Big 12 Preivew: Missouri Tigers

Last year, the Tigers played Kansas State for the Big 12 North title and right to play Oklahoma in the conference championship game. Missouri lost that game, but came away with the knowledge that they were close to establishing themselves as one of the favorites to content in the Big 12 North for years to come. Missouri finished the 2003 season with an 8-4 record and a loss to Arkansas in the Independence Bowl.

When the team is on offense
There are no surprises when Missouri is on offense. The Tigers feature Heisman Trophy candidate Brad Smith at quarterback, and the Tigers usually go as Smith goes. In 2002, Smith became one of two players to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season (Clemson's Woody Dantzler is the other). Smith almost accomplished the same feat last season as well.

Missouri primarily runs a one-back set with either two tight ends or three wideouts. The Tigers stated goal is to have a balanced offense, but Missouri's strength is in the running game. Mizzou's bread and butter is the counter tre, which they run disguised as quarterback draws and delays to the tailback who will be Damien Nash this season. Nash, the highly touted tailback from St. Louis, is fully recovered from a knee injury two years ago, and figures to carry the load for the Tigers this season.

Mizzou's primary offensive strengths are at quarterback, tailback and tight end. The Tigers lost two all-conference offensive linemen from last year's team and will need to find quality replacements. Mizzou's wide receivers were unspectacular last season, partially due to Smith's difficulties releasing the ball on time and in rhythm.

Mizzou will be successful on offense if they can develop Nash into credible rushing threat to complement Smith's running and play-making abilities. They will be very tough to beat if the passing game improves.

When the team is on defense
The Tigers have switched to a 4-3 defense this season, converting one of their safety positions to an outside linebacker. The change was made in hopes of improving against the tough rushing offenses they face in the Big 12.

The Tigers tend to apply situational pressure, and prefer to make other teams drive the ball the length of the field in order to score. Missouri's core belief on defense is that other teams will provide opportunities for turnovers if you are patient.

In 2004, the strength of the Tigers' defense will be in its front seven. The defensive line will rival the best units in the conference if they remain healthy and play at least to the level at which they performed last season. Zach Ville and Xzavie Jackson are the two starting defense ends and both are big, quick and aggressive. CJ Mosley and Atiyyah Ellison are the Tigers starting defensive tackles, both of which earned all-conference honors last season. The linebacking corps is comprised of James Kinney, converted outside safety Dedrick Harrington, and converted tailback David Richard. Kinney was an all-conference linebacker last season.

Missouri's secondary will be lead by safeties Nino Williams and Jason Simpson, as well as some quality depth behind them, including David Overstreet (the son of the former Oklahoma tailback). Four cornerbacks are still competing for two starting positions and the competition will likely run right through August.

Mizzou will be successful on defense if they stay healthy up front and if the cornerback situation solidifies early in the year.

Key games
The Tigers open up conference play October 2nd in Columbia against Colorado. This game will likely set the tone for the balance of the schedule. Two key road games will be at Texas on October 16th and at Nebraska on October 30th.


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