The Tigers have been a physically dominant run team at times. Ask Mississippi. Oklahoma State, which only allows 3.5 yards per carry, hasn’t faced many teams as committed to and effective at running. Missouri, which averages 5.7 yards per carry, hasn’t rushed for fewer than 142 yards in any game and averaged 255.6 yards in its last five. Junior Henry Josey, sophomore Russell Hansbrough and junior Marcus Murphy have combined for 26 touchdowns. And don’t forget quarterback James Franklin (474 yards, four touchdowns) either.
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Don’t the Tigers always have the edge in the passing game with that stable of wide receivers? Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham (6 feet 6, 225 pounds), senior L’Damian Washington (6-4, 205) and senior Marcus Lucas (6-5, 220) have combined for 157 receptions, 2,329 yards 24 touchdowns. Franklin is accurate, elusive and makes excellent decisions. His 152.4 efficiency rating is the third-highest in a season at Missouri. Senior cornerback Justin Gilbert is legit, but he can’t cover everyone on every play.
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Before getting exposed in the SEC championship against Auburn, Missouri was allowing only 119 rushing yards per game. Undoubtedly, Oklahoma State, which uses an effective version of its own misdirection run game, learned a few tricks for exploiting Missouri on the ground. That said, the Cowboys aren’t exactly an explosive running team. Junior Desmond Roland only averages 4.7 yards per carry and the team as a whole averages 4.7 yards per rush. Senior quarterback Clint Chelf can make plays with his feet too.
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Oklahoma State has only allowed 11 sacks all season, but the Cowboys haven’t faced a pass rush like Missouri’s either. The Tigers led the SEC with 38 sacks, including 10 1/2 from unanimous All-American Michael Sam and 7 1/2 from Kony Ealy. Missouri also boasts a ball-hawking defense that forced 31 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. Chelf only completes 56 percent of his passes. His 7.66 yards per attempt is good but not great.
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Missouri’s Marcus Murphy is capable of breaking a touchdown return, but he hasn’t displayed that ability consistently. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s return game has been electrifying. Gilbert averages 26.6 yards per kickoff return, including a 100-yard touchdown, while junior wide receiver Josh Stewart averages 18.2 yards per punt return. That’s good enough for fourth in the nation and includes two touchdowns. Missouri’s punter, junior Christian Brinser, and kicker, sophomore Andrew Baggett, have had better seasons than their counterparts.Coaching EDGE >> OKLAHOMA STATE
History suggests Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s number. Gundy is 3-1 against the Tigers since taking the reins in Stillwater, Okla. Pinkel hasn’t beaten Gundy since his first year with the Cowboys in 2005. Missouri was ranked third in the nation when Oklahoma State won 28-23 in Columbia in 2008 and lost 33-17 the following year at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys won the last Big 12 meeting 45-24 at Memorial Stadium in 2011.X-factor EDGE >> MISSOURI
Third down is a critical down in any football game and will be during Friday’s Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State has a great third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert only 31.3 percent of the time — the seventh-best mark in the nation, but Missouri’s offense has been strong on third down, moving the chains 44.9 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ offense only converts 38.5 percent of the time on third down.Bottom line: Missouri 38-28
Missouri has a chance to make history by matching the school record for wins in a season at 12. The Tigers have talked a lot about the mission they embarked on last January, and it won’t feel complete or right if the campaign ends with consecutive losses. Of course, Oklahoma State — fresh off losing the Bedlam game and a piece of the Big 12 title — has the same incentive, but the Tigers would seem to be a more talented team.
| Tod Palmer, email@example.com