Previewing the Independence Bowl and the Last Gasps of Everett Withers and Big 12 Missouri

Quarterback James Franklin #1 of the Missouri Tigers passes during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 26, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bowl games are generally pretty tricky to predict. Neither team has played a game in thirty days; UNC has hired a new head coach in the meantime although he won't take over until after the bowl game. The fans have for the most part moved onto basketball, not because their fickle, but because that team was actually playing games in front of crowd. This is no way to run a postseason.

But here we are, so let's make the best of it. Mizzou fan Bill Connelly has already done a great write-up for the mothership, coming to roughly the same conclusion I did – it's pretty much a toss-up. The Tigers spent their final season in the Big 12 losing players to injuries right and left. The biggest loss, of course, was running back Henry Josey, the Big 12's leading rusher. After losing him early in the Texas game, the Tigers' offensive performance plummeted, resulting in two of their worst games offensively since the early weeks of September. Oddly enough, they won their last three, in part because of a defensive trend that had them holding their opponents to some of the lowest scoring outputs of the season. Will this continue? It was a month ago, so who can tell?

Missouri runs the spread offense, soon to be seen in one of its many variations in Chapel Hill, so this will be a good primer for UNC fans. Quarterback James Franklin can scramble pretty well, but the Heels have been pretty good at handling mobile QBs of late, keeping Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas from piling up yards in the close loss in Blacksburg. The bigger concern, of course, is the deep pass against UNC's dicey secondary. The spread offense is built around failures in one-on-one coverage, and Carlina has provided plenty of those. Franklin's favorite deep targets are Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington, both averaging over ten yards a catch. He'll also hit T.J. Moe, their leading receiver, for more short passes.

Missouri's running game stalled with Josey's injury, and replacement Kendial Lawrence has been OK, but not spectacular. UNC should be able to shut him down, unless the passing game forces them to spread themselves thin. Which is what it's designed to do. Franklin is the bigger running threat.

Giovanni Bernard obviously has to be a big part of this game. Especially with the weather looking to be pretty dismal, the Heels will try to do a lot on the ground, and the Tigers' running defense is good but not great. Should conditions get really bad, Ryan Houston might be called on more. Mostly forgotten this season, his strength-based running style might be of use if everyone's slipping around the field. Hopefully in his final game, he can keep his hands on the ball.

UNC's passing attack will be... interesting. Dwight Jones on cornerback E.J. Gaines will be the match-up that fascinates everybody; both are among the best athletes on their respective teams. Missouri is fairly good at getting to the quarterback, but they haven't been exposed to many pro-style offenses. If Renner can get the ball off cleanly and make good decisions, he can have a very good day. If he reverts to the bad decisions he's made in a few other games, it could get brutal very quickly.

The bottom line is, these are both well-matched, perfectly average teams with a tendency to not show up with any regularity. This gem could very well be a blow out for either team, or it could be a nail-biter. (And there's a non-zero chance neither team will take the field, and it'll be a performance art piece.) I think UNC will win, because my blind optimism always thinks UNC can win. But I can give you a hundred reasons why they won't, either. With the Heels, you've got a team that may have given up on their coach, or may be motivated to send him out on a high note, or may just want to audition for the new guy. In Missouri, you have a team low on depth and short n consistency, but with a style of play that could explode. It's truly anybody's ball game, if anybody wants it.

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