By Jason Elmquist
IRVING, Texas —
Oklahoma State hasn't seen the type of player that will line up for the Missouri defense in Michael Sam — a unanimous All-American defensive end and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year with 10.5 sacks.
"They have big guys up front who have good push on the offensive linemen. When we started to watch tape I was impressed at their ability to rush the passer," Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said.
But does not one man make an entire team.
Despite having the best defensive player in the conference, Missouri's defense was far from imposing in the 2013 season.
Missouri finished eighth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 151.8 yards per game — and just over 4 yards per rush attempt. With teams being able to run, that also has led to teams exposing the Tigers pass defense. Mizzou was 13th in the SEC, giving up 256 yards per game.
"They have a great front seven, but they've given up like 200 yards rushing per game and in the SEC championship they gave up something 500 yards, so it's obviously something they can't fix or stop," OSU running back Desmond Roland said. "We run similar plays to what Auburn ran on them (in the SEC title game) and that's a good sign."
Despite giving up 400 yards per game, the Tigers have been able to keep opponents out of the end zone. The Tigers had the fourth-best scoring defense in their conference, allowing just 22.5 points per game.
But in the conference championship game, the Auburn offense — which will face Florida State in the BCS title game — went off on the Missouri defense. Auburn gashed the Tigers in the run game, racking up 545 yards with Tre Mason running for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries.
"We run the zone-read option as well (as Auburn did) and their ends are mostly pass rushers, so they shoot straight up the field. If they do that, they are running to Clint and I could run right down the alley," Roland said. "That's one thing I saw. Their linebackers are average linebackers. They really focus on their All-American defensive ends to make most of the plays."
Fortunately for the OSU offensive line, they practice daily against an aggressive defensive line that includes an All-Big 12 lineman in Calvin Barnett and defensive ends in Tyler Johnson and Jimmy Bean who have combined for 8.5 sacks for the season.
"Our defense is very similar to theirs. We are actually two very similar teams, offensively and defensively," senior offensive lineman Parker Graham said. "Getting to go up against our defense prepares us a lot for the game we are about to play with the physicality of our defense. It really gives us a game look every day."
As Gundy has stated throughout the season, it will be up to the run game to help open up things in the pass game — and in this case, limit the pass rush of a player like Sams. And the OSU running backs are more than happy to play their part.
"As running backs, we help the offense thrive. Without the run game, the pass game doesn't open up. So we're excited," OSU senior fullback Kye Staley said.