On Saturday (2:30 P.M., ABC), the Missouri Tigers (5-5, 3-4) play host to the Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-5, 2-5) in Big 12 Conference action. The Tigers are coming home off of a 17-5 home win over Texas. In that game, the Missouri defense stepped up, limiting the Longhorns to just 76 yards rushing.
Prior to the Texas Tech game, Missouri will honor 26 seniors, as they take to Faurot Field for their final game in the Black & Gold.
Coach Pinkel has been suspended for this game, following his arrest earlier this week for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and won't be present for the pre-game ceremonies or on the sideline for the game. Coach Steckel will act as head coach, and will be on the sideline per usual. Coach Yost will remain in the booth, as usual. The Missouri staff will endeavor to maintain established routines leading up to and during the game, albeit in the very visible absence of their eleven-year head coach.
Also earlier this week, Missouri received votes in both of the polls that are part of the BCS formula, and are ranked #32 in this week's poll, based largely on a computer average of 27.25. The computers like Missouri primarily because, according to the NCAA, Missouri has played the second toughest schedule in the country. Sagarin's ratings index has Missouri as having played the #1 toughest schedule in the country.
Texas Tech comes in at #45 in this week's BCS rankings, just ahead of #46 Iowa State. The computers like both of those schools a lot better, ranking ISU #35, and TTU #34 in the computer averages.
Missouri moved back to the top of the Big 12 in rushing, with an average of 234.6 rushing yards/game, after rushing for 152 yards, and holding Texas to 76 yards on the ground last Saturday. But, the Tigers will be without the Big 12's leading ground gainer, after Henry Josey was lost for the season with a knee injury. Josey finished his 2011 season with an average of 116.8 yards/game, and an amazing 8.1 yards/carry. His total of 1168 rushing yards ranks fifth in single-season school history, behind Devin West, Brad Smith (twice), and Joe Moore.
In Josey's stead, Missouri will rely on a pair of experienced backs, in junior Kendial Lawrence, who appears to have recovered from an early-season broken leg, and senior De'Vion Moore, who has also missed time this year with injuries. Lawrence looked good against Texas, as he posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
This is a big question that must be answered for the Tigers to finish the season strong, and to reach their revised goals. Teams have had success running the football against Texas Tech, and in order for Missouri to win on Saturday, it would seem to make sense that the Tigers will have to take advantage of their ability to run the football. Multi-play drives resulting in touchdowns would appear to be an important ingredient in Missouri's recipe for success against Texas Tech. Not only do the Tigers need to score a lot of points, but controlling the football has to be part of an effective defensive approach in limiting the Red Raiders' prolific, up-tempo, pass-oriented offense.
The Tigers need another outstanding performance from sophomore QB James Franklin, who is directing one of the most balanced offenses in the country. Missouri is one of only two FBS schools, along with Wisconsin, to average both 235 yards rushing and 235 yards passing. In addition, Franklin is on pace to record the third-most prolific season by a QB in school history, potentially surpassing Chase Daniel's sophomore season, and he could end this season ranked behind only Daniel's junior and senior seasons.
Franklin's favorite target, junior WR T.J. Moe, ranks tenth in the conference, with 4.9 receptions/game, and 62.1 receiving yards/game. Moe, who is averaging 12.1 yards/reception this season, needs just 34 receiving yards to move into Missouri's top-10 list for career receiving yardage. His 143 career receptions currently ranks eighth on Missouri's career list.
In case you haven't noticed, junior punter Trey Barrow has been very, very good this year. He's recently taken over the place-kicking duties from the injured Grant Ressel, but it's his punting that is of particular note. Barrow is averaging 45.25 yards/punt, which would be #1 on Missouri's single-season list, and is good for eighth in the FBS this year.
Defensively, Missouri has generally disappointed this year, but a few individuals are having outstanding seasons, including up front, where seniors Jacquies Smith and Dominique Hamilton are having career years. Hamilton is the most productive defensive lineman in the Big 12. He has 50 total tackles on the season, including 5.5 TFLs, and 3 sacks. Add 1 very big pass break-up, 2 QB hurries, 2 fumble recoveries, and a blocked kick for the 300-pounder, who projects well in next spring's NFL draft.
After battling through injuries early, Smith is having an all-conference type season, as well, with 29 tackles, 9 TFLs, 5 sacks, 3 PBUs, 4 QB hurries, and a league-leading 4 forced fumbles. At the next level, Smith projects as an OLB in a 3-4 alignment, with his pass-rush abilities, and with the way that he can run.
Sophomore MLB Andrew Wilson is third in the conference with 8.4 tackles/game, despite coming off of the field on passing downs.
Because Wilson does come off, he may not see as much action against Tech as he'd like.
But, Missouri's fastest-rising defensive player is sure to see plenty of action against the pass-happy Red Raiders. Sophomore corner E.J. Gaines is second on the Tigers, with 64 total tackles, and his 14 PBUs leads the conference. Gaines has 2 INTs this season, giving him 16 passes defended on the season, which is second in the NCAA. Gaines needs 2 more PBUs to surpass Michael Hardin's single-season record at Missouri. Gaines appears to be certain of First-Team All-Conference selection.
In addition, Gaines has averaged 13.4 yards/punt return, which if he had enough attempts, would rank him #1 in the conference.
Missouri's season rests on the outcome of this game, which will be played amid distractions, and in the absence of their head coach.