Demarco Murray and the Sooner rushing attack will be key for OU against Missouri
Before a college football season begins, media and fans love to scour over schedules picking out key matchups and games that need to be 'circled' on the calendar, while in the land of coach speak this is generally downplayed or not talked about at all in favor of only looking as far as the next weeks opponent. It could be assumed, however, that as the college football season rolled into early October, the date of the 23rd was getting quick glances and mental notes by Sooners and Tigers alike. By the time the season passed the midway point, with both squads still sporting zeros in their loss columns, it even got the Eastern Sports Promotional Network to look up from their SEC plates and declare "We're heading to Columbia!". Oklahoma and Missouri will renew their rivalry on Saturday for the 94th time with the same goal of staying unbeaten, but with different causes for that circle on the calendar.
There could be many reasons to explain why every time EA Sports pushes out a new NCAA football game, and I happily scroll through teams checking out all time statistics, I sit staring perplexed at the screen when it lists OU and Mizzou as rivals. The first thought, as another year has passed, is the dreaded 'college football memory loss'. I easily dismiss this because it doesn't exist, and give the brain a quick rivalry workout. For Oklahoma, it's Texas and the Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma State and the Bedlam Series, and I even allow the traitor Huskers for another year. Missouri? There's Kansas and the Border War (Showdown for all of you subscribing to the 'kittycat-ification' of America, or reading out loud and forgot your earmuffs), Illinois for bragging rights, Nebraska...and I believe they play Iowa State for a telephone. Hmmm. With the brain failing to come up with a memory of such a rivalry I had to dig deeper. Upon further investigation I found that not only is it a rivalry, there is a trophy of sorts. A 'Tiger-Sooner peace pipe'. How could it be that being an admitted college football fanatic, and Native American that I forgot a rivalry AND a peace pipe? The first explanation I could come up with was to blame the Big 12 (very popular these days) and the 'every other two years' scheduling that has taken place between north and south teams since 1996. Pretty easy to dilute a rivalry if you put it on hold every two years (*ahem* Nebraska). I was just about ready to be satisfied by that conclusion when I ran across some numbers...65-23-5, 7, 19, & 20. The first group of numbers is the overall record in the series (OU), the second number is the amount of times in a row OU has won over Missouri, and the last two numbers is the times, out of the last 20, that Oklahoma has beaten Missouri. I have to admit that I was a little shocked by it. I've kept track of the Stoops/Pinkel series and was aware of the 7 straight, but 19 out of the last 20 seemed off, assuming Missouri would have won a few between the train wreck of coaches with Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake, but that goes back to the Big 12 scheduling. Coach Jim Beam got the Tigers in his only year in '95, and Blake only ended up having to play them once in 3 years (Mizzou's last win in '98). None of these stats have any effect on the 2010 edition, but it might explain the aforementioned calendar circling by OU in regular black sharpie, while Missouri chose the not as popular sharpie pitchfork which writes with the fires of hell.
While past games and seasons don't put any points on the scoreboard for Saturday, you have to think it would creep into the minds of Tiger fans and possibly coaches if things start to go south. Four times between 2006 and 2008 Oklahoma and Missouri met, twice for the Big 12 championship on a neutral field, and once apiece on their homefield. Twice in one year alone (2007) Missouri came in ranked number 1 and left losers both times. In 2006 OU ended their 8 game home winning streak that went back to '05, and Bradford and crew did whatever they wanted in 2008 in a 62-21 pasting. The general thought by prognosticators going into each game was that it would be an offensive shootout. What happened goes to my theory of OU defenses against mobile or classic drop back style quarterbacks. If the quarterback wears cement cleats, the smart money is on OU's D controlling the game (FSU 47-17), but if he can scramble to make a play it's a toss up (Air Force 27-24, Cinci 31-29). Blaine Gabbert appears to be a little bit of both. He is more elusive than Ponder of FSU, but not the speed and quickness of a Diondre Borrel of Utah St.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that once again a focus will be made on the two offenses in this game. Landry Jones of OU and Gabbert are having phenomenal seasons thus far. Jones has gone 163-242 for 1,791 yards 14 TDS with 3 interceptions, while Gabbert has passed for 1,591 yards on 151-227 while throwing for 10 touchdowns and also only 3 interceptions. The rushing game should be in OU's favor as Demarco Murray has rushed for 663 yards and 11 touchdowns while Josey leads Mizzou with 255 yards although it is important to note he's churning out a 7.1 average on only 36 carries. Ryan Broyles has also been a consistent star for the Sooners at wideout snagging 61 catches for 700 yards and 5 touchdowns, while T.J Moe is nothing to sniff at for the Tigers catching 50 passes for 589 yards and 3 touchdowns including the game winning sprint down the sidelines in the final seconds to beat San Diego State.
It's tough to judge exactly how the game will turn out based on the 6 games each team has played. Both the Sooners and Tigers have had close calls. Both received what, in hindsight, was unfair criticism for said close calls. They don't have a like opponent yet on the schedule, however two of the teams that gave each a scare played each other with San Diego State beating then 23rd ranked Air Force last week 27-25 for whatever that is worth. A raucous crowd will be on hand as well as the Gameday crew in the morning, and a national television audience. It will be Oklahoma's first true road test of the season (although Texas in Dallas and Cinci at the Bengals home seem adequate) while the Tigers left the state of Missouri for the first time whipping the stumbling Aggies in College Station last week 30-9. The questions haven't completely been answered for Landry Jones on the road. Even after OU breaking Texas' two game hex, and staying cool under pressure against the Bearcats haven't squelched all critics (mostly OU fans) still having nightmares of that night in Lincoln or the near disaster against the Longhorns. This will no doubt be Gabberts toughest outing and I expect the Sooner D to rattle him at times. The key for him and the Tigers will be if they can get a sufficient run game going to allow some play action to work. This will be a tight game going into the fourth quarter. I'm guessing OU comes out and builds a 7 to 14 point lead early, but then Missouri getting within 7 or 3 throughout the rest of the game. Look for it to be 24-20 or 24-17 in the fourth with OU putting a clock draining drive to get to 31. In the end Oklahoma's D will put a couple of stops or take aways at key moments late in the game. Oklahoma-31 Missouri-20