Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tigers face big test at No. 1 Oklahoma Saturday

Last week, it couldn’t get much easier for the Missouri Tigers (2-1), who rolled to a 69-0 win at home against Western Illinois. That tied for the most points Missouri has ever scored, and running back Henry Josey ran 14 times for 263 yards, all in the first half. Truman the Tiger did enough post-score pushups to make Jack LaLanne proud.

This Saturday, however, it couldn’t get much harder for the Tigers, as they travel to Norman, Okla., to take on the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (7 p.m. on FX). Under coach Bob Stoops, the Sooners have been nearly invincible at home, going a ridiculous 73-2 at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, including 37 straight wins.

What’s more, word is the Sooners are itching to avenge their 36-27 loss at Missouri last fall.

But let’s be positive, and realistic. Missouri has very little to lose on Saturday (except for some dignity if the game gets too lopsided), and an enormous amount to gain should they hang with the Sooners or, dare I say, pull the upset.

On the little-to-lose side, almost everyone already thinks Missouri will lose. By the point spread, the Tigers are the biggest underdogs they’ve been since a 2003 game… at Oklahoma. I mentioned Stoops’ home record above, and Big Game Bob has mostly ran roughshod over the Big 12 Conference, posting an 85-19 mark against conference opponents and winning seven Big 12 titles since 2000. (Everyone else in the Big 12 combined during that span: 4 conference titles.)

But, oh, if the Tigers pull the upset. It would possibly be the biggest win in Missouri football history, on the road against No. 1 and a historical nemesis. Missouri hasn’t won in Norman since 1966, dropping 17 straight there.

Also, it’s widely reported Oklahoma may leave the Big 12 to join the Pac-12 Conference. After decades of dominance by the Sooners, wouldn’t Mizzou fans love to send the Sooners scurrying westward, much like Oklahoma’s Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath,” with the Tigers having beaten them twice in a row?

It would take an effort for the ages. Mizzou’s defense, which dominated overmatched Western Illinois, will have its hands full with Oklahoma’s offense. Sooner quarterback Landry Jones is a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, and he’s surrounded by plenty of options, including receivers Ryan Broyles, an All-American, and Kenny Stills. Missouri’s defense will have to dig in and get some big stops. Forcing turnovers is a must. Last year Oklahoma had three trips inside the 15-yard line that didn’t lead to any points, which helped Missouri spring the upset win.

The Sooners defense was outstanding in the team’s 23-13 win at No. 5 Florida State last Saturday. Oklahoma held the Seminoles to a mere 246 yards of offense, including 27 rushing yards on 26 carries. Still, Missouri needs Josey to break free for some big runs to take some pressure off sophomore quarterback James Franklin.

Winning Saturday will be very, very difficult. But it’s still an opportunity for a huge win, and a chance for the Tigers to measure themselves against the best.

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