Missouri Preview: The Pressure of No. 1

The Texas Longhorns are officially in unfamiliar territory. They know what they face in Chase Daniel and the Missouri offense, they know what they face in Sean Weatherspoon and the Missouri defense, but this group of Longhorns has never had to defend a No. 1 ranking. And they will have to do it against a top-flight opponent when the No. 11 Tigers come to town.

No. 1 Texas
vs.
No. 11 Missouri
Sat., Oct. 18 7:00 p.m. CT
Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium

Welcome to the top, Horns. Now we'll see how you handle it.

The Texas players and coaches have made it clear this week that they will not approach this game differently (for more, see The Hunter Becomes The Hunted), but it doesn't change the fact that the previous teams that have held the No. 1 ranking this season did not handle it well. Texas is now the fourth No. 1 team in 2008 (Georgia, USC, Oklahoma and now Texas). The top teams have been falling.

But while the Horns are fighting recent history, Missouri is fighting a long history of losing. The last time the Tigers came to Austin and won a football game, Grover Cleveland was in office.

It was 1896 and Harry Robinson's Longhorns dropped the final game of the season to Missouri, 10-0 (although, technically, Texas wasn't even referred to as the Longhorns until 1900). Since then, Mizzou has lost every game in Austin.

The last time Missouri came to UT was October 16th, 2004. The Horns still won, 28-20, but for Texas it represented the low point of Vince Young's college career. He had a total of 19 yards passing and threw two picks before being replaced by Chance Mock.

This time the story is quite different. It's definitively the high point of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's career, as the junior QB is the unanimous front runner for the Heisman Trophy amongst major publications. But not just McCoy, all of the Longhorns are carrying a considerable amount of hype, which is a sudden change from the start of the 2008 season.

Saturday will determine how they handle it.

MISSOURI OFFENSE
Derrick Washington.

Thought we were going to lead with Chase Daniel, didn't you?

But, no. Many know about Chase Daniel and about his favorite target, sophomore do-everything receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Tigers' most unheralded weapon, however, is its sophomore running back. Given the Tigers' pure spread offense and prolific passing numbers, one might think that Missouri brings no running game to the table, but one would be wrong.

Missouri has put up 171.61 yards per game on the ground (42nd nationally), most of them by Washington, who has 511 yards rushing and 11 TDs on the season. Teams have spread out to stop the pass and left themselves susceptible to Washington. Most have wondered what Texas will do to stop Missouri's pass, but stopping the run will also be a challenge.

As for the aforementioned passing offense, it is quite prolific. Missouri is third in the nation in passing offense, third in total offense and third in scoring offense. In fact, the Tigers' 23 points in their loss to Oklahoma State was the only time this season Missouri scored less than 42 points. Thanks to the simultaneous losses by Daniel and Bradford, McCoy jumped to the top spot in most analysts' eyes in the Heisman race, but Daniel's numbers are undeniable: 2055 yards passing, 76 percent completion percentage, 16 TDs, four INT.

The largest portion of those yards has gone to Maclin, who is averaging exactly 100 yards a game receiving, but the most catches have gone to tight end Chase Coffman. The 6-6, 255-pound senior is ninth in the nation in catches with 44 for 554 yards and three TDs.

On the offensive line there's plenty of size, with each starter weighing over 300 pounds, the largest of which being 6-8, 330-pound senior right tackle Colin Brown. The line itself has done well as a whole this season, but Oklahoma State managed to get a significant amount of pressure on Daniel, forcing three interceptions. The line will be looking to redeem itself when it heads to Austin, but the biggest concern will be that Texas senior DE Brian Orakpo, who had a huge game against Oklahoma's star left tackle Phil Loadholt, will be matched up with Missouri's redshirt freshman LT Elvis Fisher.

If Fisher can't contain Orakpo, then it could be a long day for the Tigers. If he can, Daniel and the Missouri offense will be able to work its magic.

MISSOURI DEFENSE
Many have asked, how's Texas going to stop Missouri? The Tigers are known for their passing attack and that's a concern, as the Horns are 109th in the nation in pass defense...but that still puts Texas in front of the Tigers, who are even worse at 113th (271 ypg). An equally relevant question is: How is Missouri going to stop Texas?

In theory, the same way the Horns have stopped their opponents, by simply keeping them out of the end zone. Though Texas has given up a significant number of passing yards, the Longhorns are 18th in the nation in scoring defense (15.3 ppg). The Tigers aren't ranked nearly as high, but their ranking of 46th in scoring defense (21.3 ppg) is still significantly better than where their woeful pass defense is ranked.

The passing numbers certainly aren't for lack of experience in the secondary. Missouri starts three seniors in the defensive backfield. Senior safeties Justin Garrett and William Moore are both big (6-2, 210 and 6-1, 230, respectively), fast and are very effective at coming up in run support.

As much publicity as Moore has gotten for his ability, a player to keep an eye on in this defense is outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The 6-2, 245-pound junior leads the Tigers in tackles (65), TFL (13) and interceptions and has been basically everywhere for Missouri this season (think Roddrick Muckelroy).

Up front is where the Tigers may be best on defense (which contributes to their bend-but-don't-break. stop-'em-in-the-red-zone style). Three of the four starters are seniors and there's plenty of size in the middle, with a pair of 300-plus pound DTs clogging up running lanes. The player to watch, though, is 6-5, 250-pound DE Stryker Sulak. The senior has four sacks on the year and has the skill set to add more.

As important as the match-up between Orakpo and Fisher is, the match-up between Sulak and Texas LT Adam Ulatoski may prove equally important.


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