Focus helped Missouri offensive line get tough against Oklahoma

Monday, October 25, 2010 | 10:05 p.m. CDT; updated 7:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Missouri junior offensive lineman Dan Hoch celebrates after a Tigers touchdown Saturday against Oklahoma.

COLUMBIA — Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert goes to dinner with his offensive line every Thursday. Each lineman orders a pizza, but they usually split the tab and pay their own bills. After the offensive line's performance in Missouri's Saturday win against Oklahoma, Gabbert might feel obliged to pick up the big boys' tabs at their next dinner.

Being an offensive lineman is a bit different, whether it's eating a whole pizza or repeatedly running into other 300-pound men. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said no one is an offensive lineman to be a star, but Saturday, the Tigers' offensive linemen clearly stood out, playing their best game of the season against their strongest test, not allowing a quarterback sack or hurry against Oklahoma. 

Player recognition

What Gahn McGaffie started, Blaine Gabbert finished, and for their performances in Missouri's win against Oklahoma they earned Big 12 Conference Player of the Week awards.

Gabbert was named the Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Week after completing 30-of-42 passes for 308 yards and a score. Gabbert completed 8-of-9 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

He shared the award with Nebraska's Taylor Martinez.

McGaffie returned the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown and received Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

Gabbert was also recognized as one of 16 semifinalists for the 2010 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, announced Monday.

Fans may now help determine which three quarterbacks will advance as finalists by voting as often as once daily at Voting will close at noon Nov. 21.

In online voting, Gabbert is currently fifth with 7 percent of the vote. Auburn's Cam Newton is first with 39 percent.

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Gabbert wasn't the only beneficiary of the offensive line play; Missouri's three-man running back attack averaged nearly five yards a carry.

"They were coming to the sidelines talking about how they were crushing them," freshman running back Henry Josey said Monday. "When I got on the field, I had all the confidence in the world in them."

Gabbert, who had enough time in the pocket Saturday to cook a gourmet meal as well as throw for 308 yards, said the offensive line executed their game plan to perfection.

"They did an awesome job, and that's just a credit to how hard they prepared all week long," Gabbert said. "They knew what they had to do. They knew they were playing high level guys on Oklahoma, but they executed extremely well and won the battle in the trenches."

Winning the "battle in the trenches" is something Missouri was unable to do in the past against Oklahoma during the Gary Pinkel era. The Sooners defensive lines were always bigger, stronger and better than the Tigers' offensive lines, and before Saturday night, Oklahoma had won every game against Missouri since 1998 because of that dominance.

Even with history of failure against Oklahoma, Pinkel said that he expected his experienced offensive line to match the Sooners on Saturday.

"I had a high expectation level for them," Pinkel said. "The protection Blaine had was outstanding. Our run blocking was really good against a really good defensive football team. That's what I think we're capable of. That's what we hope we can get every week."

After watching the game film Monday, junior left guard Jayson Palmgren said Saturday was the best the offensive line has played in his time at Missouri. He credited a new focus in practice to success on the field.

"We really focused on fundamentals during practice, getting better at the little things," Palmgren said. "We know we had the physical capability, we all can get mad and nasty."

That nastiness was critical Saturday. The Missouri offense is built on speed and spacing, but against Oklahoma the Tigers had to get tough.

Late in the fourth quarter, with Missouri up by 9 points, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-1 situation at the Oklahoma 45-yard line. The Tigers could have punted, giving the Sooners the ball and enough time to score twice, but Missouri opted to go for the first down.

The play was a simple quarterback sneak with Gabbert under center. The Tigers' linemen and Sooners' linemen went facemask to facemask over the ball, everyone with both hands on the ground, ready to pop up and hit the man in front of them backward.

For the past decade, the Sooners won those 1-yard plays. Saturday, the Missouri offensive line was victorious, pushing the pile forward. Gabbert got the first down, securing the win for the Tigers.

It was an aggressive, nasty play, the kind Palmgren said every offensive lineman lives for.

"I'm a run blocker, I love hitting people," said Palmgren, who wears his hair in a Mohawk under his helmet. "We got in a four-point stance and fired off, just to get an inch. I love that."

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Drew Warner October 25, 2010 | 11:46 p.m.

As a die hard OU fan, last Saturdays game really hurt and knocked us out of championship contention. But as a fan of college football, who enjoys watching a team play the game with class and heart, I must say congratulations to Missouri on the victory. Hopefully both of us will run the table and we'll meet again in the Big 12 championship. And hopefully you guys will build on the success and give us a rival up north for years to come. Boomer Sooner!

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