STILLWATER — Justin Gilbert knows the challenge facing Oklahoma State this weekend.
He faced some of it already.
Back in high school, the Cowboy defensive back ran track against Missouri running back Henry Josey. Gilbert was at Huntsville High, and Josey was at Angleton High, and the last time they met was in the 100 meters at regionals senior year.
Gilbert's time: 10.50 seconds.
Josey's: 10.52 seconds.
“He was complaining after the race, talking about my legs and how I had a long stride,” Gilbert said.
He chuckled at his perceived advantage.
“He's very fast.”
Very good, too.
Josey headlines a talented but unheralded group of skill players at Missouri. They're not as known as the guys at Texas A&M. They're not as ballyhooed as the fellows at Texas. But they are the Tigers' best chance to pull a huge upset against the Cowboys.
And yes, they are good enough to get it done.
I have seen these guys in person — I covered Missouri's 38-28 loss at Oklahoma — and they were more impressive than expected. They rolled up 532 yards on the Sooners and averaged 7.1 yards a play.
Truth be told, Missouri's skill players are on par with any team that OSU has faced this season.
Compare them with the Texas skill guys, a group that is fresh in everyone's memory, and you'll see just how dangerous Missouri could be.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin is more refined than his Texas counterpart, David Ash. When the season started, Franklin looked a bit out of his league, but every week, he looks more and more comfortable. Saturday against Iowa State, the sophomore threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
Sure, it was Iowa State, but those are some stout numbers, regardless of opponent.
At running back, Josey hasn't been as celebrated as Texas freshman Malcolm Brown — he gashed OSU for 135 yards Saturday — but Josey has been more productive. The sophomore leads the Big 12 with 717 yards rushing and 119.5 yards rushing a game, one of only three backs in the league who averages more than a hundred.
At wide receiver, Texas doesn't have anyone as productive as T.J. Moe. The Missouri senior is often forgotten in a league that is rich in receiver talent, but he is something of a poor man's Wes Welker. He catches everything that comes his way. He knows how to pick up yards after the catch. He just makes plays.
And in the past week or so, Missouri has rediscovered the weapon that it has in senior tight end Michael Egnew. He caught eight passes for 97 yards and one touchdown in the first four games of the season. In the past two games, he caught 14 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown.
Put together all of those players, and you've got a pretty talented bunch.
“Missouri's skill guys do match up well with anybody else's skill guys in the nation,” Cowboy linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “I think they do a good job of getting their skill guys in a position to make plays.”
That was obvious in that game in Norman. Missouri found ways to get their playmakers out in space. Give Franklin or Josey room to run, and they can pick up yards in bunches. Leave too much cushion for Moe or Egnew, and they can make you pay.
Those will be issues for an OSU defense that has been known to surrender yardage in bunches.
Granted, these guys from Missouri aren't perfect. Otherwise, the Tigers wouldn't enter this game with a 3-3 record.
That mark might make this game easy to overlook, especially after the Cowboys got over their two biggest road hurdles with impressive victories at Texas A&M and Texas. But the truth is, neither the Aggies nor the Longhorns have skills guys who posed as big a challenge as the Tigers will.
Keep your guard up, Cowboys. Just because two tough road tests have been passed doesn't mean the potential speed bumps are all in the rearview mirror.
“We want to take it with the same approach we took Texas and Texas A&M,” Gilbert said. “We've got to.
“We can't ... not play to our potential.”
Take it from someone who has seen first-hand how good the Tigers' talent is.