With that fourth quarter against Nebraska nearly removed from my memory bank, I have begun focusing my attention on the Oklahoma State Cowboys, whom the Missouri Tigers (4-1, 0-1) will take on at newly-refurbished Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. CT..
The game will be carried by ESPN2, giving the Tigers their third consecutive nationally televised primetime appearance.
For reasons other than rebuilding its psyche in the wake of the Nebraska letdown, in my opinion, this is the most crucial game of the season for Missouri. The Tigers could desperately use an impressive road win over a ranked opponent to regain respect and gain some footing in the race for the Big 12 North, but self-assurance trumps either of those two concepts.
Head coach Gary Pinkel and the Tigers need to prove to themselves that they're capable of putting together a complete performance for a full 60 minutes—which is something that hasn't happened since the Illinois game—and a victory over an explosive, albeit depleted, Oklahoma State team would fit the bill. A win restores Missouri's confidence level, but a loss would mean an 0-2 in-conference record and, with Texas looming on Oct. 24, all but end the quest for a third straight North title.
The No. 16 Cowboys (4-1, 1-0) began Big 12 play with a solid road win over Texas A&M last weekend. But the town of Stillwater is abuzz with concern about whether all hands will be on deck against Missouri, whom Oklahoma State hasn't beaten at home in its last four tries.
Running back Kendall Hunter, last season's leading rusher in the Big 12, is considered day-to-day with an ankle/foot injury, and All-American Dez Bryant's status for Saturday is still well up in the air following his plea Tuesday for reinstatement from the NCAA.
But the availability of the Cowboys' offensive stars is only one subject of discussion in this edition of Enemy Intel. This week I enlisted the help of Oklahoma State beat writer Brandon Chatmon, who was generous enough to give his thoughts on the season so far, as well as who Missouri fans should worry about in the potential absence of Hunter and Bryant.
RF: Given the unprecedented expectations for this Oklahoma State team, how would you assess the first half of the season? Has anything really jumped out at you, either negatively or positively?
BC: To be honest, the Cowboys have surprised me in a positive way. If I was told they'd lose Kendall for much of the first half of the year, lose Dez right before Big 12 play opened, and have tons of injuries, I would not expect them to have handled all of it this well. They are 4-1 and one tipped pass away from being undefeated and in the top five. Their mental toughness has been very surprising.
RF: Assuming his meeting with the NCAA went well, is there a chance Dez Bryant gets reinstated at some point this season, if at all? And, if so, how soon could we expect him back on the field? What is the situation with Kendall Hunter's ankle/foot looking like?
BC: I lean towards the thought process that Dez won't return. Maybe the NCAA will surprise me and show some empathy, but I'm not holding my breath. Even if they do, I think Texas [on Oct. 31] would be the earliest we would see Dez back out there.
There are plenty of rumors Kendall is hurt worse than OSU is letting on. He's officially day-to-day, and he's been practicing, but it's a matter of how his ankle/foot responds. I'm to the point where I think he's doubtful until he's playing. I've heard too many times that he will likely play, then he doesn't.
RF: What impact has coordinator Bill Young had on the Oklahoma State defense?
BC: A great impact. They are getting a lot more pressure on the quarterback and they are a lot more aggressive. They force turnovers at a better clip and they have confidence they can develop into a good defense as the season progresses.
RF: Even with the likes of Bryant and Hunter on the field, is this OSU team equipped to challenge Texas and Oklahoma for a Big 12 South title? If not, how far away are the Cowboys?
BC: With Bryant and Hunter, the answer is yes. And even without those guys, Texas and Oklahoma aren't exactly running away from the pack right now. I think the fact OSU has Texas at home gives them the chance to knock off the Longhorns. And Oklahoma has plenty of problems of their own. I think OSU has a chance to win the South, but they'll have to play well, and actually get guys back playing and healthy, to knock off both squads.
RF: Can you give Missouri fans a few names to concern themselves with on Saturday, as well as a reason why they might make an impact?
BC: Wide receiver Dameron Fooks: After seeing limited action in the first couple games, Fooks has become a playmaker in the OSU offense.
Safety Markelle Martin: A big, physical safety who also has the talent to match up well with WRs.
Defensive end Richetti Jones: A highly recruited star out of high school, Jones appears to have emerged as a solid pass-rushing threat in the past few games. He had 1.5 sacks against Texas A&M.
RF: These two teams have had a recent history of playing crazy nail-biters, including several that needed overtime. Should we expect the trend to continue? How do you see this one playing out?
BC: Yes. I think it will be a very close game with OSU pulling it out thanks to their special teams play and a turnover or two. With Gabbert at less than 100 percent, I think the Cowboys could get pressure and force him into poor decisions.
Brandon Chatmon is the Oklahoma State football beat writer at The Oklahoman. He also contributes to a blog at the paper, simply named The OSU Cowboys Sports Blog. You can also follow his excellent work via his Twitter page.
Photo credit: Sports Illustrated