Saturday's Missouri-Oklahoma game is all about Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel.
The Tigers (5-0) are coming off an impressive victory at home over Nebraska, but they have an even bigger task this week: winning at Oklahoma.
A victory puts the Tigers into the national-title conversation. But they haven't won in Norman since 1966 and have won there just fives times in their history. The guy who could get them that elusive victory is Daniel.
Last season, he accounted for 359 of Mizzou's 360 total yards against Oklahoma. But he also threw three interceptions and the Sooners rolled 26-10. OU players know he is the guy they must stop.
"Chase Daniel is probably the main factor because he's just running around and making plays with his feet, and you think you have him wrapped up and he throws it deep to a receiver that's broken off his route," OU cornerback Reggie Smith told soonerscoop.com.
Daniel is averaging 380 yards of total offense a game, including 342.4 yards through the air. He has thrown 15 touchdown passes and also has three rushing touchdowns. He has some excellent offensive talent to work with, most notably tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, but Daniel is the player who makes the Tigers go.
Playing in front of 82,112 OU fans Saturday? Bring it on, Daniel says.
"We're going to a hostile environment to play the No. 5 team in the nation. So what?" he told PowerMizzou.com. "Who cares? It's what Missouri does nowadays. It's what we do. We put ourselves in this position. We want to be in this position."
Daniel – and OU's coaches – know that mobile quarterbacks have hurt the Sooners this season. Tulsa's Paul Smith threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in a loss, buying time with his feet. And Colorado's Cody Hawkins threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns and was especially effective in the second half of the Buffs' upset of the Sooners. Neither has as much talent – or as much escapability – as Daniel.
"You've got to lock on to a receiver and let the front seven guys do their job. We just stay on our guys and do what we're supposed to do," Smith told SoonerScoop.com.
And cornerback Lendy Holmes told soonerscoop.com that once Daniel starts to scramble, "we have to lock up on our man or he's going to make the play."
The flipside is that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has played at a high level, as well. And he'll be going against, statistically, a far weaker defense than Daniel.
Missouri's pass defense ranks 101st in the nation, allowing 265.2 yards per game. Two teams – Illinois and Ole Miss – have thrown for more than 300 on the Tigers, and neither team has the same type of offensive firepower as Oklahoma.
Still, this one is all about Daniel. He has to play extremely well for the Tigers to win. And if he plays well, his teammates will respond in kind.