Scouting Missouri

If there is one reason to believe Missouri will secure the Big 12 North title, it's the Tigers' ranking on defense. They lead the Big 12 and rank eighth nationally, allowing 266 yards per game, a significant improvement over last season when Missouri was 64th nationally with a 381-yard allowance.

This is precisely where MU had to come together after too many backs had too little trouble running right up the gut a year ago. Granted, Cedric Benson of Texas gained 150 yards and boosted the Longhorns to a 28-20 victory over the Tigers on Oct. 16, but the Tigers didn't budge easily.

One problem they did have was giving up significant gains for touchdowns. Benson scored on carries of 13 and 14 yards, as well as a 23-yard touchdown burst by Texas QB Vince Young.

The challenge continues Saturday when the Tigers match up against Vernand Morency, who ranks second behind Benson among the nation's rushing leaders. Although the styles of Morency and Benson differ, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the two were equally effective.

"He's really shifty and changes directions well," Pinkel said. "I think every tailback has his own style. ... We're splitting hairs here. We're talking about a great football player. They like running the ball, and they're very good at it."

Pinkel believes his team has become much better at stopping the run -- an element the Missouri coach recognized from day one would be necessary if the Tigers were to ever be admitted among the elite teams in the Big 12.

SCOUTING THE TIGER OFFENSE: The final offensive play Missouri ran in the loss at Texas illustrates why QB Brad Smith needs more freedom. He simply stationed himself in the pocket and was dropped by the Longhorns' blitz, ending any chance for the Tigers to rally in their 28-20 defeat. Smith is too much of a threat on his feet to be a pocket passer and even seems to throw better on the run.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Although Texas did gain 193 yards on the ground, the output was more than 100 fewer than what the Longhorns were averaging and convinced Missouri it could play solid defense against good teams. The stats it posted prior to the Texas matchup were achieved against inferior offenses.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't walk around and say, 'We played Texas pretty good. Feel good about yourself.' You draw from it later, but that locker room is a sad place right now. That's as upset as I've ever seen my players. You know what? That's good. Three years ago, I was the only one upset." -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel following the Tigers' 28-20 loss at Texas.

THIS WEEK'S GAME VS. OKLAHOMA STATE: This game promises to be close if history holds true. The Tigers have won each of the past four meetings, though three went into overtime. The Tigers believe that in preparing for the Cowbooys is that their defense can load up on the run. That doesn't make Morency a cinch to stop, though he looked a little more human against Texas A&M when he fumbled twice in the first quarter. Overlooking the OSU passing game can be dangerous since the Cowboys do rank first in the Big 12 in pass efficiency despite the lowest per-game average for yardage (135.7). The Tigers have won nine straight at home, outscoring opponents 43-17 on average.

TIGERS TO WATCH: DT C.J. Mosley -- His fumble recovery against Texas marked the fourth time in six games the Tigers have secured a takeaway on their opponents' opening possession. Mosley ranks fourth in the Big 12 in tackles for loss and fifth in sacks.

CB Shirdonya Mitchell -- Leads the Big 12 with four interceptions after grabbing pick in each of Missouri's last three games. The 12 interceptions recorded by the Tigers ranks second nationally. They have at least one pick in each game.

TE Martin Rucker -- The freshman continues to be a prime outlet target for QB Brad Smith. Rucker has 12 catches for 186 yards, with three touchdowns.

ROSTER REPORT: TB Damien Nash did not start against Texas after missing some practice time with a strained knee he suffered against Baylor. Nash did play. ... QB Brad Smith went out briefly in the third quarter with a blow to the head, but returned on Missouri's next series.

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