Insight Bowl opponents showing mutual respect

Monday, December 27, 2010 | 5:37 p.m. CST; updated 11:25 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 28, 2010
MU quarterback Blaine Gabbert throws to receiver T.J. Moe in the Missouri vs. Illinois Arch Rivalry game.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When the 10-2 Missouri football team learned it would be facing 7-5 Iowa in the Insight Bowl, it wasn't deceived by its opponent’s record. The Tigers just weren’t too sure of the details.

The Hawkeyes, who ended the season with a three-game losing streak, were far more competitive than their record indicates. Their five losses were by a combined 18 points, less than the 21-point differential in Missouri’s two losses.

“It’s going to be a great game between two great teams,” Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “They are 17 points away from being undefeated. That’s the way I look at it.”

Missouri linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who said the Hawkeyes losses amounted to a 15-point differential, was similarly impressed with the Hawkeyes. In the end, the exact number isn’t what matters. It’s not the details, but that the Tigers know exactly what they’re facing.

“I think that our players recognize that they want to end this in the right way, that they want to give their greatest effort and their greatest preparation,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I sense that also. And I also think that it has a lot to do with the respect they have for Iowa.”

Pinkel added that in the weeks of preparation for Tuesday’s game, it didn’t take his players long to realize exactly what they were facing. Pinkel said once his players began watching film of Iowa, it didn’t take them long to realize what a talented team the Hawkeyes are.

“They’re a very, very well coached football team,” Pinkel said. “Then you throw great athletes in with that and depth, and that’s the University of Iowa.”

The Tigers are aware of the Hawkeyes’ strengths, but they’re also confident in their own abilities.

Although Pinkel said Tuesday night’s matchup would be nothing if not a battle, he also has adopted a no-excuses mentality about the game. With nearly a month of preparation, his team should be ready. It's healthy, for the most part (defensive end Brad Madison will play despite breaking his finger less than two weeks ago), and it has put in the hard work necessary for a win.

“There’s no excuses for not playing your best,” Pinkel said. “There’s none.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows that Missouri is coming off a successful season, and he and his players are aware of the Tigers’ speed and strength. The Hawkeyes said they face a challenge on both offense and defense. Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn even said that Missouri’s offense might be better than his team’s.

“They’re the ones with the explosive offense and all the explosive receivers and running backs,” Clayborn said. “We have to stop them, they don’t have to stop us. It’s going to be a great challenge.”

The matchup also features two high-level quarterbacks in Gabbert and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, and both coaches know that their play could be the key to the game.

“I think Ricky Stanzi is an excellent quarterback,” Pinkel said. “When you look at his statistics, they’re as good as most of the top quarterbacks in the nation ... I just don’t see any weaknesses.”

Pinkel knows, however, that Gabbert is up to the challenge of the game. He said his quarterback’s toughness and competitive nature have helped him become a high-level quarterback, and Ferentz said Gabbert is one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation.

In the end, though, regular season wins are meaningless on Tuesday night. Missouri knows that Iowa’s losses were close, and Ferentz said Missouri was capable of winning more. In some ways, the Insight Bowl is a new season, a fresh chance for a downtrodden Iowa team to redeem itself or an opportunity for Missouri to use its end-of-season momentum.

“If you can’t play your best game, you’re not going to win anything,” Pinkel said.

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