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Horns/Tigers Preview

UT lovin' their backfield depth

By Russ Espinoza, 2:15PM, Fri. Nov. 11, 2011

Joe Bergeron
Joe Bergeron
Photo courtesy of UT

At 4-5, NCAA statistics disclose how the Missouri Tigers have contended with the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule. Though they lack a win of significance, one might consider at least three of their losses moral victories.

Familiarly, the Tigers fell to No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 2 Oklahoma State, but they played the Sooners close in Norman – losing by 10 – and also made a fourth-quarter run at No. 17 Kansas State just two weeks later.

The prolific Missouri offense ranks 11th nationwide: a notch above last week’s UT foe, Texas Tech, and several stations behind the Sooners and Cowboys. The engines behind their 34.9 points-per-game are QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, and All-American tight end Michael Egnew. Franklin is a mobile, scrambling quarterback carrying a respectable 62.6 completion percentage, with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions; to round out, the Texas native also ranks 76th in the nation in rushing at 4 yards per carry.

Thirty-five native Texans will dress in Tiger gear on Saturday, including 10 starters. One of them is the Big 12’s leading rusher, sophomore Henry Josey. At 5-10, 190, the diminutive scat-back reminds me of Kansas State’s Darren Sproles — currently of the New Orleans Saints. Josey has eclipsed 125 yards in his last four games, and has deposited nine touchdowns on 8.6 yards per carry overall in 2011.

The Longhorns are coming off their first consecutive 400-plus rushing performances since Earl Campbell’s 1977 Heisman Trophy season. Although Kansas and Texas Tech are statistically abysmal against the run, Texas is feeling assertive with their trio of backs: freshman Malcolm Brown, senior Fozzy Whittaker, and freshman Joe Bergeron. The Tigers will put up a mediocre resistance against UT’s suddenly surging ground game — to date, they’ve allowed 26.6 points per game and rank 89th nationally in total defense.

Bergeron’s breakout push of 414 yards against Kansas and Texas Tech present the Longhorns with a welcome dilemma of how to rotate their three viable running backs upon Brown’s return from a turf toe injury. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin forecasted the "how" to the Austin American-Statesman earlier in the week: "There will be a couple of guys who are going to be out there getting the ball early, to get those guys in the flow. There is going to be a guy who is going to come in the second or third series, who is going to spell one of those two backs to have some fresh legs out there. Then you kind of let the guy who has the hot hand carry the ball.”

Curiously, the Tiger offense excels in the first and fourth quarters, but sputters in between. They own 90-51 and 119-52 point differentials in their first and fourth quarters, respectively. By contrast: they’ve failed to score even a single point in their last three third quarters. The Tigers are also one of those odd teams who tend to play to the level of their competition; the same should be true on Saturday — with help from their home field, where they’ve only lost once thus far – to No. 2 Oklahoma State. Nonetheless, I figure Texas can eek out a win, 38-31.

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