It is a common statement that football games are won in the trenches. Perhaps never will that be more accurate than in tomorrow night's Insight Bowl. The Missouri Tigers that play in those trenches know it.
"I think pretty much that is the key, making sure that we control the line of scrimmage," Missouri center Tim Barnes said. "We have to give Blaine time to pass and establish a run game."
"It's going to be one of the key points to the game," right tackle Dan Hoch said. "If we outplay them, it's going to look real good for us, so that's one thing we have to do."
Easier said than done. The 2010 season was a disappointing one for Iowa. The Hawkeyes started the season in the top ten and finished with five losses. But one thing that doesn't seem to have lost its shine is the Hawkeyes' defensive line. Led by Adrian Clayborn, the Iowa front four is regarded as one of the best in the nation.
"It will be really tough," Barnes said. "The guys are big, they're all up around 300 pounds. Usually, our tackles don't see people that big. It'll be a big challenge for us. Their style is a little bit different, kind of like Nebraska."
"They don't do anything to unique," said Tiger left tackle Elvis Fisher. They play real physical right up the middle, they think they can beat you one on one and, you know, for the most part they've done a great job of that all year."
Clayborn actually finished second among Hawkeye linemen with 51 total tackles. Karl Klug had 52. All four linemen had at least 40 tackles. By comparison, Aldon Smith led Missouri's defensive linemen with 44 tackles. Klug teamed with the other defensive tackle, Mike Daniels to pile up 22 tackles for a loss and eight-and-a-half sacks.
"One of the best we've seen," Barnes said. "There's not one guy. They have Clayborne, but there's not much of a drop after that, if any. They're all really good players and they're all solid. There's not a whole lot of weaknesses."
But the Hawkeyes aren't as good as they were up front in 2009. During that Orange Bowl season, Iowa's front four piled up 53 tackles for a loss and 23.5 sacks. This year, the numbers were 36 TFL's and 17.5 sacks. Still good, just not as good.
Though the numbers aren't even the best on his own team, it is Clayborn that makes the Hawks go and draws the most attention. The Webster Groves graduate is ranked as the tenth-best defensive lineman in the country by Rivals.com and is projected as a first-round draft pick in most NFL mock drafts. It will be Fisher's charge to slow down the Hawkeyes' senior star.
"The coaches sure have told me that. Everyone's going to be watching this game and this is his last game. This is his chance to prove to everyone what he can do," Fisher said. "I'm going to have to bring my best game and I'll be ready for him."
Iowa ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense, 15th in total defense and sixth against the run. To come home with win No. 11, the Tigers will have to win the battle up front against one of the best defensive lines in America.
PowerMizzou.com is in Tempe and will provide complete coverage of the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night. The Tigers and the Hawkeyes kick off at 8 p.m. local time.
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