The word the Missouri football team has been using this week is, appropriately, “challenge.”
That word is a good choice with the Tigers facing No. 9 Texas in Austin.
The challenge will come from a team smarting from an embarrassing 12-0 loss to Oklahoma. The challenge will come from a team that has not lost back-to-back games since 1999.
The challenge will come from one of the most talented rosters in the country. The challenge will come from one of the fastest defenses in the country.
The challenge will come from one of the most storied programs in the country. The challenge will come from a team that has spent 67 straight weeks in the Associated Press poll and has the fourth-best record during the past four seasons.
“We all know how big this game is coming up,” tight end Victor Sesay said. “We’re all looking for the challenge. We went down to Baylor, had a good victory, but it would seem even better if we went down to (Austin), Texas, and have another big victory.”
After the Tigers’ 30-10 victory at Baylor on Saturday night, they begin a stretch of four games that will likely determine whether Missouri will be a competitor for the Big 12 Conference North Championship. The Tigers (4-1, 2-0) are in first place, a game ahead of Nebraska.
A home game against No. 16 Oklahoma State comes next week. Then the Tigers travel to Nebraska on Oct. 30, and play at home Nov. 6 against
defending Big 12 Champion Kansas State.
The Longhorns’ hopes of becoming Big 12 South Champion received a big blow last week against rival and division leader No. 2 Oklahoma. Texas (4-1, 1-1) will need to get help from others to win the division.
“You can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself long when you look at Missouri coming in this weekend,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Our guys have a tremendous amount of pride.”
Though the Tigers scored 30 points at Baylor, they will need to be more efficient. Three times in the first half the Tigers had the ball in scoring position at Baylor but failed to get a touchdown. That inefficiency kept Baylor within a touchdown for most of the half.
They will also need to improve against a unit that the Tigers have done nothing but praise this week.
“Texas has the blue chippers and the good players behind it to execute that perfect defense,” Sesay said.
Said offensive coordinator Dave Christensen: “I don’t see any weaknesses at all.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the unit, which has allowed a Big 12-low six touchdowns. Johnson leads the conference with six forced fumbles and is third with 48 tackles.
That doesn’t mean the Missouri defense will have an easier task.
The Longhorns’ offense will be looking to bounce back from a physical but disappointing performance against Oklahoma on Saturday. The loss snapped a streak of 281 games without a shut out.
Although running back Cedric Benson ran for 92 yards against Oklahoma, he remained the second-best rusher in the Big 12 and the nation, averaging more than 167 yards. He recently became the second-leading rusher in Texas history.
Benson, along with dual-threat quarterback Vince Young, provides Texas with one of the most potent and feared offenses in the Big 12. As a result, Tigers’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said the Tigers need to make the Longhorns a one-dimensional offense.
“You just try to set up your defense so it sets up against their favorite runs and favorite passes and tell your guys this is a great challenge,” he said. “This is one of the best tandems in the country and have guys play with great enthusiasm and intensity.”
Eberflus also called Benson “off the charts in terms of talent.”
The Sooners effectively achieved the goal, stymieing the Longhorns’ rushing game, forcing Young to throw, which he hasn’t often done well. Against the Sooners, he misfired on 15-of-23 passes.
“We’ve got to throw the ball more often and better,” Brown said. “They’re going to have a lot of people around the line of scrimmage, and we’re going to have to hit some receivers in one-on-one situations.”
The Longhorns’ defense had its pride hurt. Oklahoma freshman running back Adrian Peterson carried 32 times for 225 yards, leading the Sooners to 301 rushing yards. The Longhorns were allowing 3.1 yards a carry before the Oklahoma game.
The Tigers have the best defense in the Big 12 and eighth-best in the nation. Their statistics, though, have come against offenses that lack ability compared with the Longhorns’ offense.