October 13, 2009

Tuesday Notebook: Preparing for Bryant

The Missouri Tigers know they'll be facing Oklahoma State at 8:15 on Saturday night. They're just not sure which Cowboys will line up across the ball.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, generally regarded as the best wideout in the country, is in limbo. Bryant has been ruled ineligible due to an ongoing NCAA investigation.

"The only thing that we can say is that we have started the reinstatement process, which means that we are in support of him 100 percent," Cowboy coachMike Gundy said. "How long it's going to take, I don't know. Whether they're going to reinstate him, I don't know. I don't think anybody knows that answer."

The other Cowboy whose status is in doubt is tailback Kendall Hunter. A season ago, Hunter ran for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns. But he has not played since the Cowboys' week two loss to Houston due to an ankle injury.

"He practiced some last week. We just didn't feel like he was ready to go," Gundy said. "He'll be back out there practicing this week and hopefully he'll be ready."

The Tigers are assuming OSU will have all hands on deck come Saturday night.

"Dez Bryant, we will assume he'll play. That would be wise to assume that. If he doesn't, he doesn't," Gary Pinkel said. "Players who are probable, that may play or may not play, it's just smart. Obviously the system's important, but if you've got great players at certain positions, you have to be certainly aware of that."

The players say, while they're aware of Hunter and Bryant, they prepare more for the Cowboys' scheme as a whole.

"We prepare for Oklahoma State," said linebacker Andrew Gachkar. "We know that they're going to come out there and run their same stuff, just as we would. We're gonna run our same stuff, it doesn't matter who's out there. And both of them are good backs."

"We prepare really for that position," Kenji Jackson said. "Dez Bryant's a great player. We've seen Oklahoma State has some really good athletes, they have some young receivers that are really great players. I think we need to prepare the best we can just for the position."

Filling in for Hunter, Keith Toston has been no slouch. Toston has run for 410 yards this season, including 130 on 26 carries last week against Texas A&M. At receiver, it's a little different. Bryant, despite not playing a week ago, is far and away the Cowboys' leading receiver with 17 grabs for 323 yards and four touchdowns. The second-leading receiver in each category has 10 catches, 157 yards and two touchdowns.

"With a guy like that that's that explosive and has that kind of talent, you can't just say, we're not worried about Dez Bryant," said Tiger corner Kevin Rutland. "Of course he's an excellent player, so we key on him and you like to up your game when he's playing. But if he doesn't play, there will be no slack in our preparation."

There had better not be. In last year's 28-23 upset win, Bryant did lead Oklahoma State with seven catches. But it was fellow wideout Damian Davis who really hurt Mizzou with two long touchdown catches. So Missouri knows from experience that OSU's passing attack is no one trick pony.

"We've been told this might be the best receiving corps we'll face," Rutland said.

For what it's worth, every Missouri player says he'd just as soon see both Hunter and Bryant in the lineup on Saturday night.

"I'd definitely like to face them at high strength," Sean Weatherspoon said. "Dez is a big-time player, Kendall's a big-time running back, their quarterback's big-time. They're going to do a good job of getting those players the ball. To play against those guys would mean a lot. You get an opportunity to put some good tape out there."

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