as coaches," Pinkel said. "It's real important to me for our players to have a good time, but it's more important to win."
The Tigers lead the series 7-5 but haven't faced Iowa since a 5-0 home win in 1910.