Thursday, October 8, 2009
What to watch for in the Big 12, Week 6
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. The battle of young guns at Columbia: Missouri and Nebraska both will be bringing largely untested quarterbacks into Thursday night’s pivotal North Division showdown. Nebraska’s Zac Lee has a small edge because he’s played in a big game before -- losing by one point at Virginia Tech on Sept. 19. Blaine Gabbert will be facing his toughest test to date against the Cornhuskers. Whoever wins this battle likely will win the game.
2. Missouri’s running game: The Tigers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this season -- down significantly from last season’s average of 5.2 yards per carry. Missouri’s line needs some push against the talented Nebraska front, keeping Gabbert out of too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations. If Derrick Washington, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence can be productive and keep the Tigers in productive yardage situations, it will go a long way toward a Missouri victory.
3. Oklahoma State’s reaction to the loss of Dez Bryant: The Cowboys already are facing serious injury woes. But now they’ll have to account -- perhaps for the rest of the season -- for the loss of their top offensive weapon and most explosive player after Bryant's suspension by the NCAA. His abilities as a receiver and punt returner made him a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Without him, the Cowboys won’t be nearly as explosive. It will place more pressure on receivers like Hubert Anyiam, DeMarcus Conner and Josh Cooper. They have a combined career total of 21 receptions.
4. The Aggies respond to a blowout: Texas A&M needs to blot out bad memories from a 47-19 loss to Arkansas last week in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies jumped to a quick 10-0 lead before Arkansas blew their doors off with 30 straight points. But their chances of stunning the Cowboys -- particularly with Bryant not playing -- might be better than you suspect. The first two or three possessions for the Aggies will be critical. A key will be whether the young A&M tackles can block better on the perimeter for Jerrod Johnson. And can they do a better job in sticking with the Oklahoma State offense that won’t be nearly as explosive as it typically is. Kyle Field will be rocking. Will the Aggies feed off that support?
5. Sam Bradford’s playing status: The returning Heisman Trophy winner has hinted he’d like to return to action this week, building confidence before the pivotal game with Texas next week. The Baylor game would give him an ideal game to get his feet wet. But whether he is ready physically remains a question. And also, will Bradford be willing to jump back into battle with an Oklahoma offense stripped of its most potent weapons with the loss of Ryan Broyles and Jermaine Gresham?
6. Who starts for Baylor at quarterback? The Bears have questions of their own as Blake Szymanski attempts to return to action after sustaining a bruised shoulder two weeks ago. Nick Florence had a strong debut last week in directing the victory over Kent State. But beating the Golden Flashes and Sooners is a completely different manner. Baylor coach Art Briles would feel more comfortable with an experienced player like Szymanski calling signals.
7. Will Colt McCoy’s first-half struggles continue? Texas’ Heisman Trophy contender is off to a slow start, having thrown four of his first five interceptions in the first half this season. He shouldn’t be challenged against a Colorado defense that has produced only two interceptions this season, tied for 10th in the conference.
8. Colorado's struggling defense against talented Texas: The Buffaloes have been gashed for 11 gains of 40 yards or more this season. Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins will face a huge challenge trying to curtail Texas’ big-play abilities, especially considering the Longhorns’ across-the-board edge in athleticism.
9. What do Grant Gregory and Steven Sheffield do for an encore? Kansas State backup quarterback Grant Gregory engineered a victory from the start of the game over Iowa State. Texas Tech backup Steven Sheffield directed a Tech triumph over New Mexico after starter Taylor Potts was dinged late in the first half, scoring touchdowns on his first four possessions in charge. With both backups set to likely start again, who will emerge from Saturday’s game in Lubbock better prepared to make it two straight triumphs?
10. Iowa State's attempts to account for Kansas’ playmakers in space. Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warriner does a good job of getting his playmakers outside for big plays, with a talented array of standouts like running backs Toben Opurum and Jake Sharp and wide receivers Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald. Iowa State has been challenged to keep those kind of athletic players in check all season, particularly by an overachieving starting secondary that averages only 5-foot-9 in height. The Cyclones will be challenged to stick with Wilson, Briscoe, Meier (all 6-foot-3) and McDougald (6-foot-2). ISU will face its stiffest defensive test so far this season in terms of containing the Jayhawks' tall, talented and deep receiving crew.