Tigers travel to Baylor with perfect Big 12 mark

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Missouri is coming off its first victory in a Big 12 opener in six seasons.

The Associated Press

WACO, Texas -- Missouri hasn't been in this position since 1998: undefeated in the Big 12.

OK, so the Tigers have played only one conference game. But it's the first time in six seasons they won their Big 12 opener.

Since what could have been a devastating loss at fledgling Division I-A program Troy on national television Sept. 9, the Tigers (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) have rebounded with two solid wins, including 17-9 over previously undefeated Colorado last week. And they have big goals.

"In order to win the Big 12, you've got to got out there and win every game," senior receiver Thomson Omboga said. "You can't bank on someone else losing a game, so (being 2-0) is going to be real important."

Especially with No. 5 Texas and No. 22 Oklahoma State coming up the following two weeks.

Missouri and Baylor (2-2, 0-1) play late tonight, a 9:10 p.m. kickoff for TV, and a chance for the Tigers to have a better showing on national cable (Fox Sports). The last ESPN2 image at Troy was Trojans fans celebrating a 24-14 upset of then then-Top 25 Tigers.

Missouri has a 7-2 series lead and has won all four Big 12 matchups against Baylor, the last in 2001. The Tigers scored at least 41 points in all four.

"Our focus is on becoming a better football team, and that's kind of where we are; respecting who we play and focusing on our game plan," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

So Pinkel isn't planning to let his team look past Baylor, which has an eight-game Big 12 losing streak since upsetting Colorado in its conference home opener last year.

The Tigers have proven dual-threat quarterback Brad Smith, but Pinkel is also impressed by new Baylor quarterback Dane King, the left-handed junior college transfer.

King has completed 72 of 129 passes (56 percent) for 769 yards and six touchdowns, comparable to Smith's passing numbers: 73-of-125 (58 percent) for 859 yards and seven touchdowns.

"You can see him getting better each and every week, and he's got a great delivery," Pinkel said of King.

Still, Baylor receivers have had several dropped passes. King has openly pointed out those mistakes, which coach Guy Morriss said were "obvious, we all saw the same thing. We dropped too many balls." And a sign of King taking control.

"We feel like he's making significant progress," Morriss said. "He manages the game well. He's becoming more and more of a spoksesperson in the huddle. He's developing a little bit of a swagger."

Missouri presents a big challenge, having held Colorado to 251 yards and already with eight interceptions, just one less than all of last season. The Tigers are 21st nationally, allowing just 281 yards a game.

The Bears have to find a way to stop Smith, who has 2,693 career yards rushing to go along with his 5,159 passing yards.

"Brad Smith is the straw that stirs the drink," Morriss said.

But Smith isn't the only rushing threat for Missouri. Damien Nash had 366 yards rushing and six TDs, with 102 yards and a TD against Colorado.

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