Return game gives underdog Missouri hope Print
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Wednesday, 03 December 2008 12:18
NCAAF Headline News

 COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -Oklahoma is the only team in the country to allow four kickoff returns for touchdown. And the Sooners haven't even faced Missouri All-American Jeremy Maclin - yet.
Maclin, the Tigers' do-it-all sophomore with 4.3 40 speed, has four TD returns in his career. Given a chance to get his hands on a few Oklahoma kicks, Maclin perhaps represents Missouri's best chance to pull an upset Saturday night against the high-scoring Sooners in the Big 12 championship game in Kansas City.
``It's a big challenge,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``Every week there seems to be someone back there that's awfully good, that you'd rather not see have the ball.
``You've got to be able to kick it and cover.''
Maclin leads the nation with an average of 205.5 all-purpose yards, and during his short, scintillating college career has gone the distance on two kickoffs and two punts. He also has a team-leading 88 receptions with 11 touchdowns.
veranxious, you can't try to make something that's not there. You've got to take what they give you.''
Of course, Oklahoma (11-1, 7-1) will have to give him a chance. The Sooners were burned last week by Perrish Cox's 90-yard return for Oklahoma State that cut their lead to 44-41.
``J-Mac gets his hands on the ball a lot, but they're doing a lot of squibbing,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ``Doing everything they can. His numbers might not be as good because people are smarter about what they do.''
Kansas did its best to limit the electricity Maclin can generate with sidesaddle punts designed to roll toward the goal and away from the return man. Other teams have tried pooch kickoffs, popping it up to a less dangerous player in front of Maclin.
Pinkel noted the tactic was a first for Kansas.
``It was smart. They wanted the ball to roll, and he doesn't have a chance to get it,'' the coach said.
The interesting aspect of Oklahoma's weakness is except when return men go the distance, the coverage teams are not that bad. The Sooners kick off more than any team in the nation so they're going to give up more yards.
Their profile has been to kick away until they give up a touchdown, and then start the squib treatment. Maclin doesn't know what to expect.
``You've just got to make the best of the opportunity that's given to you,'' Maclin said. ``If they kick the ball deep, hopefully we can get together a return and try to exploit them a little bit.''
Even without a big return game, Maclin sees ways to beat the school that's won 18 of 19 against the Tigers and whipped them 38-17 in last year's conference championship game. He's a smarter player in his second college season, adding diligent film study to his regimen, and expects those hours in a darkened room will provide a few tips to taking down Oklahoma.
``You've got to take their weaknesses, man, try to expose them,'' Maclin said. ``That's the blueprint to beating any team, regardless of who you're playing. You've got to do the little things necessary to take that extra step.''
Maclin maintains Oklahoma is far from perfect. The Sooners have a recent history of stumbling at the finish line, too, losing to West Virginia and Boise State the last two years in the Fiesta Bowl, getting blown out by Southern California in the 2005 Orange Bowl, and getting upset 35-7 by Kansas State in 2003 conference title.
``I've seen teams throw up 40-plus points on them, so you know there's ways to do it,'' he said.
Ball control would help a defense that's been Missouri's weakness all season, but that's unlikely. The Tigers are fifth in the nation in total offense, averaging 512 yards, despite ranking 117th in time of possession at just over 26 minutes per game because they often score quickly.
They'll nickel and dime their way down the field if necessary. But on the season, they've scored 32 touchdowns in drives consummated in less than two minutes.
Ball control, Maclin said, ``is the most overrated thing in football.''
``We're not going to alter our game plan no matter what,'' Maclin said. ``We're a fast-paced offense, we look to score fast.''
 

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