The last two times Oklahoma and Missouri met, it was for the Big 12 Conference Championship in football. The two teams played for the conference title in 2007 at the Alamodome in San Antonio and again in 2008 in at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, with Oklahoma winning both times.
When the 6-0 Sooners and 6-0 Tigers go at it this Saturday, it will not be for the conference championship, but the game absolutely will have Big 12 and perhaps national title implications. Oklahoma comes into the game with an additional target on its back after being ranked No. 1 in the first Bowl Championship Series poll of the season. The Sooners are ranked third this week in the USA Today, AP and echoflam.com polls.
Ah, imagine that, another BCS controversy.
Missouri is 11th in the current BCS standings, which rank the teams based on their standing in two human polls (the USA Today coaches poll and the Harris Interactive poll) and the average of six computer rankings. The top two teams at the end of the regular season and conference championship games play for the national championship.
As in the Sooners’ case, the human polls are less favorable to the Tigers. Missouri is ranked 16th by the coaches in the current USA Today poll.
It will be homecoming at Missouri, and the crowd at the “Zou,” as Tigers fans like to call the home environment at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, will be packed in and amped up to frenzied levels. As if the game itself isn’t enough to get everyone pumped up for this clash of unbeatens from the Big 12 North and South, ESPN’s Saturday morning “College GameDay” show will broadcast from the Missouri campus for the first time.
Oklahoma has won its last seven contests with Missouri and 19 of the last 20. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has never beaten a Bob Stoops-coached Oklahoma team. The Sooners lead the all-time series between the two teams 66-23, and there have been five ties.
The last time the Sooners came to Columbia was 2006. On that occasion, 19th-ranked OU was forced to play without its All-America running back Adrian Peterson, who was injured the week before. But the Sooners’ defense picked up the slack, shutting down quarterback Chase Daniel and the then-23rd-ranked Tigers for a big 26-10 road win.
Missouri’s last win over Oklahoma was a 20-6 decision in Columbia in the 1998 season. That was the season before Stoops arrived on the scene.
But past records and performances mean absolutely nothing in this game. The teams are different, the players are different and the times are different.
In recent games between these two teams, the offenses have dominated on both sides. The main difference, particularly in the last seven meetings, has been on the defensive side of the ball, where the Sooners generally have been stronger. Both offenses are strong again this season, but the Missouri defense is markedly stronger this year than it has been in the past, and that could be a determining factor in the outcome of the game Saturday.
On the importance of Saturday’s game with Missouri, Stoops said, “When you go through the year, each game is more important the more you win. That’s the position you want to be in. I know our players have embraced it, they’re excited about it and recognize the challenge that it is.
“If you’re going to have a chance to be a championship team, you need to play these kind of games, and you have to play them well,” the Sooners head coach said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
The Tigers are currently second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing their opponents just over 10 points a game. Through the first six games, the Missouri defensive unit is giving up only 328 yards a game and has been especially stingy in slowing down opposing running games, allowing an average of 117 yards on the ground. This could be an important area of the game to watch, given Oklahoma’s desire to establish its running attack with the Big 12’s fourth leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, shouldering most of the workload.
Speaking to the media on the improvement of the Missouri defense this season, Pinkel said, “I think the greatest asset that we have on defense is that we really play as a team together well. There are a lot of guys that believe in each other and play real well together.”
If the Tigers’star defensive end Aldon Smith is deemed healthy enough to return from a fractured fibula, an already good defense will receive an added boost.
The Missouri offense, led by junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a pair of really talented receivers in T. J. Moe ant tight-end Michael Egnew, will be looking to attack the Sooners’ defense, which has experienced some breakdowns this season, including giving up a number of big plays. Gabbert is averaging 265 yards through the air and has 10 touchdown tosses with only three interceptions. Moe and Egnew are averaging a combined 16 catches per ball game.
It should be pointed out, however, that Oklahoma has played much better on defense its last two games in posting a big win over archrival Texas and a 52-0 whitewash of Iowa State.
The Sooners’ defense is giving up 373 yards a game, most of that through the air, but also has recorded 18 quarterback sacks (second in the conference to Missouri) and is averaging 8.33 tackles-for-loss per game, tied for fifth in the country.
On offense, Oklahoma is led by 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback Landry Jones, who is fourth in the conference in both pass efficiency and passing yardage. His main target is electrifying Ryan Broyles, a junior wide receiver who leads the country in receptions per game (10.2) and is third in receiving yards. Broyles has been on the receiving end of five of Jones’ 14 touchdown passes this season.
Missouri has played very well to start the season, going 6-0 for only the fifth time in school history. The Tiger defense is playing especially well, and the offense has been equally effective and efficient. But Oklahoma by far represents the Tigers’ biggest challenge this year.
Interestingly, the two teams are surprisingly close in most of the major statistical categories.
Although undefeated and ranked in the top 10 from the beginning of the season, the Sooners have been openly criticized because of several close wins in games that were still in doubt in the closing minutes. In closer analysis, it should be noted that Oklahoma has led by 15 points or better in every game it has played this year, and three of the Sooners’ six victories are against teams that presently or at one time during the season were ranked in the top 25 (Texas, Florida State and Air Force).
It is strength of schedule that is largely responsible for Oklahoma’s No. 1 BCS ranking at the midpoint of the college football season.
That No. 1 ranking is sure to get tested on Saturday night in Columbia by a Missouri Tiger team that is hungry for some respect and the chance to show the country that it is capable of beating Oklahoma, regardless of where the Sooners are ranked.
Big 12 Sports Examiner’s pick
Oklahoma 27, Missouri 21
5 things to watch for in this game
- Can the Missouri defense, which is second in the nation in scoring defense and third in the Big 12 in total defense, sufficiently contain Oklahoma’s big-play offensive weapons (DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles)?
- Oklahoma has played in a couple of emotionally charged, high-pressure, high-visibility games already this year. This is Missouri’s first real game of this nature this year.
- Oklahoma’s record away from Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in games QB Landry Jones has started is 6-6.
- Coach Gary Pinkel’s Missouri teams have struggled during his time there against ranked opponents. Pinkel’s record at Missouri against teams ranked in the top 25 is 7-23. Against teams in the top 15, he is 2-12. Since 2004, OU’s Bob Stoops is 17-13 against ranked opponents.
- If the game is close at the end, as it is expected to be, Oklahoma’s field-goal kicking is highly suspect. The Tigers’ field-goal kicker, Grant Ressel, is 10 of 11 in FG tries this year with a long of 50 yards. The Sooners’ field-goal kickers have hit on seven of nine, but are not very accurate from long range.
For more information:
Related Oklahoma-Missouri game preview (from OU’s perspective)
Related Missouri-Oklahoma game preview (from MU’s perspective)
Big 12 Conference official website
Additional Big 12 sport news and commentary