Tigers face long odds against Longhorns

For a program looking to move up in the world, Missouri's game at Texas on Saturday is a chance to prove the Tigers belong among the country's top teams. The task is a difficult one: Missouri will meet a frustrated Texas team, which was demoralized against Oklahoma last weekend.

While the Tigers will not be intimidated by Texas QB Vince Young, they still face the difficult task of slowing him down Saturday. Young, whose talents and career path mimic that of Missouri junior Brad Smith, is a dual threat that has the potential to take over a game, especially with his feet.

Throw in TB Cedric Benson, who averages 140 rushing yards per game, and the Texas offense has the ability to frighten anybody.

"(Benson is) obviously one of the best tailbacks in the country," coach Gary Pinkel said. "Their quarterback's a sophomore that is really playing well, a great athlete that will just get better and better as time goes on. When you play good athletes, it's a great challenge."

In terms of yards allowed, the Tiger defense enters the contest as the Big 12's best unit, giving opponents just 259.4 yards per game. They also allow 12.6 points per game, good for third in the league and 10th nationally. Still, the Tigers have not faced an opponent with anything close to the firepower that Texas brings to the table.

Senior LB James Kinney said the Tigers' defensive goals are simple.

"We gotta make big plays, first of all," he said. "And just execute our defense. That's all we've gotta do."

That seems simple enough, but corralling Young and Benson proves more difficult than talking about it. If the Tigers need a lesson on how to stop the Longhorns, they need look no further back than last Saturday, when Oklahoma dominated the Texas offense, limiting the Longhorns to just 240 yards in a 12-0 victory. The Sooners dealt Texas their first shutout since 1980, breaking an NCAA-leading streak of 281 games with at least a score.

The Longhorns will be out to prove the Oklahoma game was a fluke. Still, the Tigers can learn much from Oklahoma's dominant performance, particularly in forcing Young into passing situations, where he struggles. He completed just 8-of-23 passes for 86 yards against the Sooners.

"They didn't really do a good job of containing Vincent," sophomore DE Brian Smith said of Young's 54 rushing yards on 16 carries. "He still got his yards. We gotta do a really good job containing him. If we hold him and force him to throw the ball, we'll be in good shape."

And what does it take to contain Young, to make him think twice about dropping down and running?

"Hard hits, early hits," Smith said. "Let him know that we're here and that's what's gonna happen the whole game. If we can come out and do that, it'll put in the back of his mind that, ‘OK, I don't wanna get hit.' Hopefully we can get that done."

Missouri is used to seeing a running quarterback, as its own Brad Smith is the prototype. In actuality, the Missouri coaching staffs puts the reins on Smith in practice, rarely allowing him to run. Still, the Texas offense is similar to the Tigers', so there is some familiarity for the Missouri defense.

"We do some of the same things," Pinkel said. "We're different offenses, but when you look at talent levels on teams, that has something to do with it. There's a lot of things there. … I think it's safe to say that."

The likely approach, of course, is Missouri doing everything it can to stop the run. Although the statistics do not show it, the Longhorns still have talent at receiver and have the ability to burn Missouri deep. That is a risk Missouri is willing to run.

"Most defenses like to stop the run," Pinkel said. "When you play somebody, you want to stop the run. As a general rule, you like to get somebody to play one-dimensional if you can. Most defenses want to do that, (but) saying it and doing it is two different things."

Missouri will need its own rushing game to establish itself and eat up the clock. After struggling to move the ball on the ground against Baylor, Missouri will face a more experienced and talented Longhorn defensive front.

Junior G Tony Palmer expects a stiff test.

"Not taking anything from Baylor, but Texas is going to be a great challenge for us," he said. "It'll be a great challenge for us to dominate the line of scrimmage."

Junior TB Damien Nash, who rarely had anywhere to run against the Bears but still managed 87 yards, said he wants to prove to the conference that Missouri is a team to be reckoned with. Mimicking his coach, Nash said he knows saying it and doing it is very different.

"We have to go in there and make a statement," Nash said. "They say we can't win on the road, they say we can't do this, they say we can't do that…

"I'm tired of hearing we can't do this and we can't do that. We have to go out there and show it. It's all on our actions. We can talk about it, but we're in the state of Missouri, the Show-me State, so we gotta show it."

A win would be monumental. It has been 108 years since the Tigers won in Austin, but this is Missouri's best chance in recent memory.

"It will be a great challenge," Pinkel said. "It's also a great opportunity."


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