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Citrus Bowl Preview: Getting to Know Missouri Tigers From their Foes

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Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is how the saying goes.  So I reached out to a few opponents, scoured opponent blogs and talked with conference-mates of the Missouri Tigers to get a better understanding of what we can expect from not only the football team but also their fans.

Getting To Know Mizzou

JD has already reached out to the fine gentlemen at Rock M Nation for a couple rounds of Q&A.  But what do others have to say about Mizzou?

I'll start off with Indiana.  In case you weren't paying attention back in September the Indiana Hoosiers went to Columbia, MO and managed to beat the then #18 Missouri Tigers.  Not in basketball...I'm talking football here.  You may also recall that the Hoosiers lost to Bowling Green the week prior, so the good folks at The Crimson Quarry were not terribly optimistic.  Then they went out and just beat the Tigers.  Jumped up early, gave up the lead and then scored in the end to beat the eventual SEC East Champs.  How did they do it?  I asked ajcuster from The Crimson Quarry, he was happy to talk about the Hoosier's big win (it may have been all downhill after that).

Indiana won this game because they still had an excellent passing attack with Nate Sudfeld at QB, something defenses had to respect in addition to Tevin Coleman's ludicrous big play ability. This balanced attack along with some key defensive plays paved the way for an IU victory. And if Indiana can win the SEC East, then surely Minnesota can scrounge up enough points to win the B Dubs Citrus Bowl! Missouri isn't a world beater, so I think you have a great chance. Good luck!

Well an excellent passing attack?...not exactly what I'm expecting from the Gophers.  Grinding out a win?...maybe.  Here were his thoughts on Mizzou's strengths and a window into how we could pull off this victory to be co-SEC East Champs with Indiana.

Their strengths are their defense and their ability to grind out low scoring games. Excluding their 3 cupcake games, Mizzou only hit 30 points once in their last 10 games. Score more than 30 and you're golden, Gophers. (get it?)

Maybe this is going to be a defensive battle. Who knows.  But that game was a long time ago.  I also reached out to a couple of SEC foes to get their thoughts.  I was already in conversation with the Auburn guys at College and Magnolia who are playing Wisconsin (Go Tigers!).  So I had them help me out a little to get some Missouri insight and then I also pinged the guys at Good Bull Hunting (Texas A&M) who were obviously former Big 12 mates who made the jump to the SEC hand in hand.

I first wondered if Missouri's run to the SEC Champship game was for real or more of a function of missing the bigger names in the SEC West, thus having an easier schedule than say Georgia.  Walt from College and Magnolia offered this...

I think they did deserve it, simply because they did what they needed to do. This year was primed for UGA to run through the SEC East like a hot knife through butter (with the exception of South Carolina), and UGA flubbed it (again). Missouri got mud-stomped by UGA head-to-head, but they won all of the other games that mattered. Including besting a very tough Arkansas team late in the season.

I suppose taking care of business is taking care of business and it's not like the SEC East is the equivalent of the MAC.  I guess that doesn't really matter as much as what is the strength of this Tiger team and ultimately can the Gophers pull off a win to become co-SEC East Champs with Indiana?

C&M continued with this.

Missouri's strength is their defense, to me. Shane Ray is the real deal. They have a great pass rush, and they were able to shut down Arkansas' rushing attack which was rolling there at the end. On offense, Maty Mauk is a pretty good quarterback, and they have a pretty good rushing attack

Rush from Good Bull Hunting gave me this in regards to their offense and defense...

Their running backs are very good. Mauk can be great at times, but he's not consistent. If you can match them physically with your front seven you have a much better shot at controlling the game.
...
They're solid (defensively), especially the ends. You have to stretch the field and take shots deep to keep them honest. I think with your tight ends you should be able to do things that we weren't able to in the intermediate middle of the field.

So how did they manage to put such a hurt on A&M on the road?

The defense just fell apart in that quarter. It was bad, it got worse, and that was probably the final of many nails in the coffin of Mark Snyder's tenure at A&M.

Well that is a bit encouraging if you ask me.  I trust the Gopher defense to not be a complete disaster.  I often hear how the Gophers were dominated by TCU and then comparisons to this game/team are discussed.  But to be honest I was actually impressed with the Gopher defense that day as they only gave up points when put in really bad situations.  This Mizzou offense is good, with good running backs but I like our front seven to be able to hold up.  Offensively?  We may struggle to move the ball.

Lastly...I wondered how others felt about Missouri in general.  I asked College and Magnolia if Missouri was kind of like Rutgers and Maryland to us and it is still kinda hard to acknowledge that they are really a member of their conference.

They've won the SEC East twice, which is more times than any other schools not named Georgia or Florida. In three years in the league, they've been to the SECCG twice, which is one more than South Carolina and Carolina has been in the league since 1992. So, I do consider them part of the SEC, now. I look forward to Auburn getting to play them again.

Missouri was always a scrappy underdog to me in the Big XII. They've been able to take advantage of some very down years in the SEC East and have become a good part of the SEC. I enjoyed what little interaction I had with them leading up to and after the SECCG last season (I was not running College and Magnolia then, so I was just a general fan). I think they're generally good people who are loving the success their team is having in their new league, even if they haven't been able to win the league itself, yet.

And Good Bull Hunting was asked if there is any sort of rivalry as former Big 12 foes and now SEC member of if it is more of being like step-brothers.

It's sort of a joke/friendly rivalry, but we're kind of glad we're not playing each other for a while. When all the Big 12 dominoes started falling during the realignment stuff a few years ago, the schedule got out of whack and we ended up playing them I think 5 or 6 years in a row, and all but one game was at Kyle Field. There's sort of a mutual respect there, because we've both exceeded expectations in the SEC in our own ways.

Well, I was hoping for some hate but maybe friendly rivals is a bit healthier.

So what did we learn?  Confirmation that this defense is pretty dang good, but we knew that.  Moving the ball may be a struggle and keeping them honest with some key pass completions is going to be critical.  But this team is not unbeatable.  Indiana put up 31 on them, Georgia dominated them to the tune of 30-0 and Bama put up 42 (yes, I know we are not Bama).

I'm starting to think that Damien Wilson is going to be a key player defensively and on the offense the real key might be the Leidner to Maxx connection at opportune times.  Most years if the Gophers were facing the loser of the SEC Championship game in a bowl I would not be looking forward to the outcome of that game.  But this is a pretty good and intriguing match-up of two pretty good teams.

Most years, in fact just about every single year, I would argue that the result of a bowl game is rather immaterial.  No recruit is making a decision to come to Minnesota because we won the Music City Bowl.  Nobody is looking back now and saying that Team X is where they are today and it all started with a win in whatever bowl they were in a year ago.  The extra practice time is valuable, the bowl game is a great recruiting tool but winning or losing only adds a win or loss to your final record and nothing more.

This game however I think would be incredibly valuable to win.  The Gophers are trying to make the move from being a middle of the pack Big Ten team to one that is consistently knocking on the door or being in the conversation to win the Big Ten West.  Beating an SEC team who was just in the SEC Championship game sends a message that this Gopher program is stepping up and capable of playing with anybody.  This is a win that you do sell to recruits.  Had we beat Syracuse last year, nobody would really care.  But when you can walk into a living room to a recruit who is just getting to know and understand the Gopher Football program and you can tell them that you just beat a team fresh off an SEC Championship game appearance...that says something.  That demonstrates you are building something.

Most years the destination of a bowl game is the real reward.   This year a win would be pretty valuable.