Mizzou Tries to Avoid Winter, Boulder Jinxes

While teammates chatted with local media, Missouri defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams sat in the lobby of the MU athletic center and talked on the phone with a Denver reporter. What in past years would've been a quick in-and-out chat turned into a 20-minute Q&A, by the end of which Williams shrugged and gave a quizzical look to a bystander, who asked sarcastically if his biography was being penned.

These days, it seems everyone wants to know everything about Mizzou.

The Tigers (7-1, 3-1 Big 12) are ranked No. 9 in the nation, higher than any Missouri team in more than 25 years. A team that began the season as a known commodity mostly in Big 12 country has become a national story, thanks in large part to an offense loaded with stars and averaging 40 points.

Still, the Tigers are wary. They've tasted success in recent years, only to plummet back to earth once the weather turns cold – last year's 2-5 finish after a 6-0 start, for example. So they know this weekend's trip to Boulder to play Colorado (5-4, 3-2) has all the makings of a pratfall.

At the same time, though, aren't dwelling on it.

"It's kind of where you want to be at this point," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "It's not real complex. If you want to win a championship, the teams that win championships win on the road, win at home, they win where they have to win, and that's exactly where we're at. I can't say it any more simply than that."

Pinkel has gradually resurrected a struggling program, his seventh year in Columbia serving so far as the culmination of his efforts. So you'll have to excuse him if he doesn't want to hear about the program's past failures as it relates to his current team – losing four straight and 10 of the past 11 at Colorado, for example.

"If I would have looked at that when I took the job," Pinkel said, "I wouldn't have taken the job."

Missouri, led by junior quarterback Chase Daniel (71.6 completion percentage, 2,597 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions) has not exactly been a late-season wonder in recent years, going 1-2 in November each of the past three seasons. But this year's edition seems to have a dose of maturity and character absent in its predecessors. Missouri will need it at Colorado, where No. 5 Oklahoma suffered its only loss – as a 23-point favorite, no less.

The Buffaloes are hoping the Big 12's seventh-ranked pass defense can at least slow Daniel and his cache of weapons – headlined by all-America caliber tight ends Martin Rucker (54 catches for 591 yards and four TDs) and Chase Coffman (409 yards, three TDs), and sensational freshman Jeremy Maclin (186.9 all-purpose yards per game).

"You have to keep [Daniel] in the pocket," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said. "Sometimes you have to spy the guy. You have to be able to account for him in everything you do."

It will make for an interesting match-up stylistically, because the Buffaloes are a team that favors man-to-man coverage, an approach few have dared take against Daniel and Missouri's prolific spread passing attack.

"They gave [Texas] Tech fits because they gave them a lot of different looks," Daniel said. "They play a lot of Cover Two and a lot of Cover One. It lights our eyes up to see Cover One. We haven't seen that very often. A lot of people just play Cover Four and say, ‘Hey, dink and dunk us,' which we have been doing. That's why we haven't thrown for many yards in the last two weeks. You look at them, there's some big plays to be made down the field if we can make them."

The Tigers, who with four games left are in position to control their destiny in the Big 12 North race, will also make a point to get the ball to senior wideout Will Franklin (418 yards, four TDs). He's been negated in recent week by opposing double-teams. The sometimes-maligned MU defense, meanwhile, has scored touchdowns in each of the past two games.

Daniel might be well-advised to look away from CU cornerback Terrence Wheatley, who is coming off of a three-interception performance in the Buffs' 31-26 victory last week against Texas Tech. Colorado's offense will rely heavily upon running back Hugh Charles, the conference's No. 2 rusher at 110 yards per game. Quarterback Cody Hawkins, son of the head coach, has shown impressive poise and promise for a freshman starter.

"Generally, in my experience, children of coaches that end up playing, usually have something special," Pinkel said of Cody Hawkins.

Mizzou will be without defensive stalwart Pig Brown for the rest of the season after the star free safety ruptured his Achilles tended while backpedaling late in last week's win over Iowa State. Pinkel admitted other players will need to raise their level of play in Brown's absence, but wasn't dwelling on it, either.

"I think we're still going to play the game. I think the game's still on," he said of Brown's injury. "In my business, you cross them off and move on."

The Tigers are hoping they can do the same with this game.


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