By Jason Elmquist, CNHI News Service
IRVING, Texas —
The Oklahoma State defense may face its toughest test in Friday’s Cotton Bowl against a Missouri team ranked third in the Southeastern Conference scoring offense with 39 points per game.
What makes the Tigers a dangerous offense is their balanced attack, especially since the return of quarterback James Franklin, who missed three games with an injury. Mizzou ranks in the top 5 of the SEC in both the run and pass — second in rushing offense with 236.5 yards per game and fifth in passing offense with 256.5 yards.
“It’s hard, because you watch them on film with what they’ve done against supposedly better teams in the nation (in the SEC) and better defenses in the nation, week-in and week-out they are able to move the ball on them,” said Cowboy defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “You can’t find a weakness because they are so balanced.”
And it’s not just one player in either aspect that OSU will be able to lock in on.
Missouri has three running backs with over 500 yards on the season — in addition to Franklin with nearly 500 yards rushing himself.
Henry Josey leads the pace with 1,074 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, followed by Russell Hansbrough with 660 and four touchdowns, and Marcus Murphy with 571 with nine touchdowns. All three of the Mizzou running backs are averaging over six yards per rush attempt.
“As a defensive coordinator, you go in wanting to stop the run game first,” Spencer said. “With Josey, and even his backups, they are all explosive backs. And then you get a running quarterback involved and it gives them an extra number, so they have that element, too.”
The Tigers are equally dangerous in the pass attack three receivers over 600 yards receiving, and two others with at least 200 yards receiving.
The Missouri quarterbacks — between Franklin and Maty Mauk, who has still seen some action even with Franklin back from injury — have spread the ball around to top targets Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington.
“They have the biggest, strongest wide receivers we’ve seen all year,” Spencer said. “They always come down with the ball, it doesn’t have to be a perfect ball.”
Green-Beckham and Lucas each have 55 catches with Green-Beckham leading the team with 12 touchdown receptions and second behind Washington with 830 yards. Despite eight fewer catches than Green-Beckham and Lucas, Washington leads the receivers with 853 yards and is second on the squad with 10 touchdowns.
“They have the ability to jump up there and make the catch at the highest point of the ball,” said OSU safety Daytawion Lowe. “The quarterbacks kind of throw it up and they go get it at the highest point. That makes them very effective when you’ve got guys who can just out-jump the defensive backs.”
Missouri’s success in getting to the pass at the peak lies in the size of their receivers. Washington is the shortest at 6-foot-4, Lucas is 6-5 and Green-Beckham is listed at 6-6. Safety Lyndell Johnson is the tallest Cowboy in the secondary at 6-foot-3, with most other defensive backfield starters around 6-foot.
“That’s one thing we’ve been working on is playing the ball in the air,” Lowe said. “We’ve got to make plays on the ball and that’s what it’s going to come down to because their receivers are going to go up and get the ball. They’ve got us by a couple of inches, so it’s no secret what we’ve got to do.”