So sometime around lunch yesterday, it hit me right in the gut just how big tomorrow's game is. I'd been ignoring it as much as possible all week, but it finally zeroed in and punched me in the solar plexus. It's about the national title, it's about the Big 12 title, it's about revenge, it's about getting screwed by the BCS (how bitter would you be watching from the sidelines as Illinois and Kansas played in BCS games?), and it's about the difference between being, in the nation's eyes, Virginia Tech circa '99 (at the very least) and being Boston College or South Florida circa a month or two ago.
Hell, it might even be about having three straight regular season ESPN Gamedays at a Mizzou game (will there be a bigger first-weekend game than a Top 6 or 8 Mizzou team taking on a Top 10 or 12 Illinois team?).
There is so much at stake here, and this is such an evenly matched game. I think I'd be less antsy right now if we were just a clear underdog. Instead, I have firsthand knowledge of how Mizzou matches up (physically, mentally, etc.) with Oklahoma, and I know they can win...and it's driving me crazy.
Tripper? Talk me down...
Much better. It just doesn't matter...it just doesn't matter...
And OU is sooooooooo Camp Mohawk.
Rambling over. Click 'Full Story' for the actual preview.
Mizzou QB vs Oklahoma Defense
Have you ever seen Chase Daniel make the same mistake twice? It's funny...heading into the 2005 season, I was much more optimistic than a lot of media folks and fellow Tiger fans (I always am, I can't help it), and yet I still saw Chase Daniel as the college football version of Tin Cup. He was going to take Mizzou pretty far, but I just knew there would be some game where he threw a pick, got pissed, and tried to make the same throw on the next snap...and kept trying to force passes to the tune of 6 INTs or something.
Instead, we've got someone who really is the college football version of Steve Nash. He distributes the ball insanely well to his multitude of weapons, he makes everybody around him better offensively...and he doesn't play any defense.
Anyway, knowing Chase's desire to atone for mistakes, and knowing how well he's played in every game since OU, I see him playing really, really well tomorrow. And this time he probably won't have Auston English in his face. Edge: Mizzou.
Mizzou RBs vs Oklahoma LBs
This is a weird thing to say considering a) how well Tony Temple has run lately, and b) how poorly (overall) Mizzou ran against OU the first time around, but I really hope Jimmy Jackson gets a healthy amount of touches tomorrow. Temple's got the homerun potential, but Jackson is infinitely more efficient (57.4% success rate to 41.6%), and efficiency is what is needed to keep OU honest against the run. I'm worried that OU will make Temple pay if he dances a bit too much (as he did a bit in the second half against KU). OU's LB corps is built to stop the run--Curtis Lofton and Ryan Reynolds in particular--and even though we only use the run as an element of surprise most of the time...Edge: Oklahoma.
Mizzou WR/TEs vs Oklahoma DBs
For most teams, having somebody like Chase Coffman out or at less than full-speed would put their overall WR/TE unit at a disadvantage. For Mizzou, that just means less of an advantage. Yes, Reggie Smith is a big-game guy, and yes, Nic Harris is an absolute assassin, but...Jeremy Maclin, Martin Rucker, Will Franklin, Danario Alexander, Tommy Saunders, Jared Perry. Edge: Mizzou.
Mizzou OL vs Oklahoma DL
Any time you have two 5-star DTs at your disposal (Gerald McCoy, DeMarcus Granger), chances are, your run defense is going to be pretty stout. Unfortunately for OU, this matchup is all about the pass rush, and without a full-speed Auston English, Edge: Mizzou.
(Besides, how can I pick against Tyler Luellen, after his "I'm #79...and #1 in your hearts" comment at last night's rally?)
Oklahoma QB vs Mizzou Defense
Back on October 13, OU was ridiculously good on 3rd down conversions (71.4%) despite their ground game being held in check for quite a while. That says a lot about their RSFr QB. Granted, Sam Bradford and the OU offense were much better at home than on the road this season, but a) they were fine on a neutral site in Dallas, and b) despite impressive Mizzou ticket sales, you still have to figure that it'll be a 70-30 or 65-35 crowd split for OU...so if crowd support is important to Bradford's success, he'll get plenty of it in the Alamodome. Edge: Oklahoma.
Oklahoma RBs vs Mizzou LBs
Chris Brown is the main offensive reason OU beat Mizzou last time around, yet I almost instinctively find it a relief anytime he's on the field instead of Allen Patrick or (pre-kneecap) Demarco Murray, as the latter two represent the backfield's homerun threats. It's silly of me to think that way, though--Brown is the more efficient runner (51.4%) to Patrick's (45.5%), and the way he ground out the yardage in the fourth quarter effectively iced the game for OU (though the three turnovers obviously helped). And besides that, he's basically OU's Jimmy Jackson, and I just slobbered all over Jackson about five paragraphs ago. Sean "Coach Kilmer" Weatherspoon has been a beast for MU lately, but...Edge: Oklahoma.
Oklahoma WR/TEs vs Mizzou DBs
What do Michael Crabtree and Jordy Nelson have in common? For one, they've both been on a few 1st-Team All-American lists recently. For another, they were both shut down by the Missouri secondary. Whether that's because of double-teams or the exponentially fast development of Carl Gettis, Mizzou is adept at shutting down a team's #1 receiving option, be it Crabtree, Nelson, Marcus Henry, Todd Blythe, Maurice Purify, etc. However, a team's other options can have success if they're any good. Needless to say, Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson, and TEs Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley are pretty good, and this will be a pretty interesting matchup all-around. Mizzou has an advantage in locking down teams' #1s...OU has an advantage because they'll be able to pick on Justin Garrett and Del Howard. Edge: Push.
(If Mizzou can avoid too much damage in Q1, when the OU passing game is by far at its best, this could quickly turn to Edge: Mizzou. But for now, Push gets the nod.)
Oklahoma OL vs Mizzou DL
For the first month of the season, the defensive line was a liability. Eight games later, two Tiger D-linemen found themselves on All-Big 12 teams (Lo Williams on 1st-team, Stryker Sulak on 2nd). What's funny is, you could make a case that Williams has actually been Mizzou's 3rd-best DT over the last month or so (behind Ziggy Hood and Charles Gaines...okay, probably not behind gaines, but Chuck's acquitted himself quite nicely recently). While the momentum began with the Nebraska game, it was against OU that the line truly started to prove something, as OU could not move the ball on the ground for the first three quarters.
This really will be one of the most important matchups of the game if last week's OU offense is any indication. Even in the process of trying to exploit Mizzou's weakness at strong safety, I still expect OU to pound and pound with Patrick and Brown if given the opportunity. However, I just haven't been altogether impressed by OU's O-line recently. And Mizzou's DL just keeps getting better. I'd never have guessed I'd be saying this a couple months ago, but...Edge: Mizzou.
Another game with a lot of volatility in the special teams matchup. In Garrett Hartley, OU's got a place-kicker who can kick touchbacks--a great weapon to have against Jeremy Maclin--and a strong-if-a-bit-schizo FG threat; OU also has a solid duo of punters. Plus, while Reggie Smith hasn't done much as a punt returner this year, you know he can bust one. However, they're only average in the kick/punt coverage and kick return departments (especially now that Demarco Murray is out).
Meanwhile, last week Mizzou punter Adam Crossett continued his trend of kicking well in the spotlight (he was maddening as kicker in 2005, but boy did he nail that 50-yarder against South Carolina), and Mizzou actually blocked for him too! With a dependable punting unit, this really is a strong special teams unit, with Jeremy Maclin returning kicks/punts and steady-as-you-can-be kicker Jeff Wolfert nailing 40+ yarders.
All that said, I think OU can neutralize the Maclin threat in a windless environment, and I'm still not totally comfortable with the punting, so I say Edge: Push.
I still think that Gary Pinkel has coached pretty well against Bob Stoops over the years, but...Stoops 4, Pinkel 0. And needless to say, he has a bit more experience than Pinkel in Big 12 Championship games. Edge: Oklahoma.
Stoops tried to fire up his troops with the silly "They say they lost the game...I say we won it!" faux-controversy, and I'm sure it did the job. OU's going to play with fire. But this Mizzou team has proven itself week in and week out, and any "rest on your laurels" type of reaction to being #1 has been more than neutralized by a) the lack of respect they've gotten from the national press (and Big 12 coaches...again, feel free to express your displeasure tomorrow, MotherRucker), and b) the fact that they're one freaking game away from the BCS Title Game. This goes against every instinct I have, but Edge: Mizzou. SI Jinx and "Big Game Bob" be damned.
So we've got 5-4-2 Mizzou. I surprised myself with this one, being that I had us tied with KU in these categories last week. But what can I say...KU was the last straw for me. I officially believe in this team, and I officially believe that they can overcome whatever OU throws at them. (Total kiss of death, I know.) I told everybody I talked to on Sunday (I was on the phone for about 6 freaking hours) that while I know OU can obviously beat us, I also know that the Sooners are going to have to play really damn well to do so. I have complete confidence in what Mizzou will bring to the table--it will be up to the Sooners to respond.
My stomach may be a nervous wreck right now, but you know what? It's been nervous just about every Friday this year. And as Tripper once told me, this is the year that Fink beats the stomach. Mizzou 31, Oklahoma 24.
(Yes, I realize that most people didn't grow up worshipping Meatballs like I did. It's something I'll just have to live with.)