In Oklahoma State, Missouri faces second straight ranked foe

Friday, October 22nd 2004, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ A week after facing the nation's leading rusher, Missouri will take on the country's second-best runner.

Last week, Texas tailback Cedric Benson ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-20 Longhorn win over Missouri. This week, the Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) face No. 22 Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) and Vernand Morency, who averages 163.3 rushing yards per game.

``Their running game is second to none, as good of a running game as I've ever seen in college football,'' Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said of the Cowboys' offense. ``They can absolutely get after you and pound you.''

After gaining 111 yards in a 36-20 loss to No. 17 Texas A&M last week, Morency has topped 100 rushing yards in eight consecutive starts.

``Morency's a great player,'' Pinkel said. ``He's compact, really shifty and changes directions well. He is a little bit different type of running back than we faced last week, but certainly one of the top backs in this league.''

Missouri defensive end Brian Smith, who leads the Big 12 with five sacks, said he expects the Tigers' experience against Benson and No. 8 Texas to help them slow Morency on Saturday.

``Two talented running backs in a row like that, it will just make us better against the run for the rest of the season,'' he said. ``I don't know how we'll do against him this week, but if we take him down the first time we wrap him up, I think we'll do pretty well.''

Missouri, which leads the conference in total defense, will be tested again as it takes on its second straight ranked opponent. Morency keys a one-dimensional Oklahoma State offense; the Cowboys are second in the Big 12 in rushing but last in passing.

Texas A&M outscored the Cowboys 27-6 in the first half last week, which Oklahoma State coach Les Miles attributed to a lack of early intensity. After surrendering 386 total yards and four touchdowns to the Aggies' Reggie McNeal, the Cowboys will face another mobile quarterback in Missouri's Brad Smith.

``What McNeal did to us challenged us athletically,'' Miles said. ``Our defense must see what they lacked against A&M and bring that adjustment with us to Missouri.''

The Cowboys face No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 8 Texas the next two weeks, making a win against the Tigers critical.

``We have to get back on track and go get us a victory,'' Miles said. ``If you look at the rest of the schedule, the caliber of our opponent increases on a regular basis.''

Likewise, Missouri will have to slow down their second marquee runner in as many weeks.

``Smash-mouth football, man,'' safety Nino Williams said. ``We gotta go in and stop the run.''

Oklahoma State will be looking for its third road win of the season against a Missouri team that has not lost at home since November 2002. Since the creation of the Big 12 in 1996, Oklahoma State and Baylor are the only conference teams the Tigers have not lost to.