Following Missouri's 27-24 loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night, Coach Pinkel talked about the disappointment, and what might have been, saying that "in tight games, you can always look to three or four plays in a game that's going to make the difference". As I re-watched the Insight Bowl, I couldn't help but think there were far more than three or four plays that would have made a difference.
Of course, Blaine Gabbert's second interception of the night draws the primary focus, as Missouri led 24-20, with about five and a half minutes left in the game. On first down, at the Iowa 29-yard line, Gabbert inexplicably decided to try to make a play that wasn't there. Afterwards, Gabbert explained anyway, saying that he "got greedy", and "forced it". On first down, Gabbert's got to pull it down right away, and get what he can, running toward the sideline. Or, just throw it away. But, as Coach Pinkel was correct to assert, there were a lot of plays in that game that could have made the difference.
In many ways, the contest went pretty much the way that I had expected. Offensively, Iowa served the middle of the Missouri defense with an extra large helping of Marcus Coker. Running between the tackles, Coker seemed to invite contact, and he gained a substantial portion of his 219 rushing yards after initial contact. Of course, on his 62-yard TD run, early in the second quarter, he was untouched. Missouri's defensive alignment prior to that play is curious. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri's weak side LB, was lined up over Iowa's center, and Missouri's MLB, Will Ebner, was just a step to Gooden's right. As Coker started to his right, toward the boundary, Carl Gettis and Jarrell Harrison took a couple of steps toward the outside, so when Coker cut it up inside, Gooden was the only Missouri player who was in the hole. Iowa's center, the Head Coach's son, was double-teaming on Terrell Resonno, then peeled off to obliterate Gooden.
Resonno was double-teamed all night, and did not record a tackle. Jimmy Burge had two tackles, and Marvin Foster had 1 tackle. Ebner led Missouri with 9 tackles on the night, and Gooden had 6 tackles. Kenji Jackson played superbly, as did Kevin Rutland. They each finished the night with 7 tackles. Jackson was one of the few Missouri defenders who consistently knocked Coker backwards.
This was probably just the second time all season where Missouri's defensive line was beaten at the line of scrimmage. 'Beaten up' might be a more accurate description of what Missouri's front seven experienced at the hands of Iowa's excellent offensive line.
Except for Marvin McNutt's 49-yard reception on Iowa's first drive, the Missouri defense neutralized Ricky Stanzi, and Iowa's passing game. Stanzi completed fewer than half of his pass attempts, for a total of 200 yards, 126 of which came on just three plays, and he was intercepted twice. Missouri's pass defense was solid, especially considering how effectively Iowa was running the football.
When I saw that Iowa was staying in their zone coverage, I knew that Gabbert was going to have a big game. The last two times he had faced zone defenses, against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, Gabbert had thrown for a combined 669 yards, and 4 TDs.
Jerrell Jackson had a big game, with just two drops, both of which were catch-able balls. One was a high throw over the middle that would have been a really nice grab for a first down, and the other one resulted in an interception in the end zone, when he tipped the ball into the air. He should have had that one, even though the throw was a little behind him, allowing the defender to get his hand in there. That's a fifty-fifty ball, and you've got to make that play.
Throwing balls behind his receivers, on the crossing routes, slants, and posts, is kind of a habit with Gabbert. Gabbert also left the pocket a little too quickly at times, not a new phenomenon. I liked it when he took off out of the front of the pocket, and picked up some positive yards. The QB draw play for the TD was a sweet call, and Gabbert ran it well, too. But, he's never learned how to pitch the ball on that option play. Part of his problem there is that he doesn't attack the line of scrimmage, which would force the defense to account for him, before he pitches it.
Perhaps the most surprising play of the game was Wes Kemp's diving, fingertip catch, with his back to the QB. I've never seen him make that catch. Blaine put some touch on that medium-deep throw, which is almost as unusual as Kemp's catch.
Iowa concentrated on taking Michael Egnew away from Gabbert. I liked it when Egnew ran over Greenwood at the goal line. That reminded me a little of Martin Rucker. T.J. Moe had a free hand the whole game, and he turned in a career, and record, game.
I thought both coaching staffs were excellent, had great game plans, including a few wrinkles, and made innumerable adjustments and counter-adjustments. At one point in the second half, I took special note of what was taking shape as a chess match between the two coaching staffs.
Iowa's Norm Parker got the kill shot, breaking out some very effective blitzes, to force Gabbert into some poor throws, especially later in the game.
I thought that Elvis Fisher played very well, rising to the challenge of blocking All-American DE Adrian Clayborn. And, Justin Britt played very well, in place of the suspended Jayson Palmgren. Missouri ran between 65-70 pass plays, and Gabbert was sacked just twice.
I thought that Marvin Foster showed well, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a boost from his bowl game grade.
Coach Pinkel talked about being proud of his team, and how well they competed, and battled, against a very physical, and talented Iowa team, and for what the Tigers had accomplished this year. I was proud of them, too, and pleased with how Missouri battled. Were it not for Gabbert getting "greedy", and "forcing it", I would have been pleased with the outcome of the game, as well.