Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Preview: Mizzou vs. Minnesota

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a 10-3 season and a second straight Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship, Mizzou Football will face Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida on January 1.

The Citrus Bowl is Mizzou’s second straight New Year’s Day bowl game. In its history, Mizzou has appeared in 11 bowl games on or after New Year’s Day.

This is the 31st time in program history that Mizzou Football will be playing in a postseason bowl game, and the 10th time under Head Coach Gary Pinkel. The 2015 Citrus Bowl will mark Mizzou’s second appearance in the tradition-rich game in its 69-year history. Mizzou topped Southern Miss, 19-17, in front of 50,466 fans in 1981, when the game was referred to as the Tangerine Bowl.

The Citrus Bowl pits the SEC against the Big Ten, and the SEC has emerged victorious in every contest over the past four years. Overall, the contest has been very evenly matched, as the two leagues have split the last 14 games.

Pinkel has never coached in the Citrus Bowl, but he’s no stranger to it, either — he played in the 1972 game as a standout tight end for head coach Don James’ Kent State squad.

When Mizzou and Minnesota meet in this year’s Citrus Bowl, they will renew a rivalry that has not been contested since 1970. The Tigers own a 4-3-1 series advantage and have surrendered just 18 points (3.6 per game) in the last five games against the Gophers, including three shutouts. This will be the first bowl matchup between Mizzou and Minnesota, as all eight previous meetings were played during the regular season.

Difference Makers

Mizzou’s defense has earned plenty of praise this season, most notably across the defensive line as coach Craig Kuligowski continues to establish Mizzou as one of the premier places for defensive lineman to play in the nation. The Tigers set a school record with 42 sacks in 2014, one better than the 41 it had last year. Mizzou’s 83 sacks over the past two seasons rank fifth nationally and the Tigers are one of just four teams nationally to post 40 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. Mizzou’s 42 sacks are the sixth-highest total in the country, and its 3.08 sacks per game average ranks 10th among FBS schools and first in the SEC.

Leading the way on the defensive line is the dynamic duo of junior defensive end Shane Ray (1st Team All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year) and senior defensive end Markus Golden (2nd Team All-SEC.) Ray led the SEC with 14 sacks on the season and Golden’s 8.5 sacks were the fifth highest total in the conference. Their 22.5 combined sacks led the SEC, and their 36.5 tackles for loss were the most among any duo in the conference.

On offense, wide receiver Bud Sasser (2nd Team All-SEC) has become a go-to target in Mizzou’s passing game — quarterback Maty Mauk connected with the senior wideout 70 times this season. That marks the most catches for a Tiger receiver since TJ Moe hauled in 92 in 2010. Sasser is second in the SEC in receptions per game (5.4,) and his 10 touchdown grabs and 935 receiving yards each rank third in the conference.

Tailback Marcus Murphy (1st Team All-SEC and SEC Special Teams Player of the Year) is a force on all sides of the ball. The senior has 165 rushes, 26 receptions, and 40 kick returns on the season, and was named one of five finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given annually to the nation’s most versatile player. Murphy is the only player in the FBS to score a touchdown this season in all four all-purpose categories: rushing (4 TDs), kickoff return (2), receiving (1) and punt return (1.) Murphy is also one of only four players in the country with both a kickoff and punt return for a score in 2014.

A potent all-purpose back and return specialist, Murphy led the SEC in kickoff return average among player with at least 15 attempts (29.9 yards,) tied for the lead in kickoff return touchdowns, and his 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against Florida was the longest in the conference this season. He also had a kickoff return and rushing touchdown in that game, becoming the first player in Mizzou Football history to record a score in all three categories in a single game.

Mizzou’s Strong Finish

Mizzou closed out the 2014 regular season on a six-game win streak en route to their second straight SEC Eastern Division crown. During the streak, the Tigers held opponents to just 98.5 rushing yards and 281.5 yards of total offense per game. The Mizzou Football defense was one of the stingiest in the SEC this season: In conference play, Mizzou ranked first in rushing defense (115 YPG,) first in total defense (300.8 YPG,) second in scoring defense (19.1 PPG,) and second in passing defense (185.8 YPG.)

The Tigers didn’t allow an SEC opponent to gain more than 380 yards of offense in the regular season. In all, Mizzou held three opponents to their season-low total offensive output in 2014.

Additionally, Mizzou outscored opponents 101-49 in the second half during their six-game win streak, and had a +8 turnover margin. The Tigers’ ability to finish games resulted in a program-record six wins by 10 or fewer points this season. Mizzou’s hold on ball security is a big reason for that success, as they enter the Citrus Bowl ranked No. 1 in the nation in fewest fumbles lost.

Numbers to Know

  • 75 – Mizzou Football has won 75 games since the start of the 2007 season, a mark that is tied for fifth nationally.
  • 5 – Mizzou Football has won five conference division titles in the last eight seasons, including two consecutive SEC East Championships.
  • 14 – Mizzou Football has won 14 of 16 regular season SEC games over the last two years, tied for the best league mark during that span.
  • 10 – Mizzou Football has won 10 consecutive true road games dating back to last season, the third-longest active streak in the nation.
  • 7 – Mizzou Football finished the regular season topping the SEC and fifth in the nation in red zone offense at 92.7 percent. In all, Mizzou scored on 38 of 41 red zone chances this season.

Mizzou-Florida Connection

Mizzou’s trip to Orlando, Fla. for the Citrus Bowl is a homecoming for 10 Tigers who call the Sunshine State home:

WR Desean Blair – Jacksonville

OL Nate Crawford – Pensacola

TE Sean Culkin – Indian Rocks Beach

PK Luke Jackson – Pensacola

DL Rocel McWilliams – Pensacola

LB Darvin Ruise – Jacksonville

TB Trevon Walters – Bradenton

DL Spencer Williams – Jacksonville

TB Ish Witter – Tampa

QB Marvin Zanders – Jacksonville

Citrus Bowl History

The Citrus Bowl has been played in the same venue in downtown Orlando since its inception in 1947. The stadium has undergone numerous renovations and name changes since breaking ground in 1936 as a project of the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. What started as an 8,900-seat stadium has now grown into a state-of-the-art facility with a capacity of over 65,000 after its 2014 facelift. About 90 percent of the stadium was torn down and replaced between January 29 and November 19, including portions that had been standing since its original construction. Only the upper decks, which were added in 1990, remain.

The 2015 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl will kick off at 12 p.m. CT on Thursday, January 1, 2015, and will be televised nationally by ESPN on ABC. Mizzou Football will post live updates on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook throughout the game, and fans can also listen in via Tiger Network radio affiliates.