Monday, December 29, 2008

Alamo Bowl - Missouri vs. Northwestern


December 29, 2008 * 8:00 * ESPN
Alamodome * San Antonio, Texas

Missouri certainly expected better results this year with the return of 2007 Heisman finalist quarterback Chase Daniel. Their misfortune this season may simply be a result of their existence in the Big 12, which has yielded four top-13 BCS teams – three of which handed the Tigers loss. Northwestern is a bowl win away from posting their best season ever.

When the ‘Cats Have the Ball

To better understand Northwestern’s success this year, look no further than three-year letterman quarterback C.J. Bacher. Due to his leadership and injuries to the rushing game, the signal caller was vital to the team’s success: in two of the three losses, Bacher combined for one touchdown and four interceptions and was scratched before their final loss (against Ohio State). Bacher demonstrates the ability to command the spread offense and to appropriately audible – eight different receivers have at least 10 receptions this year and eight different receivers have caught a touchdown pass. Distributing the ball evenly is certainly a Northwestern hallmark, but Ross Lane, Eric Peterman and Rasheed Ward led the spread, combining for 151 receptions. A healthy Tyrell Sutton displays the qualities of a quintessential Big Ten spread-offense running back – he’s tough between the tackles, quick enough to bounce runs outside, and has soft hands in the receiving game. If Sutton can get cleared to play, Northwestern may offer an offensive pop Missouri may not be prepared to slow.

When the Tigers Have the Ball

Speaking of commanding quarterbacks, Daniel did nothing but pass for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns. He holds exceptional command of the spread offense and over the past three years may have single-handedly put Mizzou football in the spotlight. Six receivers have grabbed at least 20 balls this year and another impressive receiver trio has emerged -- Daniel’s favorite target, speedy, all-purpose Jeremy Maclin, likely to break 100 receptions (95) is accompanied by tight end Chase Coffman and Tommy Saunders. Together they racked up just under 250 receptions, 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Couple that with eventual 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Washington, who churned out 17 touchdowns and it’s difficult to see how the Tigers failed to outscore everyone.

Final Analysis

Northwestern seems to hold a bend-not-break defensive philosophy – ranked 53rd with 343 yards/game against but 23rd in the FBS in scoring defense (19/game). Further, they led the Big Ten in sacks 33, and were second in red zone defense (77 percent). Northwestern held its own against the elite passers, limiting Curtis Painter (Purdue) and Juice Williams (Illinois) to one touchdown, four interceptions and an average of 243 yards. Conversely, the Tigers faced Williams and surrendered 451 yards and five touchdowns through the air. For Missouri, rushing may be the key to success – first to prevent the Cats’ defense from getting sack-happy and second to keep down Daniel’s interceptions. A lack of quality wins, a back-breaking conference-championship loss and turnovers will not only prevent Missouri from running away with this one, but it will also keep them from winning.

Missouri Tigers (9-4, 5-3)
Pass: Chase Daniel – 4,135 yards, 37 TDs
Run: Derrick Washington – 992 yards, 17 TDs
Catch: Jeremy Maclin – 1,221 yards, 12 TDs

Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 5-3)
Pass: C.J. Bacher – 2,128 yards, 14 TDs
Run: Tyrell Sutton – 776 yards, 6 TDs
Catch: Eric Peterman – 654 yards, 5 TDs

The CFI Prediction: Northwestern 35, Missouri 28

Photo Credits: Mizzou Media Relations