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Mizzou-North Carolina Preview

Willie Springer
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Mizzou-North Carolina

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The Missouri Tigers (7-5, 5-4) return to the Independence Bowl, now the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, for the third time under head coach Gary Pinkel and will face the North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5, 3-5). The 4:00pm kickoff from Shreveport, Louisiana will mark the 3rd all-time meeting between these two programs. This game will also mark the final time that the Missouri football program will represent the Big 12 Conference.

Looking at the Tigers:

Missouri had played in five different bowls in as many seasons before receiving an invitation to play in the program’s third all-time Independence Bowl. The Tigers do not play North Carolina or Atlantic Coast Conference teams that often. The year was 2000 when Larry Smith’s Tigers were trounced 62-9 by the Clemson Tigers, the last Mizzou-ACC matchup. Gary Pinkel and his eleventh Tigers team return to Shreveport for the first time since 2005 when quarterback Brad Smith and cornerback Marcus King led a classic comeback against the South Carolina Gamecocks to win 38-31. The Tigers lost the 2003 Independence Bowl 27-14 to the Arkansas Razorkbacks, which was the first bowl appearance for Mizzou under Pinkel. In 2011, the Tigers won their final two games against the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Kansas Jayhawks to become bowl eligible for a school-record seventh time.

Starting strong has not been something the Tigers’ offense has not been good in their most recent contests. Including their last two games and their 17-5 win against the Texas Longhorns, the Tigers have not scored first since their 42-39 to the Baylor Bears on November 5. In the last three wins, Mizzou has not been able to score until the second quarter, and then goes on scoring bursts against opponents. Therefore, a slow start from quarterback James Franklin is nothing to be concerned with since the offense is capable of quick strikes. Without All-Big 12 running back Henry Josey, the Tigers run attack is not as potent, but still have capable ball carriers in Kendial Lawrence and De’Vion Moore. On the season, the Tigers were averaging 236.3 rush yards per game while passing for 236.2 yards. Without Josey, the Tigers have averaged 213.67 rush yards and 1.67 touchdowns, but have also fumbled four times in those 3 games.

The Mizzou defense has been resilient as of late holding off opponents while the offense has recently struggled to jump-start early. In recent games, they kept Texas and Kansas pretty much off the scoreboard, but gave up a total of 69 points and 1,143 total yards of offense to Baylor and Texas Tech. What team is going to show up Monday night at Independence Stadium? They will probably have most success against the Tar Heels by neutralizing or altogether stopping running back Giovani Bernard. Getting to the quarterback will be key, but the Tigers struggle to put consistent pressure on the opponent’s pocket. Along with limiting the running back, the Mizzou secondary can itself a favor by limiting receiver Dwight Jones’ access.

Looking at the Tar Heels:

The North Carolina Tar Heels football program continues to endure more turmoil as interim head coach Everett Withers, who took over in July after coach Butch Davis was fired shortly before preseason camp because of a NCAA investigation. Withers was a candidate for the full-time position, but North Carolina announced the hiring of Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora. Coach Fedora takes over the program immediately following the bowl game and Withers is headed to Ohio State where he will be the defensive coordinator for coach Urban Meyer. The Tar Heels won five out of six to begin the season, but then lost four out of their final six. Even with the distractions, Carolina feels they will be prepared and ready to play the Tigers.

The story to this year’s North Carolina offense has been freshman running back Giovani Bernard, ranking third in the ACC with 1,222 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. The 5-10, 205 pound power runner came back from a torn knee ligament a season ago to become the UNC’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997. The Tar Heels’ quarterback, sophomore Bryn Renner, has done a nice job filling for current Houston Texas rookie T.J. Yates. The new QB Renner has thrown 2,769 yards and 23 touchdowns. He along with receivers Dwight Smith and Erik Highsmith made Carolina the most efficient pass offense in the ACC, 11th in the nation, with a 159.01 rating.

Just like the Tigers, stopping the run will be key for a North Carolina defense that finished second in the ACC and 14th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 106.2 yards per game. Lucky for them, they will not have to worry about the explosive Henry Josey. Two players to keep an eye on include All-ACC players defensive end Quinton Coples and linebacker Zach Brown. Coples ranks fourth among active college players with 24 career sacks. Brown led the Tar Heels with 91 tackles, including 11.5 for losses and 5.5 sacks.

Staff picks:

Tom Ackerman (5-3): 30-17, MU

Ron Jacober (5-3): 28-24, UNC

Scott Warmann (8-2): 24-17, MU

Willie Springer (6-5): 31-24, MU

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