Here is a rundown of those major concerns that I've seen, where the Cowboys faced the issues previously, and how they might go about addressing those issues against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. Bowl games and analyzing them are so much fun and this game shapes up to be a beauty. It will be very competitive and should be as exciting as any bowl game on the schedule this holiday football season.
1. Missouri Run Game
Problem: The Tigers average running for 236.5 yards a game and 5.7 each running play. The Cowboys have averaged allowing just 132.9 rushing yards a game to lead the Big 12, and only 3.5 yard per run play. Okay, something will have to give here.
The complexity of the Missouri run game is the major issue. Leading rusher Henry Josey is good and averages 6.6 yards a carry, but you have much more to be concerned with as Missouri will use multi-back formations with 20 and 21 personnel, even some three-back diamond formation.
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson is a former Oklahoma State offensive guard and coached with both Les Miles and for Mike Gundy when he was offensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Henson is well-learned in multiple run schemes, including Gundy's favorite paly-action design.
Josey is the leading rusher but fellow back Russell Hansbrough (6.3) and Marcus Murphy (6.7) also average over six yards a carry. Then to further complicate matters, quarterback James Franklin is a talented runner as well. He's a true dual threat that averages 4.5 yards a carry, and the read zone package is a staple for Mizzou.
Solution: Glenn Spencer will not let his defense rest on its past accomplishments, but that is what we have to study to see how Oklahoma State might fare against a multiple run offense that can also throw the football. It is much like scrimmaging in fall camp as the Oklahoma State offense shoots for similar success on offense with multiple run attacks including read zone and balance in running and passing.
Kansas State is one example but not a great one as the Wildcats used two different quarterbacks that way too much triggered trends for the defense to focus on. That said, K-State ran for 144 yards and passed for 192 yards, including a 67-yard home run ball early on a pop pass that the Cowboys had etched in their memory and were never really burned by again.
The best example of this type of attack was Baylor. Oklahoma State's defense was marvelous as the Cowboys held the Bears explosive offense to 453 yards, close to 200 yards under their average and some 45 points under the scoring average at the time.
The key was the Cowboys forced Baylor to become one dimensional, and it was the run the Cowboys stole away. Baylor had just 92 rushing yards, averaging less than three yards a carry. Quarterback Bryce Petty had 46 yards but much of it on one play early. The backs were smothered. The Oklahoma State offense contributed in time as well as once they cranked up and grabbed a significant lead then Baylor had to pass.
The key to stopping Baylor was OSU's heavy man pass defense and trusting the Cowboys secondary, banged up at the time, to be able to cover the dangerous Bears receivers in one, two, and even zero coverages.
2. Two Big Talented Receivers
Problem: We step right from phase one of a master defensive challenge and into phase two. Missouri combines its very strong run game with a passing game that employs a quarterback with a good strong arm in Franklin, and he has grown and improved to become accurate as well. He completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,255 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he missed four games this season.
A major part of his success are the two huge targets on the outside as his X-receiver is sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham out of in-state Springfield Hillcrest High School. The 6-6, 225-pound Green-Beckham is a supersized Dez Bryant that caught 55 passes for an average of 15.1 yards per catch and had 12 touchdowns. He really got better as the season went on.
The veteran L'Damian Washington is Franklin's Z-receiver. He had 47 catches for 646 yards and two touchdowns. He is a chain mover and often times finds the sticks, makes the catch, and keeps the possession going. Those guys are as dangerous as home-run hitters.
Solution: Oklahoma State never really saw this exact scenario in the passing game this season as Texas sent Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley at the Cowboys corners but with Case McCoy as the quarterback the delivery process was not as effective as Missouri is with Franklin. Oklahoma State did a nice job in coverage against the Longhorns only allowing 238 passing yards with three interceptions. Again, McCoy was a major factor.
The Cowboys did not get the dangerous duo of Tyler Lockett and Trumaine Thompson out of Kansas State and those two are much different type receivers than the tall duo for Missouri.
Baylor had the combination of Antwan Goodwin and Levi Norwood. They are big and physical and the Cowboys allowed Baylor 359 yards but that was on 48 pass attempts, and while only allowing the 92 rushing yards. The solution is playing very physical man coverage, bodying up and working body position to be in the best position to defend the ball. The Cowboys corners Justin Gilbert, Kevin Peterson and Tyler Patmon will be key in accomplishing this.
3. Missouri Pass Rush
Problem: The Tigers eat up opposing quarterbacks with solid play inside at tackle and the pass rush ability of consensus All-American defensive end Michael Sams (6-2, 255, 10.5 sacks), defensive end Kony Ealy (6-5, 275, 7.5 sacks) and backup defensive end Markus Golden (6-3, 260, 6.5 sacks) they have turned pass defense, and more precisely pass rush, into an effective weapon.
I like to use the term "sack margin" during the season. Missouri, with a mobile quarterback of its own in Franklin, has a sack margin of plus-13 and 74 yards. That means the Tigers have sacked opponents quarterbacks 13 times more than their opponents and they have an advantage of 74 yards in lost yards as a result of sacks.
Sacks often can in turnovers or careless throws resulting in interceptions. Missouri has intercepted 18 passes this season.
Solution: Oklahoma State has led every opponent this season in sack margin, and the credit goes to both the Oklahoma State offensive and defensive lines. The Cowboys have a sack margin of plus-12 and 82 yards, so Missouri has the advantage of +1 in sacks but Oklahoma State has an advantage of eight yards in sack losses.
Oklahoma State will likely sack Franklin once or twice but his run ability nullifies the ability to come with an all-out pass rush. The Cowboys will have to be careful and keep containment and not let him burn you with his wheels.
Missouri's defensive ends will have the same problem as Clint Chelf will have to show them early in the game what happens if they get too sack greedy. Chelf is capable of causing damage with his legs, especially with the All-American Sam, who's straight on speed in rushing the quarterback is good but his side to side maneuvering speed can't match Chelf.
If Chelf gets by Sam and Ealy once or twice those two will be rushing on skates and worrying about contain the rest of the night. Screens can help some with that as well.
Another interesting sidebar is the height of the Tigers rushers. Missouri's defensive tackles stand 6-5 and 6-3, to go with Ealy (6-5) at defensive end.
Chelf has had a problem with having his passes deflected. It has not burned OSU yet with an interception but the Cowboys certainly don't want that coming into play in the Cotton Bowl. Offensive linemen can help some with some stomach and chest targeting in pass blocking. Keep 'em guessing and that will play to the advantage of Chelf and the Cowboys passing offense.