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Tigers' secondary facing big test against Oklahoma State

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | 9:29 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Promoted on both the first and third page of Oklahoma State football team's media notes this week is the "Weeden2Blackmon" campaign with the Twitter hashtag of #W2B and the slogan, "America's Best Pass-Catch Combo."

The endorsement for quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon seems a little unnecessary. Anyone who has caught a Cowboys game the last season-and-a-half does not need social media's help figuring out how good the combination is. 

Count the members of the Missouri secondary among them. On Sunday they watched film of Oklahoma State’s offense and came away knowing that following this Saturday’s game, there will no longer be uncertainty about their own capabilities. 

"You will know exactly where we stand," cornerback Kip Edwards said. "They throw the ball about 66 times a game."

That is a bit of exaggeration — the Cowboys (6-0) average almost 48 passes a game, second only to Texas Tech in the Big 12 Conference. But better than anyone else in the conference, Oklahoma State tallies passing yardage (395.7 per game) and scores (49.2 points a game).

But with all the hyperbole surrounding Weeden and Blackmon, Edwards should be excused. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel raved about having to rewind game tape over and over again to fully appreciate Weeden's quick release. Asked if he was as taken by Weeden's release as Pinkel, cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford nodded.

"I've had nightmares about him since Saturday night," Ford said.

Then there is the hoopla around surrounding Weeden's age. Edwards noted that the quarterback is older than Blaine Gabbert, the former Missouri quarterback now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This time, Edwards erred with an understatement. Weeden, who played professional baseball for five years after being drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees, is also older than Chase Daniel and Brad Smith, the Missouri quarterbacks preceding Gabbert. He turned 28 last week.

"It's kind of hysterical," cornerback E.J. Gaines said.

"Coach (Barry) Odom was telling us that Weeden's from his era," safety Kenji Jackson said of the 34-year-old coach. "They probably listen to the same music and stuff like that."

Speaking of unusual, ESPN featured Blackmon on its "Sport Science" segment in August, and the receiver demonstrated his ridiculous ability to make catches in awkward positions. After leading the Big 12 in yards and touchdowns last year, Blackmon has averaged more than 100 yards a game and has scored seven times so far this season, even with opponents doing everything they can to stop him.

The only receiver who arguably matches his talent in the conference is Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles — and he caught three touchdown passes against Missouri.

Does Missouri's secondary have to be kind of crazy, signing up to face duos like Weeden and Blackmon?

"Anytime they’re going to pass the ball 50 times a game and have receivers like Justin Blackmon, it’s always fun," Gaines said. " I'd love to cover him." 

Apparently.

Unlike against Kansas State, which does not rely on the passing game, and against Iowa State, which cannot rely on anything, the Missouri secondary will get a sense if it has improved since the loss to Oklahoma four weeks ago.

Ford thinks so. He said the Oklahoma game taught the secondary the hard way that communicating what defense it needs to be in — before the fast-pace offense snaps again — is critical.

"The athletes they have across the board, man, if you're not on top of your game, they can get behind you real fast," he said.

Unfortunately, those athletes are not limited to Blackmon. He accounts for seven of the team's 19 receiving touchdowns, and receivers Josh Cooper and Hubert Anyiam each average more than 50 yards per game.

"That's what so difficult about them, they got a gang-load of receivers," cornerback Trey Hobson said. "You got to account for Blackmon, but their other receivers can hurt you, so it’ll be a game where the whole secondary is going to have to be focused."

Indeed, facing the team in orange and black has the Missouri defense excited, if not a little nervous.

"They're like Halloween," defensive coordinator Dave Steckel deadpanned. "They're scary good."


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