Feature: Cotton Bowl Preview

By Jacob Korhauser and Claire Taylor, 23 Sports

Jacob Kornhauser

Following a disappointing 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship game, Mizzou discovered its bowl fate on Sunday night. The Tigers have accepted a bid to play the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Jan. 3.

Each team has nearly a month to prepare for each other and there are a couple of matchups that could shape the outcome of the game.

One matchup features two players that figure to be playing on Sundays in the future. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert will be matched up against Mizzou’s star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Gilbert snagged six interceptions this season and is the No. 2 cornerback prospect and No. 26 overall prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, according to scouts.

Green-Beckham won’t be draft-eligible until 2015 but he has been a man among boys as of late. The 6-6 sophomore caught six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship game, gaining himself praise from national media.

The way that Gilbert plays Green-Beckham could very well determine the outcome of this game. Should Gilbert shut Green-Beckham down, Missouri quarterback James Franklin will have to look elsewhere, which will limit his options offensively. However, if Green-Beckham can manage to burn Gilbert a couple of times, it will open up the entire Missouri offense and make the Tigers difficult to stop.

The reason the Tigers fell in the SEC Championship game was their run defense. The unit that was ranked second in the SEC in stopping the run going into the game gave up 545 yards on the ground against Auburn’s triple option offense. Oklahoma State will feature a steady dose of the run against the Tigers as well.

The Cowboys averaged over 177 yards per game on the ground in the regular season behind running backs Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith. Luckily for Missouri, the Cowboys feature a more conventional running game.

Unfortunately, unlike Auburn, Oklahoma State can pass the ball just as effectively as they can run it. That means that the Tigers won’t be able to stack the box with seven or eight players like they did against Auburn. Linebackers will have to have solid lane integrity when filling the gaps on the defensive line on running plays for Missouri to be able to limit the Cowboy offense.

On a big stage, it will be the No. 8 team in the country against the team ranked No. 13 Former Big-12 foes will reunite as they battle for the Cotton Bowl. Green-Beckham’s ability to beat Gilbert and Missouri’s linebackers’ ability to stifle the running game of Oklahoma State will go a long way towards determining the outcome of this game. Given how balanced and hot both teams’ offenses are, the Tigers might be in for another shootout.

Claire Taylor

The rivalry rooted in this Big 8 rematch makes this game a must watch this bowl season. Although Missouri leads the series 29-23, Oklahoma State has won the last three meetings. In 2011, Missouri’s last season in the Big 12, Oklahoma State hammered the Tigers 45-24 in Columbia, Mo. Will Gary Pinkel be able to lead his team to a win over this familiar opponent or will Oklahoma State continue its winning streak against the Tigers?

At the end of the regular season, both of these teams were playing for an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl in their conference championships. With a victory, Oklahoma State would have played in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Tigers would have tickets to Pasadena to play in the last BCS National Championship Game.
However, both of these fell short to conference opponents.

In the Big 12 Championship, the fierce rivalry of Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State was on an amplified stage. The Cowboys had led the majority of the game, yet still fell short. With 19 seconds remaining, the Sooners spoiled Oklahoma State’s BCS dreams, scoring a 7-yard touchdown, giving Oklahoma the 33-24 victory.
While in the Georgia Dome, the SEC Championship featured an unexpected matchup of two teams of Tigers: Missouri vs. Auburn. Unable to slow Auburns dynamic offense, Missouri was denied their fairytale season ending conference championship their second year in the SEC. In a game filled with many scoring drives, the Auburn Tigers 545 rushing yards gave them the 59-42 win over the new kids, the Missouri Tigers.

One thing these two teams have in common is a defense that is able to not only stop opposing teams, but to create turnovers. The Tiger and Cowboy defenses have 38 combined turnovers this season. Missouri’s turnover streak, 43 consecutive games, leads the FBS. Due to the experience senior quarterback James Franklin brings to the field, the Tigers have had limited turnovers this season, but will face another tough test in the Oklahoma State defense.

Missouri Keys for Victory
1. Play faster defense
Missouri’s defense was able to stop opposing teams all season, including holding Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to 21 points. But in the SEC Championship against Auburn, Missouri’s defense allowed 59 points and 677 yards, 545 of which came from rushing yards. The Tigers, especially the front seven, will need to step up in order to stop the Cowboys. Oklahoma State can rack up points quickly and will win if Missouri does not return to their powerful defense.
2. Continue momentum on offense
On the offensive side of the ball, Missouri should not change any part of their game plan. Against Auburn James Franklin executed, giving the team the lead multiple times throughout the game, including the fourth quarter, and threw for 534 total yards of offense. Coach Gary Pinkle cannot ask Franklin to do anything different, just to do it again.

Oklahoma State Keys for Victory
1. Have memory loss
Oklahoma State could be playing in a BCS bowl this bowl season. But this is an elite bowl game, and is considered the best non-BCS game in a premiere venue. The Cowboys have no time to sulk in the “what ifs”. If they do, the Missouri Tiger’s will zoom right past.
2. Finish Strong
In last week’s game, Oklahoma State lost the game because their defense could not shut the door, allowing Oklahoma to come up with the win in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys need to put pressure on Franklin, otherwise he will drive the field nearly untouched due to the strength the offensive lineman provide.