Think way back to the summer when the Golden Nugget put out lines on a few select games for the upcoming season. The linesmakers set Oklahoma as a seven point favorite against Missouri.
Since then, the Sooners and Tigers have taken care of business, both teams entering this contest with undefeated records. So, what has changed since June to bring this game closer to a toss-up?
OU hasn’t exactly been its typically dominant self this season, despite the spotless record. Meanwhile, Mizzou has put in a series of surprisingly strong performances, including last week’s beatdown of Texas A&M in College Station.
The Sooners have owned the Tigers. Not just in the past couple years – more like decades. What’s it going to take for Missouri to end all that misery? Keep an eye on…
1. OU’s Jumbo Package
San Diego State nearly upset Mizzou earlier this year behind the running of freshman stud… The Aztecs rolled up 250 yards on the ground, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.
Expect OU to make DeMarco Murray a big part of the game plan, using big personnel groupings to give the offensive line extra help. Offensive coordinator may even dust off the package with three tight ends that he used to love so much, giving him a chance to get some combination of Trent Ratterree, Trey Millard, James Hanna and Austin Haywood on the field together at the same time.
2. Does Missouri Stack the Box on Early Downs?
Given the run-heavy offensive game plan that I’m expecting to see out of Wilson, it will be interesting to see if Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel opts to bring an extra man or two up to the line of scrimmage obvious running downs.
It sounds good in theory, but that probably means single coverage on Ryan Broyles in those situations. I realize Mizzou’s pass defense has improved significantly this year. However, you won’t find one unit in the country that can handle the best wide receiver in college football one on one. Eventually, Wilson and Landry Jones will exploit that.
3. Personnel on Passing Downs
The late news that wideout Dejuan Miller is gone for the season with a torn meniscus definitely isn’t welcome. However, OU can draw upon a strong stable of pass catchers to fill the void.
Ostensibly, wide receivers coach Jay Norvell will simply shift Cameron Kenney into Miller’s spot as the third man in the receiver rotation. Kenney has continued to struggle with drops when targeted. On the other hand, he’s probably the best blocker of OU’s receiving corps, and that is saying something.
Additionally, Wilson could leverage the fact that the Sooners use multiple looks and personnel groupings to make up for Miller’s absence. Mizzou’s strong pass rush may dictate that OU goes max protect more often, anyway, which means Miller might not have seen as many snaps this week if healthy.
4. Missouri’s Run Game Creativity
Against anyone not named McNeese State or the Redhawks, the Tigers have had problems moving the ball on the ground. Gary Pinkel’s pass-happy scheme is more “dating” the running game than “committed” to it, and Mizzou has been quick to ditch any serious efforts to run the ball in the past.
That might work against Colorado or Illinois, but defensive coordinators worth their salt love facing one-dimensional offenses. We saw the success Will Muschamp had last week, for example, in stopping Nebraska.
Mizzou offensive coordinator Dave Yost has to at least make the Sooner D respect the run. I’d look for misdirections, reverses and wildcat packages to keep OU honest.
5. Is Missouri Actually Too Amped?
Need an idea of just how excited people are in Columbia for this game? Nearly 20,000 showed up for ESPN GameDay this morning. (Supposedly half of them are staying at our buddy Bill Connelly’s house this weekend.)
This game is a huge, gigantic, enormous deal for the entire Mizzou program. Somewhere along the way, the story surrounding this game has become more about Missouri gunning for the biggest win in program history than Oklahoma facing a challenging road test. That’s even after the Sooners were ranked No. 1 in the latest BCS standings.
At this point, it just feels like Missouri needs this win.
It actually reminds me a lot of last week’s Nebraska-Texas game. Unfortunately for the ‘Huskers, we all saw how that turned out – fumbles, drops, penalties, missed tackles.
If the Tigers comes out too hot, they definitely could lose their poise should breaks go against them early.
We can talk about style points and skin-of-their-teeth wins, but the real difference in the perception of this matchup is defense – Missouri’s appears better than expected, OU’s looks worse.
Mizzou has yet to face a multi-dimensional offense of the Sooners’ caliber, though. OU’s attack isn’t as explosive in years past, but the Sooners boast tremendous balance. They can beat you on the ground and through the air. Wilson has done a masterful job at keeping quarterback Landry Jones in rhythm and masking the deficiencies of OU’s offensive line with rollouts, screens and quick-hitters.
For Missouri, the key to this game is the defensive line. Although he has played better this year, Jones showed in 2009 that he’s definitely susceptible to pressure. Mizzou could hurry the ‘Stache into some mistakes that lead to cheap points. Also, the front four has to control the line of scrimmage on first down to keep OU behind the chains.
This is a good Mizzou team, but it’s still not on the Sooners’ level. As always, that means the Tigers will be relying on opportunities presented by OU miscues.
All in all, the Sooners are more talented at just about every position. Equally important, they’re battle-tested.
I’ll take that over enthusiasm.
Sooners 30, Tigers 21.