COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team is plenty excited about Saturday’s game against Oklahoma.
“You can’t get anymore hyped up,” senior safety Kenji Jackson said. “You don’t need anyone to bite a head off of a chicken.”
Bite a head off of a chicken?
“Coach (Gary) Pinkel says this,” Jackson explained. “He uses it as a little saying. He uses it to say ‘sometimes you don’t need that experience to get you going; you’ve got to be a self-starter.’”
Jackson was quick to clarify that no one on the team has actually done anything to a chicken, but the message is clear. There are plenty of things to motivate Missouri as it attempts to defeat Oklahoma twice in a row for the first time under Pinkel.
The Tigers are heading into Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, a hostile environment where the Sooners have lost just twice since Bob Stoops took over as head coach in 1999. Oklahoma is the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Missouri players said they are sure the Sooners are gunning for them after the Tigers upset Oklahoma last season in Columbia.
Most everything went right for Missouri in that game. The Homecoming win was one of the biggest the Faurot Field faithful had ever seen. The field was rushed, and the goalposts were whisked away. The win sparked celebration, vaulted Missouri into the top 10 in the rankings and kept the Tigers undefeated.
A year later, the Tigers are set to square off with the team they upset on that October day in 2010. And, once again, Oklahoma is ranked No. 1.
Top rankings aren’t surprising when you’re a college football powerhouse like the Sooners. And though that skinny number in front of the name of this week’s opponent hasn't seemed to intimidate the Missouri players, the circumstances are different than they were last season.
Unlike recent years, the Tigers have played a challenging game on the road before heading into their first conference road game. Their trip to Tempe, Ariz., provided a loud environment packed with more than 70,000 opposition fans.
“It really helps us out,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out victorious in the end, but it was a huge game, nationally televised, 70,000 fans there, a road game for us. It helped us to help see who we are, in a way. Now we know we can’t bring that same type of intensity. We’ve got to bring more to this game.”
The setting won’t be the only difference. Although the Sooners have the same ranking entering this year’s game, the Tigers do not. Everyone remembers the upset, but Missouri wasn’t a major underdog. Missouri entered that game ranked No. 11 in the country.
This season, the Tigers are not ranked and have a 2-1 record. This year’s game is the conference opener, so records might not seem like much, but after losing their second game of the year at Arizona State, the Tigers fell out of the top 25 rankings and haven’t returned after defeating Western Illinois 69-0.
A pair of Missouri wide receivers presented differing opinions on the Sooners on Monday. Junior T.J. Moe said Oklahoma didn’t have any weak spots. Senior Jerrell Jackson’s view was slightly different.
“I don’t know what makes them tough,” Jerrell Jackson said. “There isn’t anything tough about them to me. I’m just watching film. I’m going to attack them like I attack every other opponent.”
Kenji Jackson said the high speed with which the Sooners run their offense is the main thing that makes them so dangerous offensively.
“The tempo is why other teams can’t hang with them because they can’t even get lined up to run a play,” Kenji Jackson said. “On top of that, they’ve got stud running backs, and they’ve got a quarterback that can throw the ball downfield, too."
Although some Tigers players, such as Moe, said there’s no correlation between last year’s game and this year’s, others, like Kenji Jackson, said that because Missouri beat Oklahoma once, it means it can happen again.
Although two key players from last year’s upset victory have had to deal with injuries this season, they should be ready to play against the Sooners.
Jerrell Jackson, who caught nine passes for 139 yards and a touchdown against the Sooners in 2010, returned to the field against Western Illinois. Wide receiver Gahn McGaffie, who took back the opening kickoff of last year’s game 86 yards for a touchdown, will be available for his first action of the season Saturday in Norman.
Senior defensive lineman Dominique Hamilton was injured during last year’s game. He was on crutches when fans rushed the field and said he was almost knocked over. He’s looking forward to playing a whole game this time around.