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Tigers prepare for a shootout

Friday, October 24, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:35 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Memorial Stadium might as well be the OK Corral because this one is bound to be a shootout.

When Texas Tech (5-2, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) comes to town to take on Missouri (5-2, 1-2) for homecoming at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, there should be plenty of scoring.

Texas Tech brings in the nation’s best offense, averaging 627.4 yards and 47.1 points. Only North Carolina State has held the Red Raiders to fewer than 42 points, beating them 49-21.

Although Missouri’s offense has struggled at times, that hasn’t been the case when the Tigers play at home. The Tigers have averaged 39.7 points in their three home games and are 3-0 at Memorial Stadium.

The defenses, on the other hand, leave something to be desired, especially Texas Tech’s. The Red Raiders are last in the Big 12 and 113th in the nation in total defense, allowing 490 yards per game.

Tigers tailback Zack Abron struggled mightily against the vaunted Oklahoma defense, gaining 11 yards on 10 carries. For Missouri’s offense to be successful, Abron must get back on track, and the Red Raiders provide the perfect remedy. Texas Tech allows an average of 189.6 rushing yards, the second-most in the Big 12.

What the Red Raiders lack on defense they more than make up for on offense. Texas Tech leads the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring. Quarterback B.J. Symons leads the nation in eight categories, including passing yards (3,506) and touchdown passes (32).

For the second straight week, the Tigers face the nation’s top-scoring team, with Texas Tech taking the top spot from No. 1 Oklahoma.

“It’s pretty staggering what they do on offense,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “They are very, very impressive. Symons is probably playing as good as any quarterback I’ve ever seen.”

Missouri outside safety Dedrick Harrington said pressuring the quarterback, covering well and not missing tackles are the keys to containing the Red Raiders’ offense.

“I like to think our defense is gonna be the one that stops them,” Harrington said.

Despite ranking in the top half of the conference in most defensive categories, the Tigers’ defense is susceptible to lapses. The Tigers allowed Oklahoma to score 21 points in a six-minute span to end the first half, but they held the Sooners to three

points in the second half.

To have a chance at keeping up with Texas Tech, Missouri needs more of the latter and none of the former.

“I think that kind of lapse against any football team can hurt you,” Pinkel said. “You can’t do that against anybody.”

Defenses must be especially attentive against Texas Tech, though, because the Red Raiders can score in a hurry. Against Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Red Raiders scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, nearly pulling off a comeback win before falling 51-49.

Oklahoma State jumped to a 34-14 halftime lead against the Red Raiders. The Cowboys did it by putting pressure on Symons, despite sometimes rushing only two or three defenders.

When the Cowboys’ front couldn’t reach Symons, he made them pay, throwing for 552 yards and five touchdowns.

Symons likes to throw to his first read, so when that man isn’t open and the defense flushes him from the pocket, Symons is more apt to make bad decisions.

“We know they’re going to pass the ball,” Missouri cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell said. “We have to come out with a good game plan, tackle, most importantly, and try to get pressure on him to confuse him a little bit.”

Symons works out of a three-step drop and delivers the ball within three seconds of the snap, so he doesn’t give the defense much time to reach him. To buy the pass rushers more time, the Tigers’ secondary needs to keep tight coverage on Texas Tech’s receivers. When those receivers catch the ball, the Tigers must wrap them up and take them down.

“Most of their yards come on yards after the catch,” Mitchell said. “If we tackle the receiver with the ball, I think we can hold them down. He might throw for 300, but then we can get the win.”

The Tigers need to jump to an early lead and make Symons play catch-up, which he does well.

Symons, one of seven finalists for the Johnny Unitas Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback, has thrown 18 of his 32 touchdown passes in the second half. No lead is safe against Texas Tech, but it’s good to have a lead regardless.

If the game is close throughout, it’s likely that the team that scores last will win, and no team scores more than Texas Tech.


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