BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, email@example.com
ARLINGTON, Texas — On one side of the line of scrimmage will be a massive receiver, boasting a 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame, a strong vertical leap and impressive speed for his size.
On the other side will be a taller-than-average, 6-foot cornerback, who also happens to possess premier speed and athleticism.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert vs. Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham is arguably the best individual matchup of Friday's Cotton Bowl. Physical skill vs. Physical skill.
And for Gilbert, it represents a big-time final task before the dynamic Cowboy cornerback takes his talents to the NFL.
“This is the first time that I get to go against somebody that big this year,” Gilbert said, “and maybe, period, since (former Cowboy star Justin) Blackmon. And he wasn't as big as this guy, so it should be a pretty good challenge for me.”
In many ways, Gilbert's work is already done.
He's surged back into the first-round conversation following his brilliant turnaround season, where he became a Thorpe Award finalist after totaling six interceptions — including two returned for touchdowns — to go with 40 tackles, seven pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper ranked Gilbert 21st on his most recent big board and as the top senior cornerback available, while colleague Todd McShay put Gilbert 17th on his most recent mock draft and earlier this season called him “the best, most consistent cover corner in college football.”
But shutting down one of the biggest, most physical receivers in the nation in Green-Beckham — the No. 1 national recruit in the 2012 class who led the Tigers with 830 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore this season — would certainly provide scouts with a strong final bit of tape to consider.
Gilbert couldn't compare “DGB” to any Big 12 receiver he's faced this season. Instead, his best preparation has come from matching up against 6-4 freshman teammate Marcell Ateman as much as possible in practice.
Ateman not only has the size, cornerbacks coach Van Malone said. He also has the tools to use his body to out-position the defender, allowing the quarterback to have a clear target to deliver the ball to.
“He's been our scout team guy and didn't even know it,” Malone said.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin said he will remain cognizant of where Gilbert is on the field. But he also won't shy away from putting Green-Beckham in a jump-ball situation.
“I know that if it's gonna go either way,” Franklin said, “most of the time, it's probably gonna go (Green-Beckham's) way, just because of his size and athleticism.
“We'll still take some shots … (Gilbert's) a good playmaker, and so is Dorial, so sometimes it will just be who's better at the time.”
That approach is, of course, just fine with Green-Beckham.
“(Gilbert's) athletic ability is ridiculous,” he said. “But our receivers, we only do one thing — run downfield and catch balls.
“That motivates me. That pushes me to play a lot harder, really. That's what separates the great from the good.”
Malone stressed that because of the way the Cowboys mix up coverages, Kevin Peterson and Tyler Patmon must also be ready to go 1-on-1 with Green-Beckham.
But the responsibility will still primarily fall to Gilbert.
When Gilbert moves on to the next level, he'll face receivers with a wide array of skill sets. Some will be speedsters. Some will be the slot guys that he's rarely faced while playing on the outside in college.
And some will look a whole lot like Green-Beckham.
Which is why Gilbert is looking forward to Friday's challenge.
“That'll be the icing on the cake (to my career),” Gilbert said. “I'm glad we get to play these guys for the last game.”