Football games are won in the trenches.
Defensive linemen can disrupt offensive schemes by plowing into the backfield, and offensive linemen are the front line marching the football downfield.
Missouri and No. 22 Oklahoma State both excel at running the football, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the lines will determine who wins when the two meet at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“The line of scrimmage is so critical,” Pinkel said. “The line of scrimmage, discussing our offensive line, discussing our defensive line … that’s where it’s all about, that’s where it starts. If you can be good up front, you got a chance to be good on offense or defense. Hopefully as our offensive line gets a little bit better, we can become better on offense.”
Pinkel said he was pleased with his offensive line’s improvement in the Tigers’ 28-20 loss to No. 8 Texas on Saturday after the group experienced some growing pains early in the season.
“We’re getting better,” Pinkel said. “We’ve certainly played some great athletes and we’ve done some good things. The inexperience factor is completely over with now.”
Although the Tigers’ offensive line experienced difficulties at Troy, its defensive counterparts have excelled for most of the season. Pinkel said the defensive line, and the defensive tackles in particular, are key to any high level defense. Missouri (4-2, 2-1) leads the Big 12 Conference in total defense, allowing 266 yards a game.
In its toughest test this season, Missouri slowed the Longhorns’ Cedric Benson, the conference’s top rusher. He rushed for 150 yards, but entered with an average of 167.6 yards a game. The unit now faces Vernand Morency, second in the Big 12 with 163.3 rushing yards per game.
“Morency is compact, shifty,” Pinkel said. “He changes direction well, a little different back than last week. All tailbacks have their own style. But we’re splitting hairs here, talking about two great backs.
“Their running game is second to none. It is as good a running game as I’ve ever seen in college football.”
Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) averages more than 55 rushing attempts per game. The dependence on the run and neglect of the passing game caught up with the Cowboys in their 36-20 loss to No. 17 Texas A&M last week.
After attempting 52 passes through OSU’s first five games, redshirt freshman quarterback Donovan Woods was forced to pass 26 times against the Aggies as the Cowboys struggled to play from behind.
“It’s difficult any time,” Oklahoma State coach Les Miles said. “It makes you throw the football and desire to throw it more quickly and more downfield and not use the clock.”
Pinkel said every team struggles when trailing, and the Tigers focus every game to get an early lead.
“If you get behind a little bit, it puts more pressure on your offense,” Pinkel said. “You want to get as big a lead as you can, if it’s possible, but against their defense that’s difficult to do.”
The Cowboys have allowed 17.5 points per game, fifth in the Big 12. Their defense has excelled at causing turnovers. The Cowboys have forced 17 turnovers, which is tied with Missouri and two behind Kansas.