COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team is looking at the coming month as an opportunity to belatedly meet the expectations it set at the beginning of the season.
“When you lose three games, not a lot of teams get the chance to bounce back from that,” cornerback Trey Hobson said. “But we get to play three ranked opponents, and I feel like if we can do our job, we’ll be right back where we wanted to be.”
Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0)
at Missouri (3-3, 1-2)
When: 11 a.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium
Radio: KCMQ/96.7, Tiger Network
Rankings: Oklahoma State ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, No. 4 in BCS standings
Coaches: Gary Pinkel, 153-89-3 career record, vs. Mike Gundy, 53-29 career record. Gundy has defeated Pinkel in two of their three meetings.
All-time series: 28-22, Missouri
Players to watch: Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game. Missouri running back Henry Josey leads the conference with 119.5 rush yards per game.
Offensive fireworks: The Cowboys are averaging more than 49 points per game, the best mark in the Big 12. Missouri is the conference’s top-ranked rushing team, gaining 236.5 yards on the ground per game.
It starts Saturday when Missouri (3-3) hosts Oklahoma State (6-0), which has the most potent offense in the Big 12, leading the conference in both points and yardage per game.
The game is the first of a tough stretch, which continues the following week at No. 17 Texas A&M before heading to Baylor and hosting Texas.
But Oklahoma State is the most fearsome of the bunch, ranked No. 4 in the initial BCS standings and No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Another undefeated team from the Sooner State
The state of Oklahoma has had a habit of producing dominant opponents for the Tigers in recent years. Earlier this season, the Tigers were in Norman, where they fell to the then top-ranked Sooners. The high-powered Oklahoma offense might be the closest thing Missouri has seen to the Cowboys so far this fall. Both teams can rack up the points.
What similarities do the Tigers see between the Cowboys and Sooners? Quarterback James Franklin, who is rightfully focusing on the defensive aspect of his opponents, said there were definitely some.
“Something to take away, though, is just kind of how OU had good players, Oklahoma State has good players,” Franklin said. “Some people would say that Oklahoma State’s defense isn’t as good as OU, but they’re still physical and they’re still tough and they still play at that kind of level that makes you maybe second guess how you perform.”
Missouri versus top-ranked opponents
Seeing Oklahoma State’s single-digit ranking is nothing new to the Tigers, who have faced plenty of highly ranked opponents in recent years.
Five times since the 2008 season, Missouri has gone up against a team ranked in the top five. All five of those games were against Texas or Oklahoma. Only once has Missouri emerged victorious: last year’s Homecoming upset against No. 1 Oklahoma.
More often than not, Missouri has faltered against these teams, who all exhibited talented offenses. They allowed a total of 122 points to No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Oklahoma in a pair of losses in 2008.
“We’ve seen some offenses in this league over the years that have been very explosive,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “We have four or five offenses in this league right now that are really explosive, so (Oklahoma State’s) is one of many we are going to see. This is just a glimpse. But certainly they are one of the best in the country.”
Stopping the Cowboys
All eyes will be on Missouri’s secondary to see if it can stop the arm of Brandon Weeden — who at 28 is older than 17 current starting NFL quarterbacks — and the hands of receiver Justin Blackmon. The Tigers gave up big plays at Oklahoma and will be looking out for them against the Cowboys.
“When you play good people, they’re going to make some plays,” Pinkel said. “You’re going to (have to) make some plays also.”
Dave Steckel, the Tigers' fiery defensive coordinator, had another take, though.
“Big plays aren’t supposed to happen,” Steckel said. “Sorry.”
Missouri’s defensive line will make it a whole lot easier for the secondary if it can penetrate the Cowboys’ backfield. In six games, Oklahoma State has given up eight sacks, while Missouri’s defense has tallied 14, including three against Iowa State last week.
“The more pressure you put on, the better the secondary plays,” Pinkel said. “The better the secondary plays, the more time the defensive front has — they have an extra second. It works hand in hand together.”
Defensive end and captain Jacquies Smith said because of the additional confidence younger players got from last Saturday's 52-17 win over the Cyclones, they are able to concentrate more on technical details this week.
“The only way you can have confidence is to go out there and get a W,” he said. “It’s tiny tweaks that we have to make to go up against teams like Oklahoma State.”