KU vs. Mizzou Preview

This was supposed to be their year. While the Kansas Jayhawks enter Saturday's Border War contest at Arrowhead as the unlikely Cinderella, Missouri has gotten to the brink of a Big 12 North title by doing what they were supposed to.

Oh sure, nobody expected Missouri to be this good. But the Tigers were picked first in the North before the season, while the Jayhawks were picked fourth in the North by most publications and fifth in a few others.

The Tigers have accomplished everything with the typical explosive offense and an atypically stingy defense, with both units ranking among the top in the Big 12.

On offense, everything revolves around quarterback Chase Daniel (6-foot 225 pounds), a bona-fide Heisman Trophy candidate. Daniel has thrown for nearly 3,600 yards in 11 games this year, while tossing 30 touchdowns and nine picks. The do-everything junior also has the speed to hurt a team on the ground, and has rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Like Kansas’s Todd Reesing however, Daniel more often uses his legs to find time for speedy receivers to break open.

While Daniel may orchestrate the offense, he also has a number of talented playmakers that make his job easier. Up first are the running backs. Tony Temple (5-9 205) is making the most of his senior year despite missing two games with injury. He has rushed for 634 yards and eight touchdowns. In his absence, Jimmy Johnson (5-9 200) and true freshman Derrick Washington (5-11 210), picked up the slack.

The receiving corps is nothing if not deep. The most dangerous threat is freshman H-WR Jeremy Maclin (6-1 200), a speedster with nearly unlimited potential. He has 59 catches for 885 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for another 287 yards and four touchdowns. William Franklin (6-2 205) is another weapon, posting 581 yards and four touchdowns on the year. Tommy Saunders (6-0 210) is the other starter, while Danario Alexander (6-5 210) brings size to the mix.

But what makes Missouri’s air attack so deadly is the versatility of tight ends Martin Rucker (6-5 255) and Chase Coffman (6-5 245). Rucker, who has a team leading 70 catches for 699 yards and seven touchdowns, is the athlete, and can stretch the field over the middle. Coffman is no slouch either, catching 49 balls for 509 yards and another seven scores. Coffman uses his size to post up smaller defenders and make acrobatic catches in the air. Both mostly line up off the line, in the slot, so they act more as receivers. Both can also make matchups nearly impossible.

Everyone on the offensive line weighs more than 305 pounds, and it’s a good group. Center Adam Spieker (6-3 305) is the leader, bookended by Ryan Madison (6-5 305) and Kurtis Gregory (6-5 305), the guards. Tyler Luellen (6-7 310) and Colin Brown (6-8 325) are the tackles. The line has done a great job protecting Daniel and helping to lead an offense putting up 334 passing yards and 172 rushing yards per game.

One of the biggest reasons for Missouri’s success has been the defense. The last few years, Missouri had been a team that would score 30 to 40 points, only to lose when a team could put up more against the Missouri defense. This year, in Big 12 play, Missouri is the conference’s second-best scoring and total yardage defense, and have held their conference opponents to the second-fewest first downs.

The Tigers have also been rough on opposing quarterbacks, collecting 25 sacks. Defensive end Stryker Sulak (6-5 250) and nose tackle Lorenzo Williams (6-1 295) are tied for the team lead with five sacks, while the duo has combined for 15.5 tackles for loss. End Tommy Chavis (6-2 280) is stout against the run, and has seven tackles for loss and another 4.5 sacks. Tackle Ziggy Hood can be a bit of a playmaker at times. He has 5.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

The linebacking corps is fast and active. Weak-side linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (6-1 240) leads the team with 108 tackles, including eight in the backfield. Middle linebacker Brock Christopher (6-2 245) has 84 tackles, while strong-side linebacker Van Alexander (6-0 235) has 44.

Cornerback Darnell Terrell (6-3 205) is Missouri’s best cover man. He has broken up nine passes, but hasn’t picked off any. True freshman Carl Gettis (5-11 200) plays the other spot, where he has 39 tackles. The Tigers like to use their safeties in a variety of ways, even after the injury to Cornelius “Pig” Brown. Free safety William Moore (6-1 220) has 84 tackles, seven for loss, six interceptions and two sacks. Strong safety Justin Garrett (6-2 210), who has replaced Brown, has 35 tackles and two picks.

Jeff Wolfert is a solid kicker who has hit 15 of 19 field goals with a long of 48. The same cannot be said of Adam Crossett, who averages 38.1 yards per punt. Maclin is one of the nation’s most deadly return men. He averages 24.5 per kick return and 12.2 per punt return. He has taken back one kick and two punts for scores.

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