Here’s all you need to know about the Texas Bowl matchup between Missouri (8-4) and Navy (9-4) on Thursday.
WHO TO WATCH: Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri
Biletnikoff Award voters made a dreadful mistake by not adding Alexander to their watch list late in the year after Alexander's one-man assault on Big 12 defenses over the last half of the season. Alexander nearly made history by becoming the first wide receiver in NCAA history to post four straight 200-yard receiving games after notching 214 yards against Baylor, 200 against Kansas State, 173 yards against Iowa State and 233 yards against Kansas in his final game. He produced 107 catches this season after recording 78 catches over his first three seasons at Missouri, finishing 2009 as the nation’s leader in receiving yards (1,644) and average receiving yards per game (137.0). The tall, angular Alexander will be difficult for the undersized Navy secondary to contain. And his breakaway speed will be a concern for Navy every time he touches the ball.
WHAT TO WATCH: Missouri’s run containment against Navy’s triple-option
Missouri defensive ends Aldon Smith and Brian Coulter will be challenged to stop Navy’s strong outside running game keyed by quarterback Ricky Dobbs and his pitches to running backs Marcus Curry and Bobby Doyle. Missouri doesn’t see this offense very often, but the Tigers have had a long time to prepare for Thursday’s game after ranking 15th in rush defense during the regular season. Missouri’s defensive linemen need to do a good job of staying on their feet against Navy’s undersized offensive linemen and its storied ability at cut-blocking. Missouri linebackers Andrew Gachkar and Sean Weatherspoon also need to maintain their lanes of pursuit as they try to stop Dobbs, who rushed for 1,037 yards and set an NCAA single-season record for a quarterback with 24 rushing touchdowns.
WHY WATCH: Contrasting offensive styles make for entertaining games
Navy and Missouri have two of the nation’s most intriguing offenses. They just account for their yards in different ways. The Midshipmen rank fourth nationally in rushing, but 119th in passing offense. Missouri is 14th passing, but are 81st rushing. Missouri’s quick-strike offense keyed by quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Alexander would appear to give the Tugers a firepower edge, although Navy has been effective this season and would have its first 10-win season since 2004 with an upset.
PREDICTION: This should be a classic battle of different offensive styles. Tiger fans have been vociferous about their disappointment in getting the Texas Bowl, their fourth Texas-based bowl in the last four seasons, despite other Big 12 teams with lesser records being snapped up ahead of them in the conference’s pecking order. Gary Pinkel’s team can’t afford to let those bad feelings linger, or it could be a long day against the underrated Midshipmen. But this game looks like a good draw for Missouri, whose big-play passing offense and strong rush defense appear well-suited to control Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo's plucky team. Missouri 42, Navy 24.