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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

KU coaches face tough test: MU’s ‘O’

Missouri Tight end Martin Rucker (82), one of Chase Daniel's many reliable targets in the Tigers' spread offense, catches a touchdown against Kansas State. MU has scored more than 30 points in each of its games this season.

Missouri Tight end Martin Rucker (82), one of Chase Daniel's many reliable targets in the Tigers' spread offense, catches a touchdown against Kansas State. MU has scored more than 30 points in each of its games this season.

November 21, 2007

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Aqib Talib imagines Kansas University defensive coordinator Bill Young locked up in his office going mad as he dissects just what makes Missouri's football team tick.

"Coach Young is going to be frying his brain," said Talib, KU's star cornerback. "I wouldn't want to be a coach this week."

Third-ranked Missouri has that effect, with playmakers all up and down the field making a spread offense work seemingly at will.

But frying his brain? Is it that bad?

"I don't know if I have enough brains to fry," Young quipped. "It'd be a small pot."

Humility aside, No. 2 Kansas is in good hands with Young, a 38-year coaching veteran in charge of putting together a plan to stop the Tigers.

If he succeeds, he will be the first. Saturday's 7 p.m. game at Arrowhead Stadium is the 12th chance for an opposing team to hold the vaunted Tigers to less than 30 points.

The first 11 failed.

That's because Missouri (10-1 overall, 6-1 Big 12 Conference play) has a case to being considered college football's top offensive team, with a variety of weapons led by quarterback Chase Daniel and a slew of receiving targets he uses plenty - tight ends Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, and speedy receivers Jeremy Maclin, William Franklin and Jared Perry, among others.

"It's one of the best offenses I've seen since I've been watching football," Talib said. "They're just nice, from the tight ends to the wideouts to the line, quarterback, running back : They've got everything they need."

It puts the heat on KU's entire defense. For example, Missouri often gets 6-foot-6 Coffman lined up on the defense's middle linebacker, in KU's case junior Joe Mortensen.

But overall? The pressure never has been greater on KU's defensive backs. Missouri's wideouts have blazing speed, and the ability of Rucker and Coffman underneath - as well as Tony Temple out of the backfield - makes the entire field vulnerable for a successful attack. At quarterback, Daniel uses every bit he's given.

Defenses have been stretched thin all season long against the Tigers, and nowhere does it bleed through more than in the secondary.

"One miscue," Young said, "and it's a big play."

KU's defensive backs recognize that Saturday's game will be, by far, their biggest challenge to date. But they also feel good about what they've got going against it.

"It's not like we don't match up well against them, because we do," safety Justin Thornton said. "It'll just be interesting to go out there and see what we can do against them."

Talib and Thornton both rank among the top five in the Big 12 in passes defended. Darrell Stuckey has manned the other safety position well, and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Kendrick Harper - if Harper is healthy enough to play - have proven to be tough defenders.

It's more than ability, though. Intelligence and poise will have just as much of an impact.

"You've got to be smart with your coverages and understand that Chase Daniel is going to complete some passes," safeties coach Clint Bowen said. "You can't panic and get all out of sorts about it and feel like you've got to do something out of the ordinary. You've got to play your game and be sound and be smart."

With all the potential problems ahead of them, the Jayhawks (11-0, 7-0) still have a handy, if not unconventional, wild card in their back pocket - the KU offense.

"We have a great offense, and we practice against them every day since we started in the summer time," Thornton said. "We're used to seeing a good quarterback because we line up against Todd Reesing every day, and the numbers he puts up are the best in the country this year. We get some good looks out there."

Beyond intelligent, assignment-sound play, stopping Missouri in a lot of ways is accomplished during the week. Young and the defensive coaches started Sunday brainstorming the best way to stop such a display.

They have until Saturday to come up with a final answer. After that? Just hope that it works.

"We'll give them a lot of different looks in coverage and mix it up pretty good," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "But I think the number one thing is, you can't let them find holes in your zone. You've got to squeeze the zones hard, play the ball to its highest point.

"If you're manned up - or anytime you're in a situation where you need to be physical, whether it's safeties, linebackers or corners - you've got to play physical football. And that's something that we do well."

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