COLUMBIA — This season is Gary Pinkel's 10th as the head coach of the Missouri football team. In that time, Pinkel's Tigers have played Oklahoma seven times and lost seven times.
Pinkel has built the Missouri program to prominence in the past decade, but a win against Big 12 rival Oklahoma still eludes him.
No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (6-0, 2-0)
at No. 18 Missouri Tigers (6-0, 2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM and 100.5 FM, KCQM/96.7 FM — Mike Kelly (play-by-play), John Kadlec (color), Chris Gervino (sidelines)
TV: ABC Sports — Brent Musburger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
SERIES: Oklahoma leads, 66-23-5, and has won seven straight since Missouri’s last win in 1998.
"I, as a head coach, have never beaten Oklahoma. That's a responsibility that I have, and I've never done it," Pinkel said.
Pinkel will have another chance to fulfill his responsibility Saturday.
Beating the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings, at home, in a nationally televised game would be the proverbial next step for Pinkel's program. Even so, Pinkel, as usual, downplayed the big-picture importance of Saturday's game.
"As I have always told my players, the more you win, the bigger the games get. Your program and winning creates big games, and we're playing a program that years and years outdoes that," Pinkel said. "We have a whole half-season left here."
Pinkel, like all Big 12 Conference coaches, wants to put his program on the same level as the perennial national championship contenders from the Big 12's South division. But in Pinkel's 10 seasons he has an 11-16 record against South division rivals, and his teams have not won a game against the class of the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma.
The Pinkel-led Tigers have been in a lower class than the Sooners, underdogs in every matchup against Oklahoma. Even when the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into the 2007 Big 12 Championship game, Oklahoma was favored to win. On Saturday, Missouri will again be the underdogs.
Success is expected in Norman, Okla., and the Sooners are back to that success in 2010 after stumbling to an 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl victory last season. For some programs, a Sun Bowl victory would cap a great year; for Oklahoma, it was a participation trophy to hide in the case behind the seven national championships.
The 2009 season was full of growing pains for Oklahoma. When Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was injured in the Sooners' first game of 2009, the-redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones was forced into the starting position. A year later, Jones looks poised to win his own Heisman Trophy as the leader of one of the nation's best offenses.
Jones is coming to Columbia with a hot hand. Against Iowa State, Jones completed 30 of 34 pass attempts for 334 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
If Missouri can stop Jones, it still has to contend with Sooners running back DeMarco Murray. The Las Vegas native has been a key contributor in each of his four years, and last week he became Oklahoma's all-time touchdown leader, with 58 scores.
For the first time, Murray is the main running back in Oklahoma's offense and on average gets the ball 28 times per game in that role. Adding production to talent, Murray has made himself the Sooners' No. 1 offensive weapon, equally capable of scoring with a run as with a catch.
"He's a great athlete. He's a great runner," Pinkel said of Murray. "There's so many different things with him. He's the best in the Big 12 without a question."
Offense hasn't been a problem for Oklahoma in 2010. The Sooners' problem has been pass defense. The Oklahoma pass defense is ranked 81st in the nation, and opponents' ability to complete passes against the Sooners has made a handful of Oklahoma's victories close. The Sooners have been scared by nonconference opponents Cincinnati, Air Force and Utah State.
Oklahoma's pass defense will be tested against the pass-happy Tigers. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert attempted 47 passes in Missouri's 30-9 win against Texas A&M.
Gabbert remained in the pocket against Texas A&M, and success followed. Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Bobby Jack Wright said that moving Gabbert out of the pocket will take pressure off the defensive secondary.
“We certainly hope we can pressure him enough to flush him out and then have somebody right there to take care of him,” Wright said. “When I say flush him, I don’t mean flush him out and let him run free by any means. Schematically, we have to flush him out and move him and then have somebody ready for him.”
Oklahoma was able to chase Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder out of the pocket in a Sept. 11 game. The Seminole quarterback had one of the worst games of his college career, completing 11 of 28 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions, and Oklahoma won in blowout, 47-17.