Iowa used a interception return and a late replay overturn to upend Missouri in the fourth quarter, 27-24.
Offense: A star was born for the Iowa Hawkeyes in Marcus Coker , a 230-pound true freshman tailback who gashed Missouri for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. Coker's workhorse production -- both his carries and yardage were Iowa bowl records -- overshadowed the absence of starting tallback Adam Robinson , who was already suspended for academic reasons before his arrest Monday night. Coker showcased both power and speed, running over some tacklers and and running away from others, and his blitz pickup was stellar: Ricky Stanzi wasn't sacked all night.
And yet Stanzi was dismal in the second half; he threw two interceptions, and about three more passes that deserved to be picked off. A Missouri interception with under eight minutes to go seemed to put Iowa in a major hole, and if it weren't for the Micah Hyde pick-six on the ensuing possession -- more on that later -- there's no telling whether Stanzi could have driven the Hawkeyes for one last touchdown. It's an odd end for Stanzi's career as a Hawkeye to see him struggle, but get a win for it anyway, but college football can be an odd sport. Grade: B
Defense: What's better to focus on? The Micah Hyde interception and return for a touchdown that eventually won the game for Iowa, or the other 56 passes in which Blaine Gabbert passed for over 400 yards? In truth, both are immensely important in evaluating the Hawkeye defense, which took its "bend but don't break" philosophy to its absurd extreme tonight.
Still, for as much as Iowa's pass defense has been lauded, linebacker Troy Johnson was routinely victimized by Gabbert to the point that he was taken off the field in the first half and never heard from again -- to the point that Johnson was passed up for by true freshmen during the second half. It's good that Iowa took those steps, but if they were necessary, why was Johnson on the field in the first place? Grade: B-
Coaching: Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz deserves a great deal of credit for getting his team focused on the bowl game in spite of numerous off-field distractions, culminating in Robinson's arrest the day before the bowl game. It would be ridiculous to say Iowa didn't miss arrested wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos at the other WR spot -- just look at Stanzi's production in the second half -- but the offense stil produced all the same. That was hardly a given coming into the game, and the fact that Ferentz's boys come through to finish the first three-game bowl winning streak in Iowa history speaks volumes to Ferentz's abilities as a coach. Grade: B+
Offense: Blaine Gabbert threw 18 completions for over 10 yards on the day, and his 41-57 performance doesn't truly give proper credit for his ability to hit his receivers in stride--half of Gabbert's incompletions hit his targets before bounding harmlessly incomplete. That was basically all the Missouri offense could do; situational running was a noted for its fumbles and failures as it was for its chains-moving. Blaine Gabbert threw for over 400 yards and his offense scored only 20 points; clearly, there's a bottleneck in play.
And yet, the Missouri receivers absolutely excelled. Wes Kemp had some highlight-reel catches as he overcame his season-long bout with the dropsies, T.J. Moe set an Insight Bowl record with 15 catches, and All-American TE Michael Egnew came alive in the second half to finish with seven catches for 64 yards and a score. Assigning blame for Missouri's loss to anybody on the offense seems a little silly. If T.J. Moe hadn't bobbled the 4th down pass after hitting the ground late in the game, as replay officials determined, there's no telling how Missouri would have finished the game. Grade: A-
Defense: Missouri's pass defense was its stingy self, but the image of the night was Marcus Coker trucking Missouri safety Jerrell Harrison on a 3rd and 1, then taking the ball for 30 more yards. Missouri's vaulted secondary ket Ricky Stanzi in check, but it ceded about seven yards a carry to Coker, and Iowa was wable to move the chains pretty much at will as a result. Aldon Smith and the rest of the Missouri defense line were essentially non-factors. Grade: C
Coaching: Iowa's first MVP for the game is Marcus Coker. Its second MVP is Missouri coach Gary Pinkel , who had a 3rd and 2 inside Iowa's 10-yard line after Gabbert had shredded the Iowa secondary on the opening drive, then called a QB keeper and a field goal. Oh, then Pinkel punted from Iowa's 40-yard line on a 4th and 6 in the second quarter. Pinkel also called numerous unorthodox runs in late-half situations, none of which got the ball out of bounds or otherwise challenged the Iowa defense. For as close as this game was and for as easily as Missouri moved the ball in the first half, it would be enormously presumptive to assume Miisouri wouldn't have scored any points if it had attempted both 4th downs. Would Missouri have struggled to keep a lead in the second half if it had maximized its point production in the first half? Grade: D
This may not have been quite as exciting a game as the Little Caesar's Bowl, but it was close, and the fact that Iowa made the fourth quarter comeback that eluded it during the entire 2010 season makes the game quite an important relic. The overturned catch call that handed Iowa the game will properly be scrutinized during the off-season, and Missouri fans can call foul until next September. Still, what a wonderful game for fans of both the Big Ten and Big 12 to watch, and what a redemption for an Iowa program that desperately needed a shot of good news for its seniors, who won 28 games and three straight bowl games -- the last of which is an Iowa senior record. If there's a mitigating factor for Missouri, it's that too much is generally made of bowl results; recall that just last year, Iowa was celebrating an Orange Bowl championship and setting its sights on higher accolades, while only the hardest of hardcore Missouri fans were tabbing this team for 10 wins.
If Blaine Gabbert comes back, Missouri is easily a 10-win candidate again in 2011. If this game is an encapsulation of a larger truth, Gabbert's pro prospects are definitely higher than those of Ricky Stanzi, who struggled mightily against an upper-echelon secondary in the second half. And yet, Iowa takes one last whack at its awful "Can't Finish" reputation with this win and sets the Law of Averages back on its way, while Missouri fans hope the loss means Gabbert's got another year in him in Columbia. All that and a 60-minute, 3-point game to show for it's pretty good, no? Grade: A