On Saturday evening (6:00 P.M., FSN), the Missouri Tigers (4-4, 2-3) travel to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears (4-3, 1-3) in Big 12 Conference action. Missouri is coming in off of a 38-31 OT win over Texas A&M, the first true road win over a ranked opponent of the Gary Pinkel era at Missouri.
Each of Missouri's four losses were to ranked opponents, and three of those came on the road. According to the NCAA, Missouri has played the second-toughest schedule in the FBS. Jeff Sagarin's computer identifies Missouri's strength-of-schedule as #1 in the country.
Missouri comes into this Saturday's contest with the #1 rushing offense in the conference, averaging 243.9 yards/game (5.4 yards/carry) on the ground. Overall, Missouri ranks #11 nationally, and #6 in the Big 12, in total offense, with 490.25 yards/game. The Tigers have averaged 34.4 points/game, which ranks #30 nationally, and #6 in the conference.
The Tigers are giving up 24.8 points/game, which ranks #4 in the conference, and #50 nationally. Missouri is also fourth in the conference in total defense, allowing 382.5 yards/game.
After leading Missouri to a fourth-quarter comeback at Texas A&M, sophomore QB James Franklin comes into this week's contest having shown the potential for greatness, and having also demonstrated the need to develop more consistency in his play, particularly in the passing game. Still, a close examination of Franklin's passing statistics through his first 8 starts at Missouri reveals that his 61% completion percentage, and 138.32 passer efficiency rating, are both ahead of Blaine Gabbert's numbers through his first 8 starts at Missouri. And, Franklin's 7.79 yards/pass attempt is just ahead of Chase Daniel's career school-record pace (7.78).
In addition, Franklin has been very effective running the football, whether on called running plays, or while scrambling on pass plays. His 4.1 yards/carry adds another dimension to the Missouri offense. He ranks #15 nationally, and #6 in the conference, in total offense, with 301.5 yards/game.
There's no questioning Franklin's intangibles. He's shown mental and physical toughness, tremendous poise, and intelligence. And, he has shown himself to be an outstanding leader and competitor, as well as having shown the ability to be coached, and to rapidly apply that coaching to his performance on the field. The only fair criticisms of Franklin to this point have been his lack of consistency in the passing game. Once Franklin can improve upon his 61% completion rate, and get it closer to the 70% range, Missouri will have developed yet another very high-level QB.
"(Franklin) played pretty good (at Texas A&M)," said Coach Pinkel. "What he has to do now, is about consistency. It's about bringing that A game every week."
Missouri sophomore TB Henry Josey leads the Big 12, and is #4 nationally, in rushing, with his 127.1 yards/game. His 8.55 yards/carry is #1 in the country.
"He's pretty fast," said Coach Pinkel, talking about Henry Josey. "He's pretty fast. He can get five yards pretty fast. He can accelerate……………………………. He's also a north-south player."
The game plan versus Baylor has to include maximum utilization of Missouri's run game, with Josey getting at least 20 carries. Running the football should prove to be effective against Baylor's defense; putting points on the board, while keeping the football away from Baylor, and keeping the Missouri defense on the sideline.
In addition to his speed and acceleration, Josey has great vision.
Tackling well is going to be very important against Baylor. Sophomore MLB Andrew Wilson continues to lead Missouri in tackles, with 68 total tackles on the season, despite often coming off of the field on passing downs. Sophomore sensation, CB E.J. Gaines, is second on the team in tackles, with 51 total tackles. Gaines leads the big 12 in passes defended, with 11 PBUs, and 2 INTs, for the season. The single-season record at Missouri for pass-break-ups is 15, set by Michael Hardin in 2002.
Coach Pinkel said that Gaines has gotten better since the beginning of the season. And, he said that he thinks that Gaines is the kind of guy who will continue to get better.
"He can be as good as he wants to be," explained Coach Pinkel, speaking of Gaines.
Winning the turnover battle will be huge for Missouri, as well. Last week, sophomore Randy Ponder came up with a forced fumble and an interception. Both were huge plays for Missouri, not only getting the Tigers out of drives, and changing field position, but also giving momentum to the Tigers.
Missouri also got big defensive plays from some of their defensive linemen, including Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton, and Brad Madison. The Tigers are going to need that group to continue to make plays this week. Smith stepped forward to provide some vocal leadership, and the Tigers need more of that from him, as well.
Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel told his team that winning in the month of November is very important.
"Those that win in November will be remembered," Coach Pinkel told his team.
"November is a big month in college football," explained Coach Pinkel. "Because it defines your season. How you finish in November is mammoth. Certainly, where we're at right now, it's mammoth for us. Are we going to build on this, and play better football this coming week than we did last week? I think we're capable of that. And, it's my job to get that done."