This is the first of two road games on Oklahoma's schedule that scare the crud out of me. Missouri is a team that lost to Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor in conference before getting hammered by Navy (35-13) in the Texas Bowl. However, they're returning a second year quarterback, a senior running back and one of the top pass rushers in the Big 12. Add to that the recent history/renewed rivalry between these two teams and the Missouri crowd is going to be out for blood with the memory of the 62-21 loss in the 2008 Big 12 championship game still on their minds. Looking at it from a little more than three months away, this is a game where Oklahoma needs to gain control early.
In 2009 the Missouri Tigers were fifth in the Big 12 in scoring offense with an average of 30.3 points per game. However, in their five losses they only scored an average of 9.8 points per game with the most being 17 in the loss to O-State. They were fourth in passing with an average of 285 yards per game and eighth in rushing with 132.2 yards per game.
Danario Alexander led the way for the Tigers in receiving last year. He hauled in 113 passes for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 137 receiving yards per game. While Jared Perry produced less than half of Alexander's stats (46 receptions/696 yards/6 touchdowns) last season, he was still the team's second leading receiver leaving Missouri looking to replace their #1 and #2 passing options. Junior Jerrell Jackson now returns as the team's leading receiver from 2009. He posted 37 receptions for 458 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One thing we've learned about the Missouri Tigers is that they'll find someone to throw the ball to. In addition to Jackson Missouri also has Wes Kemp with game experience. So the cupboard isn't bare for Blane Gabbert and with four of five offensive linemen returning he should have a good wall of protection in front of him. Gabbert completed 58.9% of his passes last season for 3,593 yards and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 24/9. He's going to have to find a new go to guy to replace Alexander but we should at least see his completion percentage increase and, if maturity has set in, interceptions decrease.
My biggest question offensively is how much they're going to use Derrick Washington? Obviously I'm on the outside looking in but you've got a kid who averages 4.6 yards per carry and he only gets about 14 carries per game. He's also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield (26 receptions last year) and should play more of a key role in the Missouri offensive attack in 2010.
Sean Weatherspoon was the Missouri defense. He's been Missouri's leading tackler for the last three seasons and certainly leaves the biggest hole to fill. Last year he recorded 111 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and 1 interception. Sophomore Zaviar Gooden is slated to step in and fill Weatherspoon's shoes. He played in all thirteen games last season, recording 30 tackles.
The thing that puts Missouri in good position heading into the 2010 season, and ranks them among the favorites in the north, is that they return almost as many starters on defense as they do on offense. Seven returning starters on defense will help absorb the blow of losing Weatherspoon.
However, returning starters are only as good as their off-season improvement allows them to be and the Tigers need to see some significant improvement. As a unit they were eighth in the conference in scoring defense last season, allowing 24.6 points per game. Against the rush they were pretty stout, allowing 96.4 yards per game, ranking fourth in the conference. Against the pass the Tigers were next to last in the conference and were only separated from last place Texas A&M by a single yard per game average. Opposing quarterbacks completed 64.2% of their passes (which was the highest against any defense in the Big 12) for an average of 261.6 yards per game and a touchdown to interception ratio of 19-8. Three of the four members of last year's secondary are back this season which could be good if experience pays off or bad if improvements haven't been made.