November 28, 2007

Big 12 Match-up: Loadholt vs. Sulak

Throughout the week, and will break down every angle of this weekend's Big 12 Championship game. In this feature, we will take a look at five key individual matchups which could go a long way toward crowning the winner. In today's matchup, we examine Tiger defensive end Stryker Sulak and Oklahoma offensive tackle Phil Loadholt.

Stryker Sulak
Phil Loadholt

The play of Sulak and Tommy Chavis has been the biggest factor in the improvement of Missouri's defense. Last week, Sulak had his way with Anthony Collins, one of the best in the league, but Collins wasn't healthy. He has had a very solid junior season and has become a pass-rushing threat off the edge. Even when he's not getting there, he's getting close. But I don't think he's faced anyone that is as good as Loadholt. I don't think Sulak has to win this battle consistently. I think he has to win it three or four times a half. If he can get to Bradford twice and cause a couple of game-changing plays, his job is done. That being said, I've got to see him do it before I'm going to give him the nod over a tackle as talented as Loadholt. When I saw these teams play the first time, it was the first time I'd really seen Loadhold in action and I came away very, very impressed.

This to me is the Tigers best chance of slowing down Oklahoma's offense, stopping Sam Bradford before he gets started. Last week Loadholt dominated Sulak's fellow second-team All Big-12 defensive lineman Nathan Peterson. The Oklahoma State senior is a quite similar player to Sulak, though a bit smaller. Then again, against Loadholt being smaller is all about degrees. Sulak surrenders three inches and about 100-pounds to Oklahoma's second-team offensive lineman. However, like Peterson said last week 'he has the best feet of anyone I've faced' and considering Peterson is a guy that, like Sulak, is a speed based pass rusher and will have to try and win on the edge against Loadholt. It's a battle that he might be able to win at times but with Loadholt's surprising quickness and great arm length it's hard to imagine sustained success. While I think passing situations will be advantageous to Loadholt, it's not nearly as lopsided as when the Sooners run the ball. The 6-foot-8, 350-pound left tackle was absolutely crushing at the point of attack last week and if he can continue it, I expect a long and tiring day for Sulak. At times this year Loadholt has lacked focus and been taken advantage of, but when he is on his game he's as good as any lineman in the conference.

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