HOUSTON (AP) Ricky Dobbs listened to the chatter from Missouri’s defense and knew Navy had the Tigers beat.
Dobbs ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns and the Midshipmen manhandled Missouri with their triple-option offense in a 35-13 victory in the Texas Bowl on Thursday.
Dobbs also threw a touchdown pass to Bobby Doyle and Marcus Curry ran for a score as the Midshipmen (10-4) rushed for 385 yards against Missouri’s 12th-ranked run defense. Navy won time of possession by nearly 22 minutes and ran 81 offensive plays to only 57 for the Tigers.
The old-fashioned, run-first (and second and third) offense put the Midshipmen on equal footing with bigger, faster opponents all season. They nearly upset Ohio State in the season opener and beat Notre Dame on Nov. 7.
Dobbs sensed that Navy was going to take down another heavyweight when he heard the frustrated Tigers complaining about the Midshipmen’s low blocks.
“You could hear them talking all the time, ‘Hey, who’s trying to end my career?’ and stuff like that,” Dobbs said. “A lot of people, as far as defenses go, they have respect for us and the style that we do. They respect it because they hate it, and hearing them talk negatively about it let us know that they have respect for it, because they don’t want to do it.”
The Midshipmen matched a school record for victories in a season, securing only the third 10-win campaign in its history. They wore the same uniforms they donned for their 17-3 win over Army on Dec. 12 – gold on the shoulders and lined with red on the beltline and arms to honor the Marine Corps.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo conceded Missouri’s size and speed advantage leading up to this one. The undersized defense still managed to hold the Tigers to only 65 rushing yards.
“We’re going to have 11 guys running to the football,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re like 11 hyenas – we’re going to take down an elephant sooner or later, and we’re going to get on you.”
Blaine Gabbert threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander on Missouri’s second play from scrimmage, but the Tigers mustered only 298 yards the rest of the game – largely because the Navy offense kept the ball for almost 41 minutes.
“They’re really efficient in what they do,” Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “They run it well and they’re going to keep doing it. We knew what they were going to do, but the thing is, they kind of take your instincts away from you.”
Missouri (8-5) lost for the second time in its last five bowl appearances.
Gabbert also threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, even though Navy had up to eight players dropped into pass coverage on some plays.
“He’ll tell you that he’s got to play better,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “This will be a good experience, certainly for him and for all of us.”
Alexander, who led the nation in receiving yards coming into the game, took a short pass from Gabbert and outran the Navy defense just 24 seconds into the game. It was Alexander’s 14th TD catch of the season and eighth covering more than 50 yards.
Navy didn’t panic, stuck to its game plan and the Tigers never came up with an answer.
Dobbs broke a 24-yard run on Navy’s second possession, diving into the end zone with 2:58 left in the first quarter. It was Dobbs’ 25th touchdown run of the year, adding to his NCAA single-season record for a quarterback.
Tigers’ defensive end Aldon Smith sacked Dobbs on the first play of the second quarter, setting a Missouri record with his 12th sack of the season.
Dobbs wasn’t sacked again, and the Midshipmen drove to the Missouri 22 late in the half. Dobbs ran up the middle, but Missouri safety Jasper Simmons forced a fumble just before Dobbs crossed the goal line and the Tigers recovered in the end zone.
It only slowed down the Middies temporarily.
Missouri’s Derrick Washington fumbled on the next play, Navy recovered and Dobbs, unfazed by his miscue, scored on a 12-yard run with 45 seconds left before halftime.
“In any offense, great quarterbacks have a short memory, no matter if it’s the touchdown pass that you threw or the interception you threw,” Dobbs said.
Grant Ressel’s 31-yard field goal on the last play before the break to make it 14-10.
But Navy had already set the tone for the game, rushing for 216 yards in the first half. Dobbs’ 3-yard touchdown pass to Doyle finished the first drive of the third quarter and put Navy up 21-10.
Ressel kicked another 31-yarder to make it 21-13, then Navy pulled away
Dobbs joined Craig Candeto (2003) and Chris McCoy (1997) as the only Midshipmen to run and pass for over 1,000 yards in a season.