COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -Teammates like to joke that Missouri nose tackle Lorenzo Williams, a linebacker prospect when he first hit campus, ate his way into the position.
Perhaps, but the 295-pound Oklahoma native, who was not offered a scholarship by the Sooners, has also become a leader on the Tigers' stingy defense that faces its biggest test ever in Saturday's Big 12 championship game. He's an anchoring presence on the line as well as an affable spokesman, dismissing any personal revenge motivation while concentrating on the big picture.
``Everybody is happy to be a Tiger right now, and I'm just glad I can be a part of something that will give people reason to cheer,'' Williams said. ``I'm not playing for Oklahoma, I'm playing for Missouri.
``That something extra is all I've got to give for my team.''
Williams has six sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss for a unit that struggled in non-conference play but led the Big 12 in total defense. He was voted a co-captain prior to the season in recognition of his leadership abilities that have grown along with his size, and resulted in position switches from linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle to noseguard.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables remembers Williams as a ``great kid'' who attended the school's camps for several years but didn't have enough speed to play linebacker.
``I knew all the while he was coming to camp that we weren't going to be able to offer him as a linebacker,'' Venables said. ``He wasn't real tall, so you wondered how big he could actually get.
``I remember him well, and he's big-time now. He's playing as well as any defensive tackle in this conference.''
When he reported for his first practice in 2004, Williams weighed 222 pounds. That changed in a hurry at the training table, where players are known to put away 10,000 calories a day.
``I remember when I first got here, the conditioning coach was saying 'We've got to get you to a strong 235 if you're going to be ready to go this year,''' Williams said. ``I got to 235 in the next three days and he was like 'Uh oh, back up a little bit,' and I was like 245 pounds two days after that.''
Williams stopped growing his sophomore season after peaking at 300 pounds for a few days in spring practice and feeling too heavy. He blames tight end Martin Rucker, a close friend and fellow senior, for the whole thing.
``He had to gain weight for his position and I was right there with him eating all the time,'' Williams said. ``So I'm mad at him, because it's his fault. He did it.''
Williams has made 36 starts the last three seasons, and his play has helped Missouri shed its reputation as just a scoring machine. The Tigers are the only school in the country to score 30 points in every game this season, but they also held conference opponents to a Big 12-best 353.9 yards per game.
Texas Tech is second in the nation in total offense, but managed only 10 points against Missouri. Nebraska and Colorado both were held to 10 points.
``We're playing a lot better defense,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ``We remained very positive with our players when we were getting bashed the first four games.''
Missouri had only four returning starters on defense, so it wasn't a surprise to Williams that Illinois, Mississippi and Western Michigan totaled 83 points in the first three games. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has made subtle adjustments during the season, moving to a zone instead of trying to load up to stop the run game and using more movement up front to confuse opponents.
``We knew there was going to be some growing pains,'' Williams said. ``But we knew when it came around, it would be a great sight to see.''
Missouri outgained Oklahoma 418-384 in total yards in its lone loss, leading the game by a point early in the fourth quarter before being undone by mistakes in a 41-31 loss. The Tigers had four turnovers in that game, and have totaled only five in the six games since.
Now comes a second chance against the Sooners, with a first conference title since 1969 and a berth in the national championship game on the line. Williams said the school is ready to take the next big step.
``It's kind of hard to explain, but we just know we're a different team,'' Williams said. ``We've gotten better every week so far this year.
``No reason to think we won't this week.''

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