Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big XII Championship: Position by Position Breakdown



You can keep your Graham Harrell, folks, because these two are inarguably the best quarterbacks in the conference. The fact that their teams are in the title game is no coincidence, either - you all know about #10, who seems to have been on TV more this week than Wolf Blitzer and Peyton Manning combined. Chase Daniel is now a legit Heisman candidate, and will submit his final statement in that conversation Saturday night. Chase at times looked fidgety against the Sooner pass rush the first time these two played, and last season when OU came to Columbia and won. However, Daniel has been more and more poised in the pocket since then, and displayed unforeseen escapability last Saturday at Arrowhead.

One needs to look no further than the game against Texas Tech to determine how valuable redshirt freshman Sam Bradford is to the Oklahoma Sooners. Bradford exited in the first half with a concussion, and the Sooners never really got back on track, dropping that game in Lubbock. Last week against an overmatched Oklahoma State team, Bradford wasn't asked to do much, completing 11 of 15 passes for 150 yards, with 4 TD's and 1 pick. Bradford leads the country in passing efficiency with a 182.23 rating, but a key thing to note for Bradford is the disparity in home and road splits: Bradford has been impeccable in Norman, with 25 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and an efficiency rating of 207.35! In 5 games away from home (including the neutral Texas game), Sam has just 7 touchdowns, 4 picks, and a more modest rating of 139.23. He struggled against Iowa State and Colorado on the road, and I think he'll struggle in the Alamodome Saturday.

When these two teams last met, Mizzou's best ground threat, Tony Temple, was inactive. He's back this time, and gives MU the key cog in what really is an underrated ground game. Temple has 382 yards and 5 touchdowns since coming back to the lineup.

On the flipside, the tables have turned a bit, as Oklahoma's best runner and weapon on special teams, DeMarco Murray, is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. That puts the onus on Allen Patrick, a beast in his own right, to carry the load for OU. Patrick demolished the Oklahoma State Cowboys last week with 208 yards on 29 carries, and will look to do the same against the nation's 25th best rush defense. Patrick is the key to Oklahoma's success this weekend in San Antonio.

Recievers and tight ends
Mizzou is currently enjoying what might be the most talented group of pass-catchers in the history of the school. Chase Daniel has the privelege of throwing to a litany of weapons, including Mackey award finalist Martin Rucker, a freshman with after-burners in Jeremy Maclin, and extremely talented senior Will Franklin. Star TE Chase Coffman has been walking in a cast this week on an ankle he re-aggrivated on a PAT against Kansas, but is expected to play Saturday. His effectiveness on a bad ankle, though, is up in the air. When Kansas keyed in on Maclin and Franklin last week, DaNario Alexander and Tommy Saunders played like All-Americans. It will be interesting to see if they are able to do that against much a much deeper Sooner secondary, should the Tigers' big guns be blanketed.

Oklahoma exploited the size mismatches of WR's Juaquin Iglesias and Malcolm Kelly back the first time these two teams played. Iglesias snagged 7 catches for 77 and a score, while Kelly caught 5 for 58. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley give the Sooners a nice complement inside to go with the big guns at wideout. That being said, Chase Daniel's downfield accuracy makes his recievers all that more dangerous, and I give the edge to MU.

Offensive line
The Tigers offensive line has had a fantastic season, but this one isn't close. The Sooners' offensive line averages 322 pounds, and 6-5, 352 pound left guard Duke Robinson will be protecting some lucky NFL quarterback in a couple of years. That being said, Chase Daniel's run at the little gold man and Sam Bradford's success his freshman year are due in large part to the stellar O-line play they have enjoyed in 2007.

Defensive line
The biggest thing to watch on either team's defensive lines Saturday will be the effectiveness of Big 12 sacks leader Auston English for the Sooners. English has missed the last 3 games due to injury, and so far, Coach Stoops has been mum on his playing status. It is hard to believe that English will be at 100% this weekend, but even at half-speed, he's a weapon that needs to be accounted for.

Last week, the Tigers were able to put more pressure on Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing than he had seen all season long. He was frustrated, flustered, and failed to execute on the big stage. The Tigers defensive line doesn't get a whole lot of sacks, but will need to sufficiently pressure Bradford, get him out of his comfort zone, and force him to look like a freshman.

The Tigers' young core of linebackers doesn't feature one senior, but have rapidly matured and improved over the course of the season. Once considered the biggest weakness of the defense, they have evolved into another strength for a team on fire.

Oklahoma is used to churning out sensational linebackers - see Tedy Lehman, Rocky Calmus, etc. - and they have produced yet another all-world defensive menace in Curtis Lofton. Lofton terrorized Mizzou with 18 tackles in their first matchup, and is second in the conference in tackles per game this season. MU's group has been great recently, but no one on MU's defensive unit is as talented as Lofton.

When defensive leader Pig Brown was lost for the season, many close Missouri followers expected the Tiger defense to struggle the rest of the season. What it did though, was serve as a catalyst for William Moore to emerge as a star and leader of this Tiger secondary. With an INT of Todd Reesing Saturday, Moore tied the all-time MU single season mark for interceptions in a season of 7 with NFL hall-of-famer Roger Wehrli. The secondary is vastly undersized when matching up with big OU wideouts Iglesias and Kelly, though, and face a difficult challenge Saturday.

The same can be said about the Oklahoma Sooners. It's nearly impossible for anyone to match up well with Rucker and Coffman when they're healthy. One big question in this matchup, of course, is the health of Coffman, who caught 10 passes for 102 yards in the teams' first meeting. CB Reggie Smith was a Big 12 preseason first-teamer, and has subsequently backed that up with 3 picks, while DJ Wolfe and Marcus Walker are ball-hawks who have been menacing Big 12 offenses all season.

Special Teams
Both teams are pretty sound in the kicking game, so let's look at the kick returners.
When the Tigers put Jeremy Maclin on the field, the Sooners will, at all times, know where he is. He's second in the NCAA in all-purpose yardage, and has long since broke the freshman record in that statistic. Maclin gives the Tigers this game's best big play threat. That statement is made possible by the absence of DeMarco Murray, who's injury takes away Oklahoma's best weapon in the kicking game. The Sooners are number 1 in the country in kickoff return average at 28.23, but without Murray, that stat is far less significant.

It's no secret that Bob Stoops might be the best coach in the country. He's 4-0 career against Mizzou, 4-1 in Big 12 championship games, and 27-4 against the Big 12 North. Gary Pinkel has done a sensational job this season, and would become a likely favorite for coach of the year should the Tigers win the game Saturday. That being said, this is an impossible matchup to win for almost anyone not named Bear Bryant.

So, to recap: the two biggest things to watch for me in this game will be the health/effectiveness of Auston English, and the ability for the Mizzou defensive line to make Sam Bradford uncomfortable. MU's offense is rolling right now, and are coming off a win in an absolutely electric bowl-game environment last weekend in Kansas City. Oklahoma will be without arguably their best offensive weapon, though Allen Patrick is certainly a pleasant plan B to have available. Sam Bradford's best win away from Norman was against a flat, overrated Texas team, and struggles on the road against ISU and Colorado lead me to believe he may scrap a bit Saturday night in San Antonio. I predict a close game, with a William Moore interception in the 4th quarter leading to a draining TD drive for the Tigers to seal the deal.

#9 Oklahoma 31, #1 MISSOURI 41

Tigers play WVU in the BCS National Championship.

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