Navy cruises in Texas Bowl, beating Missouri 35-13 to wrap up 10-win season
Friday, January 1, 2010
HOUSTON -- The contrast between the players from Navy and Missouri was noticeable throughout the week, as they went through the various activities that led up to the Texas Bowl. The Tigers dwarfed their Midshipmen counterparts; Missouri's 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback was bigger than nearly all of Navy's defensive players.
But when it came time to play the game on Thursday at Reliant Stadium, that didn't matter. The Midshipmen executed better on both sides of the ball, and their star player, junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs, had a sensational performance. The result was a convincing 35-13 victory -- Navy's first over a team from the Big 12 since 1965.
"That's us every week. There's no team that we play that's not bigger than us," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "All the intangibles that people talk about in sports, it's real with our team: determination, discipline, heart. Our guys play hard. We're a team, we're going to respect others, but we're not going to back down from anybody. . . . We're just like 11 hyenas. We're going to take down an elephant sooner or later."
It was an entirely fitting way for the season to end for the Midshipmen -- who went 10-4 to tie the school record for victories held by the 1905 and 2004 teams -- and the senior class. Coming into the game, the 32 seniors had already accomplished so many different things: They won 34 games, including two at Notre Dame, and four straight Commander-in-Chief's trophies. Yet they were 0-3 in bowl games.
Navy was able to end that streak thanks in part to Dobbs, who was named the game's most valuable player. He rushed for a Navy-bowl record 166 yards (his fifth-straight 100-yard game) and scored three times (which extended his NCAA record for single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback to 27). He completed 9 of 14 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, and became only the third quarterback in Navy history to surpass 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing in the same season. He also lost two fumbles, including one in the end zone.
"Ricky is exceptional," said Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel, whose defense hadn't given up more than 131 rushing yards to a team since late September.
The game was billed as a contrast between high-powered offenses: Navy's run-based triple option and Missouri's pass-happy spread.
The Midshipmen -- who went no-huddle for stretches, something they had not done before -- held the ball for nearly 41 minutes and had 515 yards of total offense. They relied heavily on their slotbacks, who combined for 24 carries and 182 yards. Sophomore Marcus Curry ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, and also caught five passes for 97 yards. Senior Bobby Doyle caught a three-yard touchdown pass.
The Tigers (8-5) made a handful of big plays, but failed to get into the end zone after the first minute of the game. On the second play from scrimmage, senior wide receiver Danario Alexander -- who led the nation in receiving yards per game -- caught a short pass well inside his own half and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown. It was Alexander's eighth touchdown of the season of more than 50 yards, and it gave Missouri a 7-0 lead less than 30 seconds into the game.
"For us as a defense, the one thing that we really embody is perseverance," senior linebacker Ram Vela said. "We've been down in situations like that before, so it's nothing new to us."
For much of the game, the Midshipmen employed a new defensive package that they called "Tiger," in which they used two down linemen and five defensive backs. That seemed to fluster Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 15 of 31 passes for 291 yards and had two interceptions -- his first since Halloween. Navy also sacked Gabbert four times.
During one sequence shortly before halftime, Gabbert twice tried to find Alexander (six catches for 137 yards) in the end zone, but both times the Navy secondary broke up the pass. Late in the third quarter, senior linebacker Craig Schaefer (Robinson) sacked Gabbert on third and goal from the 2-yard line.
In the game's final minutes, Navy safety Wyatt Middleton came up with an interception in the red zone and returned it 52 yards. That pick gave Niumatalolo a chance to put some of the team's seldom-used seniors on the field.
Fullback Jack Hatcher -- who spent most of his four-year career on the scout team and had yet to play a single snap in a game -- came in and got a carry (he was hit quickly for a four-yard loss). Quarterback Greg Zingler (Severna Park) -- whose main role this season was as the holder on field goals and extra points -- was under center for the victory formation, and when the game ended, he was the one who got to raise the ball high into the air.
"I think this game in a lot of ways embodied kind of the fighting spirit, the heart of the team," said senior linebacker Ross Pospisil, who led Navy with nine tackles and an interception. "It's been a privilege to play with these guys. It will always be an honor."
Midshipmen notes: Sophomore Brady DeMell started at center for Navy in place of sophomore Eric Douglass, who was academically ineligible. . . . The crowd at Reliant Stadium appeared much smaller than the paid attendance figure of 69,441. . . . Jack Lengyel, who served as athletic director at both Navy and Missouri, and former president George H.W. Bush, who was wearing a Navy hat, were on the field for the coin flip.