After a disappointing 51-32 blowout loss to Mike Leach and Mississippi State, the Mizzou Tigers (5-5) will get a chance to wash the bad taste out of their mouths and finish the season strong against No. 17 Iowa (6-2) in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville.

After starting the season with back-to-back losses, the Hawkeyes turned into one of the B1G’s best teams as they went on a 6-game winning streak. Head coach Kirk Ferentz’s team is stingy on defense, allowing an average of just 16 points per game, which is 3rd in the B1G and tied for 7th nationally.

Here are 5 things to know about Iowa:

1. Defense is the strength of the team

There’s no doubt about it: For years, Iowa has hung their hat on being a tough, gritty defense, and that’s true again. The Hawkeyes are holding opponents to 2.84 yards per carry, which is the best in the B1G and 6th nationally.

Mizzou’s offense will try to get its rushing attack going with Larry Rountree, but that will be difficult against a front 7 that includes 2 of the B1G’s top D-linemen in 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior Chauncey Golston and 6-3, 305-pound junior Daviyon Nixon.

Mizzou should try to avoid linebacker Nick Niemann as much as possible in the game, too, as he’s the Hawkeyes’ top tackler with 69 stops on the season.

Iowa’s pass defense ranks 5th in the B1G at 206 yards per game, but its 6-yards-per-attempt mark is 2nd best.

2. Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent are the real deal

Mizzou’s defense will get a healthy dose of Iowa’s bread-and-butter running scheme, the outside zone. That has been a staple at Iowa for many seasons under Ferentz, and running backs Goodson and Sargent are good in it.

Goodson, a very talented and elusive sophomore, is Iowa’s leading rusher with 762 yards and 7 touchdowns. The senior Sargent has 432 yards and 7 scores, as well as a better yards-per-carry average with 5.7.

Behind a solid O-line, Goodson and Sargent have led Iowa to an average of 171 rushing yards per game, which ranks 7th in the B1G. The Hawkeyes have cracked the 200-yard mark in 3 games this season, against Michigan State (226 yards), Minnesota (235) and Illinois (204).

Here’s an example of Iowa’s outside zone that Mizzou will likely see a lot of. It’s from the Hawkeyes’ game against Rutgers in September 2019:

3. Spencer Petras plays like a 1st-year starter

The reason Iowa leans on their offensive line and that outside zone-running scheme is because the starting quarterback, sophomore Petras, is still learning the ropes on how to be a B1G quarterback after replacing long-time stater Nate Stanley.

Petras, a 6-5, 231-pounder from California, is completing just 57 percent of his passes, 140-of-245, for 1,569 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. He has been prone to throwing the ball to the other team as well, with 5 interceptions.

Mizzou’s secondary should be licking its chops at the chance of defending throws from Petras. But the quarterback has been playing better as of late — he has 6 touchdown passes against just 1 pick in the past 4 games.

Could this be the game where Mizzou’s top corner, freshman Ennis Rakestraw, finally gets his 1st interception?

4. Golston and Nixon need to be accounted for

Mizzou fans should keep an eye on the Hawkeyes’ D-line in this game, because it has a couple of really good ones in the aforementioned Golston and Nixon — these are 2 disruptors who move well and get in the backfield.

Golston and Nixon are tied for the most sacks in the B1G with 5.5, and Nixon’s 13.5 tackles for loss are also tops in the conference. Iowa has 2 more players in the top 10 in that department as Golston and Zach VanValkenburg, a 6-4, 270-pounder, are tied for 7th with 8.5 TFLs.

As a team, Iowa has 22 sacks, 2nd in the B1G. Connor Bazelak better keep his head on a swivel in this game.


5. Charlie Jones could be an X-factor in special teams

One area of this game that could be a factor is special teams. And Iowa has a potential problem in punt returner Jones.

The 5-11, 187-pound transfer from Buffalo has a B1G-leading 221 punt-return yards. His highlights came against Michigan State earlier this season, when he returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown in the Hawkeyes’ 49-7 win.