A potent passing game has helped Missouri to its fifth consecutive bowl game. The nation’s fourth-best rushing offense has guided Navy to its most victories in three seasons.
Two teams with contrasting offensive styles meet for the first time in 49 years in the Texas Bowl at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Thursday.
This is the third meeting between the teams and first since Missouri won the 1961 Orange Bowl to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Missouri (8-4) takes a three-game winning streak into its fourth straight bowl game played in the state of Texas.
Trying for a third consecutive bowl victory, the Tigers hoped to be headed to a more prestigious postseason destination after starting 4-0. Three straight defeats to ranked teams Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas during a stretch of four losses in five games, however, ended their chances of a Big 12 North Division title and BCS bowl bid.
Instead, Missouri looks to conclude its late-season success with the school’s 13th bowl victory.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “It was a year that we really grew a lot together as a football team. We went through a lot of adversity and bounced back and went through some more adversity. We did a great job of finishing the season.”
With the nation’s 13th-ranked passing offense (285.0 yards per game), Missouri averaged 36.2 points while winning four of five after being held to 36 total points during its three-game losing streak.
“Missouri is a great football team and they will provide a tremendous challenge for us,” Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo told the academy’s official Web site.
Senior receiver and Marlin, Texas, native Danario Alexander was a big reason for the Tigers’ recent surge. The nation’s leader in receiving yards (1,644) and average per game (137.0), Alexander caught 49 passes for 820 yards and six touchdowns in his last four contests.
The All-Big 12 first-team selection has 107 receptions this year after recording 78 over his first three seasons.
Sophomore Blaine Gabbert completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 938 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions during the last three games. Gabbert, who’s thrown for 3,302 yards in his first season as a starter, recorded 303 through the air and ran for 94 in Missouri’s 41-39 victory over Kansas in its regular-season finale Nov. 28.
All-conference linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (101 tackles) and Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Aldon Smith (11 sacks) lead a defense ranked 12th in the country allowing 96.4 yards on the ground.
They’ll certainly be in for a test against Navy (9-4), which averages 272.5 yards on the ground via an option offense led by talented junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs.
“It’s going to be fun for us on the defense, but at the same time it will be a challenge,” Missouri linebacker Jaron Baston said. “It’s going to be a very tough Navy team. The option can kill a defense if they run it the right way.”
Dobbs, who’s rushed for 1,037 yards, set an NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 24 after scoring once in a 17-3 win over rival Army on Dec. 12.
“The kid is amazing,” Niumataolo said of Dobbs, who missed most of two games with a knee injury before returning to lead Navy to a 23-21 road win over then-No. 19 Notre Dame on Nov. 7. “To come back and play the way he has, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Despite his individual record-breaking season, Dobbs is more concerned with the success of the Midshipman, who haven’t had a 10-win season since 2004.
“Team success is the most important record,” said Dobbs, who’s averaging 110.5 rushing yards in his last four games. “This record belongs to the offensive line and the fullbacks that block.”
Senior linebacker Ross Pospisil has 98 tackles, including seven for losses, to lead a Navy defense that allows 19.9 points per game.
Though Navy will make an academy-record seventh straight bowl appearance, it’s trying to avoid losing its fourth straight since beating Colorado State 51-30 in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl.