Tigers face big hurdle in Sooners

Friday, October 27th 2006, 5:55 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ When Gary Pinkel took the head coaching job at Missouri six years ago, he knew there were some ``inherent barriers'' to making the program successful.

The Tigers broke down one of those barriers Oct. 21, beating Kansas State 41-21 to end a 13-game losing streak against the Wildcats.

A couple more walls can come down Saturday when No. 23 Missouri (7-1, 3-1 Big 12) hosts No. 19 Oklahoma (5-2, 2-1). Missouri's only win over Oklahoma in the last 22 years came in 1998.

A win would keep Missouri in at least a tie with Nebraska atop the Big 12 North. Those two teams meet Nov. 4 in Lincoln, Neb. In 10 years since the conference was split into two divisions, Missouri has never won the North.

But Pinkel said his team isn't worried about the past.

``Honestly, this year we don't care about the obstacles,'' Pinkel said. ``None of that matters. It's all about how we play. Like I said a week ago at this time, it's 2006.''

Oklahoma has lost standout running back Adrian Peterson for the regular season with a broken collarbone. But the Sooners have rediscovered defensive dominance: After allowing nearly 400 yards per game in the first three games this season, Oklahoma is allowing 170 yards per game in the past four, and hasn't allowed a touchdown in seven quarters.

The Sooners are atop the Big 12 in total defense and rank 11th nationally, giving up 266.7 yards per game.

Coach Bob Stoops said he knew the defense would come around at some point.

``I said it earlier in the year, we weren't far off,'' Stoops said. ``What we've done lately _ we haven't given up those big plays, we've been more consistent and been in a better position more often.''

Pinkel agreed, saying, ``Defensively, they just keep getting better and better every week.''

Missouri's defense has headed the other direction, in large part because the caliber of competition has improved since Big 12 play began.

Through its first four games, Missouri boasted the best defense in the country, giving up just 175 yards per game. But in conference play, the run defense has struggled, dropping the Tigers to third in the conference and 21st nationally.

Colorado's Bernard Jackson and Hugh Charles each averaged over six yards per carry and Texas Tech running back Shannon Woods averaged almost eight. Texas A&M's Jorvorskie Lane ran for 127 yards in Missouri's only loss, 25-19 at A&M on Oct. 14. Last week, Kansas State's James Johnson ran for 129 yards and teammate Leon Patton had 112.

``We're always concerned, anytime you give up any yards,'' Pinkel said.

Both teams will be without key players. The Sooners lost Peterson, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, in a win against Iowa State earlier this month. Missouri will be without all-time sack leader Brian Smith, who broke his hip last week against Kansas State.

In Peterson's place will be Allen Patrick, who played part of last season as a defensive back and carried 35 times for 110 yards against Colorado.

``I have a lot of confidence in him, and he went out there and proved not only to us but also to everybody that he's a quality running back,'' quarterback Paul Thompson said.