Three things to watch in Mizzou-Oklahoma State matchup
Story lines abound in a matchup of two former Big 12 foes, but be sure to keep an eye on a bruised-but-proud Mizzou defense, the Tigers' running game and an individual matchup of two potential first-round draft picks. Oklahoma State Cowboys, Gary Pinkel, Mike Gundy, Clint Chelf, Henry Josey, Dorial Green-Beckham, Justin Gilbert, L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas, Marcus Murphy, Russell Hansbrough
Running back Henry Josey leads Mizzou with 1,074 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns -- and still has a year of eligibility remaining, if he's inclined to use it.
Daniel Shirey / USA TODAY Sports
By Nate Latsch
Four weeks is a long time to let an embarrassing loss simmer. But such was the lot of the Missouri football team after its Southeastern Conference Championship Game defeat to Auburn.
But with the Tigers' Cotton Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State now almost here, the Tigers can channel their efforts into a game against an old Big 12 foe and, if successful, reinforce the notion that Mizzou belongs not only among the SEC's elite, but the nation's as well, thank you very much.
The Tigers are seeking the school's second 12-win season -- a feat achieved when they won their last Cotton Bowl appearance six years ago. Coach Gary Pinkel, who has now guided Mizzou to nine bowl games in his 13 seasons, is looking for win No. 102 with the Tigers, which would break the record set by Don Faurot in his 19 seasons.
The Tigers returning home to Texas, Mizzou meeting its old Big 12 nemesis and Pinkel's chase of the school's victory record are just three of the story lines to watch going into the Cotton Bowl.
Here are three other things to watch as No. 9 Mizzou (11-2) meets No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) on FOX at 7 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington:
WILL MIZZOU'S DEFENSE BOUNCE BACK?
A Mizzou defense that had helped propel the Tigers to the SEC title game was largely responsible for their loss in it. Mizzou allowed 545 rushing yards and 677 total yards in that 59-42 defeat.
Even after allowing all those points -- which helped Tre Mason and Auburn run all the way to the BCS Championship Game against Florida State -- Pinkel's squad still ranks 29th among FBS schools in allowing just 22.5 points per game.
How will the Mizzou defense respond to its next challenge?
"I think you have pride in who you are and what you're about," Pinkel said. "I think there's a little bit of that going on. We played really good defense against great teams. We lost our poise. We were frustrated. Usually that doesn't happen to us. I think we had so much success, when they started moving the ball -- now they are good, too. Shoot. They had over 300 yards rushing against Alabama, and Alabama's defense is probably one of the best in the nation. It's not like people were shutting them down, holding them to 100-150 yards rushing. But I think they were getting these big bites of yardage all of a sudden and you start looking around like, 'What the heck's going on here?'"
Mizzou's two losses stick out on the stat sheet. The 677 yards allowed against Auburn and the 498 yards permitted in the overtime game against South Carolina were the defense's worst two performances.
Now comes another challenge in Oklahoma State, which put up 400-plus yards of offense in nine of its 12 games and averaged 440.5. The Cowboys racked up 594 yards against Baylor and 605 against UT-San Antonio.
The Cowboys' passing game accounted for 268.5 yards per contest. Quarterback Clint Chelf has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,792 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, and has run for 321 yards and six scores.
If the trends hold, this game looks like it will be another shootout. Oklahoma State ranks 14th among FBS teams in scoring at 39.8 points per game, while Mizzou ranks 15th at 39 points per.
Mizzou's ability to bounce back from the Auburn game will be key to this one.
Is this the last time we'll see Henry Josey in a Mizzou uniform?
That's been one of the big questions in Texas this week, but the redshirt junior running back -- who is just the second running back in school history to record multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons -- has told reporters he is undecided about whether he'll return next season.
"I'm focused on winning this game and helping my seniors go out with a great bang," Josey said.
Josey, who leads Mizzou with 1,074 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, has been one of the key reasons the Tigers' rushing attack has been so successful this season.
Missouri ranks 16th in rushing yardage among FBS schools, with 3,074 yards in 13 games, and has rushed for more than 200 yards in five consecutive games. The Tigers are averaging 236.5 yards rushing per contest, with Josey, Russell Hansbrough (660 yards rushing, four touchdowns) and Marcus Murphy (571 yards rushing, nine touchdowns) leading the way.
"As a defensive coordinator, you go in wanting to stop the running game first," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "With Josey and his backups, they're all explosive backs. Then you get a running quarterback involved. That gives them an extra number, so they've got that element."
Oklahoma State is allowing 132.9 yards rushing per game and has surrendered only eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
The most intriguing one-on-one matchup Friday figures to be Mizzou sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham against Oklahoma State senior cornerback Justin Gilbert.
It's a battle that NFL talent evaluators will be watching, too.
"It's a great matchup," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told reporters. "You're looking at two potential first-round draft picks. When you have that type of talent competing against each other, it will always be a lot of fun."
Gilbert was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented to the top defensive back in college football, and was selected a second-team All-America by the Associated Press.
He led the Cowboys with six interceptions, which ranks sixth among FBS players, and added 40 tackles and seven pass break-ups. He returned interceptions for touchdowns against Iowa State and Texas.
Green-Beckham, who stands 6 feet 6 and 225 pounds, caught 55 passes for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led the Tigers in TD receptions, tied Marcus Lucas for the team lead in catches and was second behind L'Damian Washington in receiving yards.
"If you back away from a challenge like that, then I don't want to be around you and I don't want any teammates like that," Gilbert said. "I love the competition and I'm blessed to have the opportunity to go against (Green-Beckham)."
Of course, one of the strengths of Missouri's offense this season has been the Tigers' depth at wide receiver. Green-Beckham, Washington (47 catches, 853 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Lucas (55 catches, 646 yards, two touchdowns) all present matchup problems for opponents.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.