On Saturday (11:00 A.M., FX), the Missouri Tigers (4-5, 2-4) play host to the #16 Texas Longhorns (6-2, 3- 2) in Big 12 Conference action. The Tigers are coming home off of a 42-39 loss at Baylor.
This game should be a physical battle between the top two rushing teams in the Big 12, and could serve to provide Missouri with a sneak peek into their future. The combination of Texas' physical style, with their powerful ground game and tough defense, and the quality of the Longhorns' athletes, are comparable to the upper echelon teams in the SEC, as contrasted to the wide-open passing attacks that are so prevalent within the Big 12.
Missouri has its own ground game. The Tigers rank second in the Big 12, and twelfth nationally, with their 244.9 rushing yards/game, which ranks just behind Texas. The Tigers' 255.1 yards/game of passing offense ranks sixth in the Big 12, and #37 nationally. Missouri is #5 in the Big 12, and #10 nationally, in total offense, at 500 yards/game. And, Missouri is scoring 34.89 points/game, which is #6 in the conference, and #25 in the nation.
"It will be a great test for both defenses, and offenses," said Texas Head Coach Mack Brown, referring to the match-up with Missouri.
"It should be a real physical game, and a fun game to watch."
According to the NCAA, Missouri has played the #4 toughest schedule in the country. The Sagarin Ratings Index has Missouri's strength of schedule as the #1 toughest in the country.
Missouri sophomore TB Henry Josey leads the conference, and is fifth in the country, in rushing, with 127.67 rushing yards/game.
"(Henry Josey) is so quick, and he's hard to tackle," said Coach Brown. "We were aware of him in high school, and watched him. But, he's fifth in the country in rushing. Their offense is as good as anybody in the country. They're moving the ball. Franklin has just done amazing things, and getting better each week. They've got an older offensive line. Their receivers, and the tight end, are just about all pro prospects. We feel like it will be as good of an offense as we've seen."
James Franklin has been both brilliant and disappointing through his first 9 starts as the Missouri QB. Inconsistency has been the sophomore's primary obstacle this season.
"I think overall, (Franklin's) done a pretty good job," said Coach Pinkel. "It's all about consistency at the position. We know he's very talented. He's just got to continue to work hard, and be consistent."
Franklin ranks sixth in the conference in both total offense (310.44 yards/game, #14 nationally), and pass efficiency (140.62, #37 nationally). In comparison to Missouri's three previous starting QBs, all of whom are currently playing in the NFL, through Franklin's first 9 starts, his 62.6 % pass completion rate, and his 140.62 pass efficiency rating, are second only to Chase Daniel's 64.7 %, and 143.5, through Daniel's first 9 career starts. Another interesting statistic to consider, when comparing Franklin to his predecessors, is that in Franklin's first 9 career starts, he's faced 5 ranked teams. In their first 9 career starts, his three predecessors faced a combined 6 ranked teams. Daniel faced just one.
Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel acknowledged that a pair of sophomore receivers, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington have been making plays, and have earned increased opportunities to play. Despite their relatively limited opportunities, Lucas and Washington have been very productive.
Coach Pinkel cited Washington's ability to get open, and the fact that he's doing a much better job of catching the ball in his hands, rather than against his body. Washington is fifth on Missouri in the number of receptions (14), fourth in receiving yards (271), tied for second with 3 receiving TDs, and he leads Missouri with his 19.4 yards/reception.
Coach Pinkel compared Lucas' hands to those of Chase Coffman. Both he and Washington are considered to have improved their blocking considerably. Lucas is fourth on the Tigers in receptions (18), third in receiving yards (293), tied for second on the team with 3 receiving TDs, and is second with his 16.3 yards/reception.
"On Thursdays, when we make decisions on how we're going to substitute," explained Coach Pinkel. "It's based on past performance in games, and on how they practice."
Missouri punter Trey Barrow leads the conference in punting, at 44.33 yards/punt, and in net punting, at 38.7 net yards/punt.
On the defensive side of the football, Missouri has been somewhat the victim of having played all four of the Big 12 teams that are ranked ahead of them in total offense, and four of the five Big 12 teams that are out-scoring the Tigers.
Currently, Missouri ranks third in the conference and #62 nationally, in scoring defense. The Tigers are surrendering an average of 26.7 points/game. The Tigers are giving up 149.8 rushing yards/game, which ranks #5 in the Big 12, and #60 in the nation. Missouri ranks #4 in the conference, and #89 nationally, in total defense, allowing 417.4 yards/game. Missouri should receive a statistical boost on both sides of the football in the coming weeks.
Sophomore MLB Andrew Wilson is the third-leading tackler in the conference, with 8.33 total tackles/game. He's making tackles moving forward, and he's arriving with an attitude. Along with Missouri's defensive front, Wilson will play a huge role in trying to shut down the Longhorns' running game.
That defensive front includes three seniors, in DT Dominique Hamilton, DT Terrell Resonno, and DE Jacquies Smith. A pair of juniors, DE Brad Smith and DT Sheldon Richardson, are joined by a pair of sophomores, DEs Brayden Burnett and Michael Sam, and a pair of RSF, DE Kony Ealy and DT Lucas Vincent, in the rotation.
"Those guys are huge up front," said Coach Brown, talking about Missouri's defensive line. "They're big. They're strong. There's three pro prospects up there that are seniors, and they're all about 300 pounds. (They're) 6'5" guys. We've been very, very impressed with Missouri in (what we've seen of them on) video."
Texas will challenge Missouri's big people up front with their power running game, but they will also challenge Missouri's secondary, both on the perimeter with the run game, and by pulling the ball back, and going over the top with play-action passes.
"This will be a Big 12 contest between two football teams that are both fighting to finish strong here at the end," said Coach Brown.
Missouri needs this one. The Tigers need a strong finish. A win over Texas on Saturday would be huge for Missouri.