Top-ranked Sooners open Big 12 action against Tigers

Published September 21, 2011

| Sports Network

The top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners return home this weekend to open up Big 12 play, as they welcome the Missouri Tigers to Norman.

Bob Stoops' squad is coming off a hard-fought, 23-13 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee, a game that was viewed as one of the few potential road blocks standing between the Sooners and a shot at the national title.

Gary Pinkel's Tigers are 2-1 on the young season. The team opened the year with a tough 17-6 decision over Miami-Ohio, but fell the next week in heart- breaking fashion at Arizona State, losing to the Sun Devils in overtime, 37-30. To Missouri's credit, the loss did not linger long, as the Tigers absolutely destroyed FCS foe Western Illinois last weekend, 69-0.

Oklahoma leads the all-time series by a count of 66-24.5. Missouri halted a seven-game Oklahoma win streak in this series with last year's 36-27 victory in Columbia. Winning in Norman is a whole different scenario though, as the Tigers have lost 17 straight on Oklahoma's homefield and haven't won there since 1966.

Winning at home is the norm for the Sooners, who boast of the nation's longest current homefield winning streak, now at 37 games.

Despite the loss of star quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the NFL, Missouri hasn't missed a beat offensively. One of the most prolific and balanced attacks in the nation through the first three weeks, Missouri ranked 12th nationally in total offense (512.0 ypg), with nearly identical numbers on the ground (257.3 ypg) and through the air (254.7 ypg).

Those numbers were certainly aided by the school record 744 yards amassed against Western Illinois last time out. Tailback Henry Josey certainly had a memorable game, rushing for 263 yards and three scores all in the first half. Quarterback James Franklin added 246 yards passing and three more scores.

After three games, it is apparent that the Tigers can move the football. Franklin has been sharp under center, completing 65.6 percent of his passes, for nearly 700 yards, with six TDs against just one INT. T.J. Moe (16 receptions, 172 yards, one TD) has been the top target downfield.

Josey has started just one of the three games, but has 400 yards rushing thus far and is responsible for half of the team's six TDs on the ground.

While the Missouri defense showed some vulnerability in Tempe a could of weeks ago, the unit really made a statement against the Leathernecks, limiting their overmatched foe to a mere 44 yards of total offense. That has certainly helped the numbers on the year, with the Tigers now allowing just 268.7 yards per game overall.

Sophomore middle linebacker Andrew Wilson paces the defense with 21 total tackles. Junior defensive end Brad Madison (eight total tackles) has been instrumental up front with his push into the backfield, leading the team in both TFLs (5.0) and sacks (3.0) thus far.

It hasn't happened very often with Landry Jones at the helm, but Oklahoma struggled to find an offensive groove for much of the game against the Seminoles last weekend. The result was a meager 310 yards of total offense.

Landry completed just 18-of-27 passes, for 199 yards, with one TD and two INTs. FSU kept All-American receiver Ryan Broyles at bay (seven catches, for 55 yards), as well as surprising tailback Dominique Whaley (21 carries, 71 yards).

However, great teams have depth and that is where Oklahoma excelled at Doak Campbell Stadium. Sophomore wideout Kenny Stills became the go-to-guy down the field for the Sooners, hauling in seven balls for 125 yards, including a remarkable 37-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter the proved to be the difference in the game.

Stoops is thrilled with the play of Stills.

"Kenny is a unique character, a great young man. He is a bright guy and really fun. The players all really love him, but above all he is competitive. He likes to play and he's tough and talented. He has speed and the hands. He is still really young, but he is not a freshman anymore, which he showed the other night. I think Kenny is just going to get better and better."

Landry, who is completing 71.6 percent of his throws over the first two games and Broyles, who already has 21 catches for 213 yards thus far, won't be held down long though, so look for the combo to get back to what they do best when the Big 12 schedule starts in earnest this week.

The Sooner defense has held a pair of potent offenses in Tulsa (14 pts) and Florida State (13 pts) in check this season, so despite some losses from last year's unit, this year's squad is taking shape nicely for coach Stoops. The return of All-American candidate Travis Lewis to the linebacking corps will definitely help. A Butkus Award candidate, Lewis is one of the nation's best instinctual playmakers. He missed the season opener due to a foot injury, but returned earlier than expected to play against FSU.

Other defenders of note include DEs Ronnell Lewis (team-high 15 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) and Frank Alexander (nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, one INT) and DBs Tony Jefferson (13 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, one sack), Javon Harris (10 tackles, two INTs, one fumble recovery) and Jamell Fleming (seven tackles).

Coach Pinkel understands the task at hand for his squad.

"Oklahoma is an outstanding football team. I don't think they have any weaknesses. They are very impressive on both sides of the football, and are playing very well. When you look at Landry Jones, you see the development over the last few years. He's a really great player, and he has great players around him."

Stoops has similar respect for Pinkel's team.

"Going into this week it's a really big game. Missouri is a really good team. A year ago we were ranked No. 1 when we went up there and they knocked us off and beat us well. They are still good in everything that they were good in a year ago. They have a very balanced offense. Their defense mixes it up. They are strong and coming after you. It's going to be a challenge. We are looking forward to it and we are going to be prepared come Saturday."

It was announced on Monday that Stoops and the university have come to terms on a contract extension that will see him stay on as the top man in Norman through the 2018 campaign.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2011/09/21/top-ranked-sooners-open-big-12-action-against-tigers/