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December 21, 2010

Insight Matchups: Linebackers

Missouri and Iowa are set to meet for the first time in 100 years. Leading up to the December 28th Insight Bowl, we will give Tiger and Hawkeye fans an in-depth look at every position on the field.

Each day until kickoff, we will highlight a different position on the field. PowerMizzou.com publisher Gabe DeArmond and HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert will give fans the scoop on the key players to watch as the Tigers and Hawkeyes hook up for the 2010 season finale.

Hawkeyes Linebackers
Projected starters: Jeremiha Hunter, James Morris, and Troy Johnson

Key Player: James Morris

Key Stat: Injuries - Two of the three starters at linebacker (Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen) have missed nearly half the season due to injuries.

Analysis: As mentioned, injuries have been critical at linebacker for the Hawkeyes in 2010. Jeff Tarpinian started the season at middle linebacker, but he has missed a significant portion of the season due to a stinger. Kirk Ferentz says that he may be back in a limited role for the bowl game and if he does play, it would like be in place of Johnson at outside linebacker. Nielsen is out for the season with a neck injury. Morris is a true freshman who began the year as Iowa's 4th string middle linebacker. He has done very well after being forced into the starting role. Hunter is Iowa's leading tackler, but he was nursing a leg injury for much of the second part of the season. Iowa likes to keep their linebackers on the field, even against spread formations, so expect to see them lined up against wide receivers in the slot quite a bit.

Tigers Linebackers
Projected starters: Andrew Gachkar, Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden

Key Player: Andrew Gachkar

Key Stat: Gachkar and Gooden are the Tigers' iron men. They both played every single snap against Iowa State and rarely leave the field. That is due in large part to injuries that have ravaged the position since literally the first day of fall camp when sophomore Donovan Bonner tore his ACL.

Analysis: Missouri isn't deep at the position due to the injuries we mentioned. In fact, safety Jarrell Harrison has stepped up and played a lot of linebacker in certain sets over the last three games. But Gachkar was an all-Big 12 player and got votes for the league's defensive player of the year. Ebner is back from injury and is the group's hardest hitter. Gooden is the best pro prospect of the bunch and is a sideline-to-sideline weapon. The Tigers aren't deep, but this is a strength for the defense.

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