Tigers try to end streak against Nebraska

With the Huskers coming in town carrying their 24-game winning streak against the Tigers, Missouri has several more important concerns for the game, especially on offense.

Yes, it's been 24 games since Missouri last beat Nebraska, which comes to Faurot Field on Saturday.

But for Gary Pinkel and Missouri, there are some more pressing issues:

It's been eight games since Brad Smith had more than 300 total yards, and 10 since Smith passed for more than 250.

It's been six games since Missouri had a player with a 100-yard receiving day.

It's been four straight games in the Big 12 North without a win.

So as the Tigers try to fix their hobbling offense and get their first conference win, they will have to do it against the No. 10 Cornhuskers and the nation's No. 1-ranked defense.

After last season's 7-7 record, the equivalent of a town-scorching tornado in Lincoln, Frank Solich jumbled his coaching staff and brought in a new defense coordinator, Bo Pelini. With a few changes in schemes, the ‘Huskers have given up only 218.6 yards a game and have forced 19 turnovers.

"The respect factor is certainly something I'm not concerned about," Pinkel said. "I would like to think that when you play great competition, it brings the best out of you as a player and a team, as a competitor. We'll find that out."

Missouri's offense certainly has its work cut out for it after another disappointing game in its 35-14 loss to Kansas two weeks ago. Justin Gage's departure has seemingly cost the Tigers more than expected, considering the Tiger receivers have combine for less yards in the first five games and Gage alone had last season at this point.

The players, though, are having a tough time explaining it. Even offensive coordinator Dave Christenson is having a tough time explaining it.

"There's a number of things that can make a play not work," Christenson said. "If any one of 11 players break down, you're not going to be successful on that play."

It's been that story again and again for Missouri. The players say the routes and the plays work in practice, but they haven't been able to execute them in the game.

"In the past couple of weeks some plays have worked and some haven't worked," receiver Outlaw said. "Some drives worked and some haven't worked. We just have to get out to a fast start and play ball."

One of the plays that hasn't worked has been the little bubble screen to Outlaw. The play looked good in summer camp, but in the games, opponents have stopped it at the line of scrimmage.

"It's gotten better game in and game out, but at the same time, we're still working oon it. We missed it last game by one player," Outlaw said. "They scout us, too, and they did a good job of stopping that play. We're gonna execute it though, and it's going to break."

As far as execution goes, it boils down to Smith. Even though he hasn't thrown an interception to this point, he hasn't thrown many deep balls and he has missed several open receivers. At Kansas, the Jayhawks neutralized his ability to pull the ball down and scramble by assigning linebackers as spies on every play. Smith had his worst game as a Tiger with 95 total yards.

"We've got to find ways to make Brad a more explosive player," Christenson said.

Nothing from the Kansas game gives home for optimism as the Tigers try to break the 24-game Nebraska winning streak, the four-game division winning streak, and simply break out of their offensive rut. But with an intense week of practice, Outlaw remains optimistic.

"I think our offense is going to work this week," he said. "I think our offense is going to make plays this week. We're not going into the game to compete. We're going into this game to win a game for Mizzou. We want to be a winning team. Just because we lost a game, we can't step back and demolish all our goals we have in front of us. We're focused, it's time to play football."

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories