No '97 redux; Texas should tame Tigers

Missouri's first season under new head coach Gary Pinkel has been a ride on a bucking bronc, an emotional victory one week, a thrown-from-the-saddle loss the next.

Pinkel, after a highly successful 10-year stint at Toledo that followed a 12-year apprenticeship under Don James at Washington, brought a promise of discipline and accountability to Missouri. It didn't exactly take hold right off the bat.

The Tigers started the Pinkel era with a deflating 20-13 loss to woeful Bowling Green, then followed that up with a massacre of Southwest Texas State. The Tigers played the massacree the next week, falling 38-3 to Nebraska, then outgunned Okie State in Stillwater in a 41-38 OT thriller. But they couldn't stand the prosperity, losing to Iowa State at home, 20-14, next time out, before knocking off Kansas in Lawrence in yet another shootout, 38-34, last week. On your scorecard, that's an L-W-L-W-L-W scenario through the first six games. If Mizzou's season holds to form, and I am confident it will, that spells another ‘L' for the Tigers this coming Saturday against Texas.

To hang that ‘L' on MU, the Horns will have to do a couple of things defensively. First, they must put the lasso around Mizzou QB Kirk Farmer. Farmer, a 6-4, 210 junior, won the starting job from his competitor at the position, Darius Outlaw, and has been effective throwing the ball and running it in Pinkel's balanced offense. Outlaw started the Tigers' first two games, but Farmer took over the job in week three upon returning from an August hand injury. For the season, Farmer has hit 73 of 147 attempts for 804 yards with eight TDs and three INTs. He's also run for 152 yards on 27 carries (5.6 yards per carry, a healthy figure considering it also includes sack yardage). Outlaw, who started last year's 46-12 Texas win in Austin and who has played in five of MU's six games so far this season, has completed 29 of his 63 passing attempts for 241 yards and has rushed for 57 more on 18 totes. Against Kansas last Saturday, Farmer hit 19 of 32 passes for 246 yards, including three TD strikes, and tacked on 86 yards on the ground. But Farmer also had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns by the Jayhawks, so Carl Reese should be busy devising some QB-rattling schemes in his blitz laboratory this week.

One of Farmer's favorite targets is TE Dwayne Blakeley, a 6-4, 250 senior who grabbed five balls against KU, one for a TD. Blakeley has 21 catches for 215 yards and three TDs on the season. After the success Colorado enjoyed throwing to TE Daniel Graham last Saturday against the Horns, we should probably expect to see a steady diet of Blakeley this week. But wideout Justin Gage could be the man to fear most. Gage, a 6-4, 208 junior, caught an amazing 11 passes for 148 yards and a score against Kansas. Gage has totaled 518 receiving yards and three TDs on the season and is currently fourth in the nation in receptions per game with 7.5 (11.5 average per catch). Along with Gage, Thomson Omboga, a true freshman from Grand Prairie, and speedy 5-8 sophomore Marcus James man the starting spots in Pinkel's standard three-wide, single-back offense. The Tigers average 33 attempts and 176.2 yards per game through the air.

Running back Zack Abron, a 5-10, 220 sophomore, leads the Tigers with 453 yards rushing (4.8 per carry) and has totaled for 100 yards or better in the last two ballgames. At 6-0, 215, Zain Gilmore, Mizzou's leading rusher in '00, is another bruising runner who will try to pound the Texas middle. So far in '01, Gilmore has totaled 202 yards on 51 totes (4.0 per attempt). The Tigers average 38 attempts and 165 yards per game on the ground.

Defensively, the Texas offense will face a fairly unorthodox 4-2-5 scheme, which features four down linemen, two inside backers and two outside LB-slash-safeties who play the type of rover role that Lee Jackson was slated to play for Texas. The rovers have run-support duties as well coverage responsibilities. Sean Doyle and Jamonte Robinson, the Tigers' two inside 'backers, far-and-away lead the team in tackles with 77 (58 solo) and 75 (48 solo), respectively. DE Antwaun Bynum is a distant third with 42. Bynum, though, has taken over where All-American sack-master Justin Smith left off last year, totaling six sacks (four came in the Oklahoma State game) among his 13 TFLs. He's also registered nine QB hurries. Mizzou is currently 43rd nationally (and seventh in the Big 12) in total defense, giving up 339 yards per game. They are 64th in scoring D allowing 25.7 ppg. The Tigers have been particularly susceptible to the run, giving up over 180 yards per game and 13 total TDs to opposing ground attacks. Missouri has been a bit stingier through the air, surrendering 158.3 yards per game and just six TDs. The Tiger D has only caused seven turnovers (three INTs) in six games. By comparison, the Texas D has created more TOs in its last two games. Opposing teams are also converting 47-percent of third down attempts and are an amazing six-of-six on fourth down tries against Mizzou.

Kicker Brad Hammerich is eight-for-nine on field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder in the Tigers' opener, and a perfect 13-for-13 on extra points. Punter Brock Harvey has a relatively strong average of 41.1-yards per punt, but he has struggled with hang-time, a good sign for the punt return prospects of UT's Nathan Vasher. MU's James ranks 35th nationally in punt returns with a 10.7-yard average. The Mizzou special teams have had a bit of success blocking kicks, with two blocked field goals, three blocked PATs and a blocked punt.

The Tigers have 14 Texans on their roster, including starters Omboga, C A.J. Ricker (Klein), DT Cedric Harden (Humble) and CB Antoine Duncan (Denison). LG Adrian Cole from Houston Nimitz ruptured an Achilles tendon in MU's win over Kansas last Saturday and will miss the rest of the season.

[Editor's note: Clendon Ross contributed to this article.]

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