MU football hopes to overcome history, No. 4 Oklahoma

Thursday, December 4, 2008 | 7:54 p.m. CST; updated 11:52 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 4, 2008
Chase Daniel walks the sideline as the Tigers lose to Oklahoma during the fourth quarter of the 2007 Big 12 Championship in San Antonio, Texas.

COLUMBIA — In three tries, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has yet to find a way to beat the Oklahoma Sooners. In five tries, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has never defeated Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

Daniel and Pinkel are far from the only ones in black and gold that the Sooners have tormented.

It’s been a full decade since the Tigers last won a game against Oklahoma, a 20-6 win in Columbia. In 18 of the past 19 contests between the schools, the Sooners have triumphed, and rarely has the game been close. Only three of those 18 Tiger losses were decided by a touchdown or less.

And the last time the Tigers beat the Sooners anywhere besides Columbia? Pinkel was a high school freshman in Ohio when Missouri went to Norman, Okla., in 1966 and beat Oklahoma, 10-7.

The Tigers will have history working against them when they play the No. 4 Sooners in the Big 12 Conference championship game on Saturday in Kansas City.

“Obviously, it would be a huge win for us,” linebacker Brock Christopher said. “Beating Oklahoma’s a tough task, no matter where you’re playing or what year you’re playing, it’s always going to be huge. We know it’s going to be a tough game, we’ve got to play a lot better than we did last week.”

Daniel didn’t want to talk about the Sooners, electing instead to read the merits of the Tigers off a list of statistics. But he didn’t hesitate to label this as an important game.

“There’s not much more important in our guys’ lives than this game,” Daniel said. “This is the biggest game that we’ve played in, the biggest game they’ve played in to date.”

Bigger than last year’s win over Kansas to seal the Tigers’ first North Division championship? Bigger than last year’s game against Oklahoma, when a win would have sent Missouri to the national championship game?

Daniel didn’t specify, but as the last chance for the most successful class in Missouri football history to beat Oklahoma and prove itself outside the North Division, that would be a reasonable statement to make.

“Hopefully, we make the third one a good one,” defensive tackle Ziggy Hood said, referencing Missouri’s two losses to the Sooners last year. “We’re just trying to end on a good note. A win this Saturday would be bigger than anything else, not just for a bowl or for a championship. It’s for pride, basically for us, for Missouri and for the football team.”

Daniel said a victory would only be appropriate for the Tigers.

“It just means that we reached all our goals that we set out to reach,” Daniel said. “Our goal from day one was to win a Big 12 North championship and play for the Big 12 championship. That’s what we’re doing, and our goal was also to win a Big 12 championship.”

But when pressed, Daniel couldn’t ignore the Sooners’ dominance of the Tigers.

“Obviously, look at our past and they’ve got the best of us,” Daniel said. “They’ve beat us so many, I don’t know how many times in a row. We’ve got to find ways to get better.”

One of those ways could be experience. Last year, Missouri had never played in the Big 12 championship game before, and in its first appearance, its No. 1 ranking was on the line. By contrast, Oklahoma had limited national pressure and was the defending Big 12 champion.

This year, the Tigers say past experience has neutralized at least one of the Sooners’ strengths.

“A lot of guys have played, they’ve already played Oklahoma,” defensive end Stryker Sulak said. “We’re not really seeing too many new things. Some of the things that might have worked last year, we can try to duplicate this year.”

Missouri will have to pressure Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, something few teams have accomplished this season. The Sooners’ offensive line has kept Bradford upright, and as a result, Oklahoma’s offense has put up outstanding numbers.

“This year, he doesn’t get sacked, and he’s so mobile,” Sulak said. “He’s really opened that up, and receivers have been open for him to throw to.”

Given Missouri's struggles against good passing offenses and the loss of cornerback Castine Bridges, who suffered a torn meniscus against Kansas, the Tigers are in a tough situation.

But after the way the Tigers lost to the Jayhawks, fear of the Sooners has no presence in their locker room. Instead, the Tigers want the chance at redemption.

“I’m very excited,” wide receiver Danario Alexander said. “This couldn’t come at a better time. It would mean a lot (to beat Oklahoma), but we’ve got to play our best game. We’ve got to play mistake-free football.”

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