Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tigers win big on Homecoming, prepare for No. 6 Cowboys' visit

Last Saturday was a good day to be a Tiger.

Skies above were blue, like the fight song says, and Missouri celebrated its 100th Homecoming with a 52-17 win over Iowa State. The weather was perfect, the stadium was sold out, and the Tigers did not commit a single penalty. Nothing would ruin this day in the sun, a portrait of autumn at Faurot Field.

Perhaps soothing some of the pain of the Tigers’ 2-3 start, the win was a critical dose of confidence and success prior to a tough four-game stretch for Missouri (3-3, 1-2 in Big 12 play).

Against the Cyclones (3-3, 0-3 Big 12), Missouri quickly put to rest any notion of an upset. The Tigers came out running, with plenty of carries for dynamic running back Henry Josey, who posted 129 yards on 19 carries.

Missouri scored touchdowns on each of its first four drives to take control of the game at 28-3. The Tigers were much better at converting third downs, doing better on first and second down to make things easier.

Keeping drives going will be critical on Saturday, when No. 6 Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) comes to town (11 a.m. on FX).

Oklahoma State has a powerful offense, a machine led by quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon, who won the Biletnikoff Award last year as the nation’s top receiver. The Cowboys are averaging 49.2 points per game, including 46 per game in Big 12 play.

Oklahoma State’s defense is less accomplished, but defensive coordinator Bill Young is well respected, and he’ll at least keep Missouri honest.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who played for the Cowboys in the 1980s and is the school’s second leading passer, first gained national fame for a memorable postgame rant in defense of a player (“I’m a man! I’m 40! Come after me!”). But now he has won 15 of his last 19 conference games. He’s built a legitimate conference title contender at his alma mater.

These Cowboys will be the best team to face Mizzou this season at Faurot, where the Tigers have won 10 straight, tying for the school’s second-longest home winning streak.

That other 10-game home winning streak? Pesky Oklahoma State ended that one, in 2008. The Cowboys came to Columbia as two-touchdown underdogs, but they knocked off then-No. 3 Missouri 28-23, shattering any Tiger fans’ dreams of running the table following the unforgettable 2007 season in which Mizzou finished No. 4.

Prior to that, Oklahoma State’s last trip to Columbia came in 2004, when the Cowboys rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Tigers 20-17 on Homecoming. Killjoys. As you can see, Missouri owes Oklahoma State one at Faurot Field.

With that history, and both teams’ ability to score in bunches, I’m expecting a wildly entertaining, shootout game. Winning this one will be tough, but if Missouri has an edge in turnovers and establishes its run game like it did against Iowa State, the Tigers have a chance.

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