Missouri’s secondary has struggled against quarterbacks who can fill up the stat sheet — namely Purdue’s David Blough (9th in FBS in passing ypg), Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (2nd in passing efficiency) and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur (4th in SEC in completion percentage).
The three combined for 1,086 yards (362 ypg), nine touchdowns and just one interception on 73.5 percent passing.
Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius fits into that upper-echelon group of quarterbacks, as he ranks seventh in the country in passing yards per game (303.5).
Three of his four best games this year came in the Cowboys’ three biggest games of the season: a 48-47 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma (34-53, 501 yds, 3 TD), a 45-41 win over No. 16 West Virginia (30-46, 338 yds, 5 TD) and a 38-35 victory against No. 15 Texas (23-34, 321 yds, 3 TD).
While one has to be impressed with both his numbers and his outcomes in those games, you have to keep in mind the Sooners’ defense ranks 108th in the country, the Mountaineers’ 74th and Texas’ 68th.
Missouri’s defense sits 53rd in the country and would be the third-best unit in the Big-12, sitting behind TCU (26th) and Iowa State (33rd). Oklahoma State lost to both teams by six and seven points, respectively, as the losses were shouldered by Cornelius’ less-than-ideal outings.
The Cowboys’ quarterback completed just 57.6 percent of his passes and was picked off against the Cyclones in one his more ho-hum performances of the year. Then came Oklahoma State’s final game of the regular season: a road trip to Fort Worth to take on TCU. Cornelius was taken advantage of by a strong Horned Frogs defense as he went an abysmal 17-of-40 passing (42.5 percent) for 181 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in by far his worst outing of the season.
By just strictly looking at these match-ups from a statistical standpoint, it’s fairly evident the nation’s 10th-best offense (500 ypg) relies heavily on Cornelius’ production through the air — something we’ve grown accustomed to with Mike Gundy’s offensive scheme.
And while a solid counter-argument to this would be bringing up Missouri’s 105th-ranked pass defense, that would still put the Tigers as the fifth-best Big-12 secondary. Not only that, but Oklahoma State’s offense will be heavily one-dimensional Monday, as Missouri’s 23rd-ranked run defense would be the second-best in the Big-12 behind just Iowa State, who limited the Cowboys to 3.2 yards per carry earlier this season.
The Liberty Bowl will surely be a shootout with two elite offenses going up against one another, but Missouri’s defense has enough players in the front-seven who can come up with enough stops to push this one in the Tigers’ favor.