Jayhawks and Tigers Tangle Saturday

The Missouri Tigers entered the 2008 season with national championship and conference championship hopes.

The first of those fell off the table mid-season, when the Tigers were stunned at home by Oklahoma State, then blown out by Texas in Austin. But the conference championship is still within their grasp, and this year, they won’t need to win Saturday’s showdown against the rival Kansas Jayhawks to get it.

Chase Daniel (6-foot-0, 225 pounds) entered the season as a preseason Heisman candidate, and spent a few weeks atop some Heisman lists. After two consecutive losses where Daniel didn’t play all that well, he fell a bit on the national scene, but he remains one of the country’s top quarterbacks. He has a 29-9 record as Missouri’s starting quarterback, and has completed 75 percent of his passes this year. Those throws have gone for 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while he’s passing for more than 300 yards per game.

That’s not to say that Missouri is one-dimensional though. Derrick Washington (5-11 225) a sophomore bowling ball out of Raymore, Mo., is just one total touchdown shy of Missouri’s season record, and is just two rushing touchdowns behind Missouri’s season record. He’s on pace for 1,000 yards this season, entering Saturday’s game with 909.

But Missouri’s bread and butter is through the air, where they have two Biletnikoff finalists and several other options to get the ball to. The most explosive of the bunch is Jeremy Maclin (6-1 200). One of the top all-purpose threats in the country, Maclin has become the first Tiger in history to have two 1,000-yard seasons. Chase Coffman (6-6 255) is the most prolific pass-catching tight end in NCAA history, while Jared Perry (6-1 180) and Tommy Saunders (6-0 210) give the Tigers two other athletic receiving options.

The Tigers have been consistent on the offensive line, and they’ve been healthy – all five starters have failed to miss a start this year. Guards Kurtis Gregory (6-5 305) and Ryan Madison (6-5 305), and tackle Colin Brown (6-8 330) are the veterans of the line – Madison has started 33 games in his Tigers career, while Gregory and Brown have started 25. Left tackle Elvis Fisher (6-5 305) and center Tim Barnes (6-4 305) have been keys to the line’s play.

Defensively, the Tigers have struggled at times to contain passing attacks, thanks in part to their high-risk, high-reward philosophy. Stryker Sulak (6-5 250) provides the most rush to the passer, while Tommy Chavis (6-2 265) is another solid end. Ziggy Hood (6-4 300) and Jaron Baston (6-1 305) have 14 tackles for loss between them.

Sean Weatherspoon (6-2 245) is the best of a playmaking linebacking corps. He leads the Big 12 in tackles for loss per game, while he’s second in tackles. Middle linebacker Brock Christopher (6-2 240) clinched the Baylor game with a fourth quarter interception. Luke Lambert (6-3 235) is an up-and-comer in the unit and will have to play a major role next year.

William Moore (6-1 230) was a second-team All-American last year, and this year, is a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award. He’s been slowed quite a bit this year by injuries and a gameplan that blitzes him a high percentage, but he should be 100 percent now. Carl Gettis (5-11 200) and Castine Bridges (6-2 205) are solid cornerbacks, while strong safety Justin Garrett (6-2 210) is the team’s third leading tackler.

Special teams will be one of the areas where the Tigers have a huge advantage over the Jayhawks. Kicker Jeff Wolfert is on pace to set the NCAA career accuracy mark, while punter Jake Harry has been seldom used. Maclin leads the NCAA in all-purpose yards per game and is a threat as both a punt and a kick returner.

Unlike last year, the Tigers won’t have anything to play for in the Border War game other than the rivalry, but as is often the case, that should be enough to get them fired up for the game at Arrowhead.

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