On Saturday (11:00 A.M., FX), the Missouri Tigers (3-3, 1-2) play host to the #4 Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-0, 3-0), in Big 12 play. Missouri is coming off of a 55-17 thumping of Iowa State, in which the Tigers gained 583 yards of total offense, including 294 yards on the ground.
The last time Oklahoma State visited Missouri was in 2008, when the Tigers were ranked #3 in the country, and Chase Daniel and company got caught looking ahead to a showdown in Austin the following week. A rising Oklahoma State team upset the Tigers that night, by the score of 28-23. Earlier this week, Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy remembered that victory as a turning point for his program.
It was also something of a turning point for the Missouri program, which has yet to climb back up to quite that lofty of a status. This Saturday's game revisits that cross-roads, and presents the Tigers with an opportunity to begin their own ascension back into national prominence.
A little analysis reveals that at 3-3, Missouri may very well be much better than their record suggests. Missouri's three losses all came on the road to ranked teams, #3 Oklahoma (6-0), #11 Kansas State (6-0), and #25 Arizona State (5-2). Missouri ranks thirteenth nationally in total offense (496.17 yards/game), and twenty-ninth nationally in total defense (337.83 yards/game). The Tigers are one of just eight teams in the country to rank among the top thirty in both total offense and total defense. The others: Alabama, Boise State, Oklahoma, SMU, South Florida, Standford, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, are a combined 45-4 heading into this weekend.
Earlier this week, Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy suggested that Missouri is much better than they are perceived nationally.
"They've played well," said Coach Gundy. "Missouri's a better football team than what people are giving them credit for on a national front. Defensively, they still run to the ball very well. They're mixing up their package some, and there's some times when they've defended really well."
Defensively, the Tigers will need to play well. But, it may be even more important for Missouri to run the football effectively, and to keep their defense on the sidelines. Coach Pinkel also cited the need to score points against Oklahoma State, acknowledging that the Cowboys are going to score points.
"We've just got to execute (on offense)," said Coach Pinkel. "To play against (Oklahoma State), they're a high-scoring football team, you've got to score points yourself."
Last week against Iowa State, we got a glimpse of what I have for months envisioned that this year's Missouri offense would look like. It wasn't a completed picture, because the coaching staff is still not utilizing their most suitable outside receivers, but we saw Missouri run the football 58 times, for 5.1 yards/carry, and we saw a more vertical passing game to accompany, and compliment, that run game. That passing game averaged 14.5 yards/completion, and 10 yards/pass attempt. Missouri more than doubled their rate of third down conversions, and the Tigers completed seven scoring drives of six or more plays.
On the season, Missouri leads the conference in rushing the football, averaging 236.5 yards/game, and 5.5 yards/carry. Sophomore TB Henry Josey leads the conference, with 119.5 rushing yards/game, and 9.7 yards/carry. Josey's 119.5 rushing yards/game ranks tenth in the conference in total offense, making Missouri the only Big 12 team with two players ranked in the top ten in total offense.
Sophomore QB James Franklin ranks sixth in the Big 12, and eleventh nationally, in total offense, with 313 yards/game. On the season, Franklin has completed just 61% of his pass attempts, for a passer efficiency rating of 140.7, which ranks just eighth in the conference. But, Franklin is coming off of a game in which he posted a passer efficiency rating of 179.20, and completed 71% of his pass attempts.
"Anytime that I have two interceptions, I don't feel like that could be my best game," said Franklin, speaking to his improved completion percentage and improved passer efficiency rating last week.
in the last couple of games, Missouri has made more of an effort to get the ball to senior TE Michael Egnew. Against Iowa State, Egnew made 6 receptions for 105 yards and 1 TD. On the season, Egnew has 22 catches, for an average of 12.5 yards/reception, and 2 TDs.
Junior slot receiver T.J. Moe leads Missouri in receiving, with 31 receptions. He's averaging 12.1 yards/receptions, and has scored 2 TDs. Getting the ball to Egnew and Moe would work better in concert with Missouri's outstanding running game, if the Tigers would get the ball more often to sophomore WRs L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Washington and Lucas lead the Tigers by averaging 21.9 yards/reception, and 17.6 yards/reception, respectively. Those two young receivers have shown the ability to stretch the field for Missouri, which seems to complement Missouri's offensive attack very well.
On the defensive side of the football, Missouri ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring defense (20.3 points/game), second in total defense (337.8 yards/game), third in rushing defense (113.2 yards/game), and fourth in pass defense (224.7 yards/game).
With fifth-year senior DT Terrell Resonno out with a knee sprain this week, junior DT Sheldon Richardson will get his first start as a Missouri Tiger. Richardson's been playing more each week, and should be able to handle the increased play load, but it's difficult to imagine that Missouri won't miss Resonno.
Coach Pinkel made the point earlier this week that the Big 12 is populated with some of the best offenses in the country. He talked about the approach that he advocates for his defense.
"We have probably four or five (offenses) in this league that are really explosive," explained Coach Pinkel. "This is one of many that we're going to see. This is just a glimpse. They're certainly one of the best in the country. I think when you're a competitor on defense, and you play great people, you have respect for them. But what you do is you just keep battling. You play one play at a time…………………………………..... I think as a competitor, you just go out there to compete, and you focus on playing the best that you can."
"I think we're trying to be more consistent," continued Coach Pinkel. "The consistency of play is the thing that I'm most concerned about………………………………. Statistically, we're pretty decent in relationship with the league. But, we need to be more consistent. We have to coach better, and we have to play better."
"You know, it's hard to win," said Coach Pinkel. "I tell people that all of the time. It's very difficult………………………….Now, we just want to continue to get better. And, we're working hard to do that."