| ESPN2 Missouri 41 vs North Carolina 24 |
Offense: Missouri brings in an offense that is one of the best in the country, averaging 236 yards a game on the ground. The leader in that category is RB Henry Josey, but he will not play due to a knee injury. He had rushed for 1168 yards for the Tigers. Dual threat sophomore quarterback James Franklin leads the offense. He is the leading passer on the team, throwing for 20 touchdowns, and the leading active rusher, as he has rushed for 839 yards. When Frankiln looks to pass, he will look for junior receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew. The offensive line is solid and will need to hold strong against the tough UNC defensive line. North Carolina has had its struglles and is most effective in the play action game. Freshman RB Gio Bernard gives the team a running threat, as he has rushed for 1222 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bryn Renner has taken over at quarterback and has thrown for nearly 3000 yards. His best receiver is Dwight Jones, who averages about 100 yards and a touchdown a game. Look for those numbers to stay consistent.
Defense: Missouri owns a defense that sruggled at the beginning of the year, but has really gotten stronger the last 3 games of the season. DT Dominique Hamilton and DE Jacquies Smith lead the line and the key to the defense is getting pressure. Linebacker Andrew Wilson leads the Tigers in tackles, and cornerback E.J. Gaines is the leader in the secondary. North Carolina is led by their defense, which gives up just under 24 points a game. It all starts up front for the 'Heels. DE Quinton Coples and DT Tydreke Powell lead that unit. Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick is the leader of the defense and his corps is helped by Zach Brown, a possible first round draft pick. The Tar Heels are very good against the run, but they struggle against the pass. QB James Franklin will look to exploit that weakness.
The pick: I like North Carolina in a bit of an upset. I think that the solid rushing attack and the play action ability of the offense will be the difference. James Franklin will need to pass well for Mizzou to win this game, but I say the Tar Heels win. If you agree or disagree let me know why by tweeting me @bowlseason or emailing me at email@example.com . I'll post them if you send them.
We picked North Carolina to win. We are now a mediocre 5-3. We will be back tomorrow!
Greg Barnes, of Inside Carolina Magazine, answered some questions for us about the Tar Heels.
BS: The Tar Heels went 5-1 to start, but struggled a tad down the strech. Considering all the controversy surrounding the program, how would you assess this season?
Greg Barnes: I actually think there are two ways of answering this question. From a purely football perspective, the 2011 team was one of the more talented squads at UNC in more than a decade, but it struggled to play up to its potential all season long. Losses at Clemson and Virginia Tech are understandable, but failing to show up against your rival (N.C. State) is inexcusable. But in general, when you consider everything that this program has been through over the past 18 months, the fact that the coaching staff and players stuck together after Butch Davis was fired eight days before training camp start is commendable and makes it difficult to label 2011 as a disappointment.
BS: The offense was efficient through the air, led by QB Bryn Renner. What does the offense have to do to be successful and who are Renner's top weapons?
Greg Barnes: North Carolina is most effective offensively when its play-action passing game is working. That requires a legitimate running back, and UNC has one in freshman Gio Bernard (1,222 yards, 13 TD). Bernard stays low the the ground and has both shiftiness and breakaway speed. When defenses are forced to concentrate on slowing UNC's running game down, wide receivers Dwight Jones (79 catches, 1,119 yards, 11 TD) and Erik Highsmith (43 catches, 649 yards, 4 TD) benefit due to more 1-on-1 coverage. For perspective, 2011 marked the first year in school history that a running back and a wide receiver both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
BS: The defense was solid overall. What and who are the keys to this unit?
Greg Barnes: North Carolina's defense starts up front with expected NFL draft picks Quinton Coples at defensive end and Tydreke Powell at defensive tackle. Weakside lineback Zach Brown could also be a first-round selection, but middle linebacker Kevin Reddick is the heart and soul of this defense. With a secondary that has been vulnerable throughout the season due to inexperience and injuries, the front seven has carried the defense and proven to be stout against the run. UNC ranks 14th nationally in run defense (106.2 ypg). UNC held Miami’s Lamar Miller to a season-low 29 yards, Clemson’s Andre Ellington to five yards on seven carries and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson to 82 yards.
BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?
Greg Barnes: My money is on Zach Brown. The last time UNC played a spread offense like Missouri's was probably the bowl game against West Virginia in 2008. In that game, athletic linebacker Bruce Carter was responsible for shadowing versatile quarterback Pat White, and I imagine Brown will serve a similar role in shadowing the Tigers' James Franklin.
Thanks a lot to Greg Barnes. Check his work out at www.InsideCarolina.com and follow @InsideCarolina
Dave Matter, of the Columbia Tribune, answered some questions for us.
BS: The Tigers started off 2-3, but finished by winning 4 of their last 5. What changed late in the season and how would you assess this season overall for Missouri?
Dave Matter: The biggest reason for late-season improvement was the schedule got easier in November. The first three losses all came on the road in early-season trips to Arizona State , Oklahoma and Kansas State . Also, first-year starting quarterback James Franklin settled down as the season continued and gained confidence. The defense had some struggles early but also played better down the stretch.
Dave Matter: The SEC will introduce many challenges to the football program, especially in terms of competing for recruits and boosting facilities to stay on par with the rest of the league. Missouri has to come up with a game plan for how it's going to attract recruits from the SEC territories, places the Tigers have rarely recruited in years past. But the long-term stability and opportunity for enhanced exposure and revenue should benefit the program.
Dave Matter: Tailback Henry Josey was the team's MVP and its most explosive playmaker, but he was lost for the season Nov. 12 with a serious knee injury. The offensive line has been solid despite some injuries and turnover. Quarterback James Franklin has undergone some growing pains as a first-year starter, but his ability to run the ball gives the offense a dynamic it hasn't had in several years.
Dave Matter: When Missouri gets a consistent pass rush from its front four, the results are almost always better. Nose tackle Dominique Hamilton has had an outstanding second half, and cornerback E.J. Gaines had the best season for a Missouri cornerback during Gary Pinkel's 11 seasons running the program. Defensive end Jacquies Smith put together a strong second half also.
Dave Matter: Wide receiver L'Damian Washington would be a feel-good story for the Tigers. Washington grew up in Shreveport , La. , site of the Independence Bowl and went through a difficult childhood, losing both his parents before the age of 15. He's been the team's best deep threat in the passing game and a touchdown in his hometown would make a compelling storyline.
Thanks a lot to Dave Matter. Check his work out http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/sports/ and follow @Dave_Matter