Forgive senior DT Atiyyah Ellison if he doesn't know much about Baylor. Missouri has not played the Bears since Ellison has been in the Missouri program and Baylor doesn't exactly have a national reputation…for good things, at least.
"They look like they have some bigger guys on the offensive line," Ellison said Monday. "I don't know too much about their quarterback or their running game. I'm sure they'll have something for us."
Exactly what Baylor can offer will not be known until the teams kick off late Saturday night. The game presents an interesting combination of factors for both teams.
Submitted for your consideration: Missouri has struggled on the road, going 4-12 under coach Gary Pinkel. When Baylor wins, it usually does it at home; under coach Guy Morriss, the Bears average 21.6 points for and 28.2 points against at home compared to 12.3 points for and 47.4 points against on the road. Baylor is 2-0 at home this season and 0-2 on the road, while the Tigers are 3-0 at home and 0-1 on the road. In the brief history of the Big 12, Baylor has scored more points against the Tigers than against any other North division team.
Those statistics point to a competitive game, if not a Baylor win. But they don't tell the whole story; the Tigers would have to underachieve greatly to be tested much by the Bears on Saturday.
Nobody would as much as admit that, though. The Tigers, a well-coached team when it comes to media relations, said all the right things this week. Not a soul would admit looking ahead to next week's game--perhaps the most important of the season--at Texas.
"It's gonna be a good game," junior QB Brad Smith said. "Solid team; we'll go out and play hard and see what happens."
"They're a good team," sophomore LB Marcus Bacon said. "We play away, so we have to play our ‘A' game."
"We didn't play them last year, so I'd be lying if I said I know everything," Pinkel said of the Bears. "Our staff's been on it hard. My biggest concern is Missouri, us getting better."
While the coaching staff continues to focus on the Tigers' improvement, several of the players will be thinking about playing in front of friends and family the next two weekends. There are 23 players from Texas on the Missouri roster, including starters Bacon, Brad Ekwerekwu, Marcus King, Shirdonya Mitchell, Thomson Omboga and Jason Simpson. Other notable native Texan contributors include David Overstreet, Justin Scott, Brian Smith, Henry Sweat, Calvin Washington and Alex Woodley.
Clearly, Missouri's recruiting focus on Texas has paid off. Omboga, a Grand Prairie native, said he was looking forward to making big plays in front of his friends and family, who rarely have the opportunity to make the long trek to mid-Missouri to see the Tigers at home.
"It's gonna be fun, it's gonna be exciting," Omboga said. "I'm gonna be amped up and hopefully they will be, too, watching me play."
King, an Irving native who will have at least a dozen friends and family members at the game, called it "pretty important" to play well in front of his people. Omboga pieced together the Tigers' road struggles and Saturday's potentially pro-Missouri crowd.
"We gotta prove to the world that we can win on the road," he said.
With the Longhorns looming next weekend, Baylor presents a good opportunity to do that. The Horns drilled Baylor 44-14 last Saturday, racking up 507 yards of total offense to the Bears' 266. Texas ran wild on the Baylor defense, finishing with 303 yards on 51 carries.
The Bears, dubbed "a Conference USA-caliber program stuck in the tough half of one of the nation's toughest leagues" by Sporting News this week, have few playmakers on offense but a quality player in junior QB Dane King. If he throws a touchdown pass against the Tigers, he will be the first Baylor passer in 17 years to throw for a touchdown in five consecutive regular-season games.
"You can see him getting better each and every week," Pinkel said of King. "He's got a great delivery…They have an offense that's very multiple. They can do about anything they want on offense."
What they do on defense is a different story. Although senior LB Justin Crooks is a Nagurski Award candidate and one of the conference's better defensive players, he doesn't have much help. The Bears have surrendered 100 points in their two losses.
"Defensively, they put a lot of pressure on you and give you a lot of different looks," Pinkel said, echoing a comment he made about Ball State, who surrendered 48 points on Sept. 18. "It'll be certainly a difficult task."
It should be an enjoyable one, too, for many of the Tiger Texans. Ellison expects big things from those players Saturday, but for an unusual reason.
"I know those guys will be real happy to play," Ellison said. "They're in the Midwest (in Columbia) as opposed to down there, where they're from. We're getting all this cold weather and stuff so they're happy to go back home."