The Texas Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl featured two teams in Houston and Missouri who felt they should have been playing in better games going up against two teams who employing the triple-option run offense.
The Cougars have had trouble against running teams all season, yet facing Air Force for the third time in 18 months, should have been somewhat adjusted to the defense. And Missouri, despite playing in a conference dominated by spread offenses, featured one of the country's best run defenses.
In theory, Houston and Missouri, the better team in both games, should have been able to adjust to the exotic offenses they were facing and win the game. But the opposite occurred however as both teams played as though they just didn't care and both were blown out in games that should have been competitive, fun-to-watch events.
I wasn't in Fort Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl, and I didn't get to
speak to Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin or QB Case Keenum -- who according
to the Houston Chronicle's Steve Campbell ducked out after about a minute
-- so I wasn't able to ask them any questions or get their reactions to
the Cougars 47-20 loss to Air Force in a game that wasn't as close as
the final score indicates.
I was at the Texas Bowl, and I was in the media room, and I watched and listened as Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel state that his team had played its worst bowl game in his tenure as head coach in losing 35-13 to Navy.
"That's probably the worst performance since I've been a head coach of a football team, the way they played [he later clarified this to include just bowl games]," he said. "So we're going to fix that. I feel bad for my seniors because they've done so much and we're going to continue to work hard, build our program and we certainly wish these guys -- I love these guys and wish we could have handled it a little bit better."
The Navy offense accumulated 515 yards in total offense, helped by a Missouri defense that gave up five touchdowns. And watching Navy QB Ricky Dobbs run the Navy offense was, in many ways, akin to watching Peyton Manning run the Colts offense. Sure, Manning throws the ball, but watching Dobbs run down the line, figuring out which option with which to go -- run it himself, pitch it to one running back, hand it off to another -- was just as much a marvel to behold as anything that Manning does.
It probably didn't help Missouri that nobody showed up for the game. The announced number of tickets sold was 69,441. But if there were ever more than 25,000 fans inside Reliant Stadium on Thursday it would be as a big a miracle as Kris Brown actually making a kick. And it makes sense that if you don't actually want to play at a game, then it's just really hard to get going when you're playing in a huge stadium and nobody can be bothered to attend, even if they have tickets.
Yet nobody should discount the game played by Navy. Navy was undersized at every position, yet seemed to dominate every aspect of play. Of course, unlike some major schools -- Texas, Florida, Alabama -- Navy attempts to schedule major schools every year, and had played schools like Ohio State and Notre Dame during the season, so they were accustomed to being outsized at every position.
"That's us every week," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "There is not a team that we play that is not bigger than us. Our kids have great heart. All the intangibles that people talk about in sports, its real with our team: determination, discipline, heart, I mean all of that. Our guys played hard. We're a team and we're going to respect others, but we're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to have 11 guys running to the football. We always have a deal, we're just like 11 hyenas, we're going to take down an elephant sooner or later and we're going to get on you."
Take down the elephant Navy did. It was a rather remarkable thing to witness, a team of undersized underachievers taking down a team from a major conference that didn't want to play a game. And that's probably what it was like up in Fort Worth when it came to the Cougars and Air Force.