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Insight on offense

Missouri, W. Virginia feature big-play QBs, RBs

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Posted: Friday December 25, 1998 03:40 PM

  Amos Zereoue is confident because of the team's late-season success Rick Stewart/Allsport

TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- Missouri and West Virginia, at first glance, would seem to have followed similar routes to the Bowl. Both feature star tailbacks and big-play quarterbacks.

A closer look, though, shows a definite stylistic difference for Saturday night's game.

"Our running back is a power guy who's going to keep slamming at you, and our quarterback is more of a run guy who can make a big play on you with the run first," Missouri coach Larry Smith said.

"Their offense is more spread-them-out. They've got great receivers. They're going to make big plays with the passing game, and they've got Zereoue, whose more a skitterbug type who will make people miss him and has great speed."

Missouri's Devin West and West Virginia's Amos Zereoue finished fifth and sixth in the nation in rushing. West gained 1,578 yards, or 143.5 per game. Zereoue, the Big East's career rushing record holder, gained 1,430 yards, or 143 yards per game. West averaged 5.6 yards per carry, Zereoue 5.6.

Then there are the quarterbacks. Missouri's Corby Jones is a stocky, athletic player who rushed for 2,533 yards in his four seasons with the Tigers. He has 38 career rushing touchdowns and 26 career passing touchdowns.

Jones, first-team all Big 12 as a junior in 1997, was a second-team choice this year behind Kansas State's Michael Bishop.

"If their quarterback doesn't have it, you can bet your bottom dollar the tailback does," West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said. "Their passing game is not elaborate, but very fundamental. Their passing attack is very similar to ours when we had Major Harris."

West Virginia's Marc Bulger is the Mountaineers' all-time leading passer with 5,995 yards. This year, the junior passed for 3,178 yards and a school-record 27 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He was a second-team all-Big East pick, behind Syracuse's Donovan McNabb.

Expect the Tigers to try to pressure Bulger.

"Their quarterback isn't a Michael Bishop because he doesn't want to run," Missouri cornerback Harold Piersey said. "He looks like he sits in the pocket and doesn't want to take hits. But their receivers, I can compare them to K-State's receivers. They're consistent with their routes in getting open and really go to catch the ball."

With all this offensive talent, a high-scoring game would seem a good possibility. Jones hopes not.

"Both defenses are pretty solid also," Jones said. "I hope we can score a lot of points, but it wouldn't be my preference to get into a shootout."

No. 23 Missouri (7-4) lost to four teams currently ranked in the top 14 -- Ohio State 35-14, Nebraska 20-13, Texas A&M 17-14 and Kansas State 31-25.

"In all four games that we lost to excellent football teams we were leading at halftime," Smith said. "Three of them went right to the end, the last drive of the game."

West Virginia (8-3) tumbled out of the national rankings with consecutive mid-season losses to Miami and Virginia Tech, then regrouped to win its last four, including a 35-28 victory over eventual Big East champion Syracuse.

The game will be played in Arizona Stadium, where Smith has experienced just about every emotion a college coach can have. Smith, who still has a home in Tucson and plans to retire here, coached at Arizona for seven seasons, culminating with trips to the Sun and Aloha bowls in 1985 and '86.

But he left for Pac-10 rival USC, angering Wildcat fans, then further upset them when he made an obscene gesture to the crowd when the Trojans were beaten in Tucson a few years later.

"I was a different person then, too," he said. "I was a lot younger, had a lot of fire. I made a mistake. I did something I shouldn't have done. I sent a letter of apology back here and admitted I was wrong."

With the retirement of Iowa's Hayden Fry, Nehlen is fourth in career victories among active Division I coaches. His Mountaineers have lost their last seven bowl games.

Zereoue, who may skip his final year of eligibility to go to the NFL, says the team's late-season success has built confidence.

"We feel we can win this game. The four-game winning streak definitely helps. When you lose the last game of the season and then you go to a bowl game, it's like you're starting all over again."

Related information
Mizzou's Jones, West ready for finale
Zereoue has knack for proving critics wrong Bowl Breakdown
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