You get the sense that if the Missouri Tigers(2-1) had knocked off Arizona State in week 2 that their looming match-up with Oklahoma (2-0) would be getting a lot more attention. While some people have forgotten about the Tigers' 11-point win against the Sooners in 2010, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has not. "They were tougher than us," he admitted.
Oklahoma defensive back Tony Jefferson agreed: "They got after us last year. There's nothing we can say to defend that."
While Missouri comes off a 69-0 bore over Western Illinois, Oklahoma has the tall task of getting up emotionally two weeks in a row, after pulling out a 23-13 win at Florida State last Saturday. But you can bet that they'll be up for the challenge, as last year's road loss to Missouri occured while Oklahoma sat on top of the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Missouri Offense vs. Oklahoma Defense
First, the good news. So far, Missouri sophomore quarterback James Franklin has given the Mizzou faithful little reason to miss Blaine Gabbert, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Franklin is completing 65% of his passes and has thrown for 6 touchdowns and only one interception. He is also the team's second leading rusher. Missouri running back Henry Josey burst for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half, although his dominance against Western Illinois will have little bearing against a stingy Oklahoma defense. Likewise, Missouri's 10th-best team rushing average is probably significantly inflated after playing an outmatched Division I-AA opponent last week.
Now, the bad news. Oklahoma has the best defense of any team Mizzou has faced this season, and may prove to be the best defense it faces all year. In two games this year--one against a very good Florida State team--Oklahoma is giving up 13.5 points a game. The Sooners picked off three Seminole passes last week, and sacked two different quarterbacks a total of six times. The defense is led by defensive end Ronnell Lewis (15 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss) , who survived an academic scare that had him on the brink of inelgibility for the 2011. But in the first two Oklahoma games, he has shown why NFL scouts are drooling over him.
Missouri Defense vs. Oklahoma Offense
One of the most telling reasons why Missouri beat Oklahoma last year was because they did not allow the Oklahoma passing game to work in the 4th quarter. If the Missouri secondary's effort against Arizona State is any sign at all, do not expect a repeat performance for Missouri's defense this year. They are only giving up 14 points a game, but the best team they've played put up 37 against them. In that game, Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler carved the Mizzou defense up for 388 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Oklahoma's Landry Jones is better than Osweiler, and he has better weapons surrounding him. Junior running back Dominique Whaley is averaging about 5 yards a pop and senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles (21 receptions, 1 touchdown) has established himself as Jones' favorite target. I would not be surprised if the Sooner offense becomes one of the most-balanced offenses in the country, and that balance will give the Tiger defense all sorts of problems.
Special Teams Match-Ups
I mention special teams mainly because if Missouri is to have any chance in the game, they will need a boost from special teams. Kicker Grant Ressel's late-game missed field goal against Arizona State comes to mind here. Mizzou cannot afford any such gaffes against one of the nation's best teams. Aside from a late-game punt return for a touchdown last week, Mizzou has not looked threatening in the return game. Of course, neither has Oklahoma. Chances are, if Mizzou could pull out a win Saturday, it would be in a high-scoring affair and a lot of offense, but when punter Trey Barrow (48.5 yards per punt) is on the field, he must continue his stellar form to help the Tigers win the field position battle.
The Sooners have won 37 straight games at home and has only lost 2 games there with Bob Stoops as their head coach. Stoops is 6-1 against Gary Pinkel-led Missouri teams. Both teams have played one quality opponent, and Oklahoma fared better in that game than did Missouri. Even if Landry Jones has not yet lived up to his Heisman candidacy, he is definitely the more tested of the two quarterbacks. Saturday's game may be the one in which we find out just how good developing Missouri quarterback James Franklin really is against a proven Oklahoma defense. I think the offense will struggle early against the first quality defense they've seen this season.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Missouri 17