Missouri travels to Nebraska

What a strange season it has been all around the country. Who could have predicted that Missouri and Nebraska would be playing for the chance not to join Kansas in the cellar of the Big 12? Nebraska has been anything but "Nebraska" so far this year and seeing what Missouri almost did to Oklahoma last weekend in Columbia isn't making the Husker nation feel any better.

Stripping the hyperbole away from this game, it may come down to this:

1. Does Nebraska find a way to prevail in this game based on being at home in front of another sold out crowd just because they have done it that way to Missouri so many times in the past?

or...

2. Does Missouri, with the superior offensive weapon named Brad Smith, seize this opportunity to stick a knife in Nebraska at home in front of that sold out crowd, thereby officially ending Nebraska's thirty year run of dominance?

Nebraska will expect a big running game from their QB Jamal Lord, who seemed to get back on track a bit against McNeese State last weekend.  Lord is a good runner if given the opportunity, but presents little threat to beat a team through the air.

If Lord can't run against Missouri, Nebraska's best chance to score points will fall to their all-american cornerback DeJuan Groce. Groce can hurt Missouri either picking off passes or returning punts. Groce is an elite defensive talent, who figures to be a first or second round NFL draft pick next year.

For Missouri to win this game, the Tigers must do the following on defense: 

  • Contain Lord on the Perimeter - Nebraska still runs the "I" and options off of that formation.  Lord is still the primary option if Missouri's defensive ends aren't crashing on him hard.  Not only will the DEs need to be open for business against this scheme, but the outside safeties and cornerbacks will need to rotate over quickly to contain Nebraska's pitch backs.
  • Force Turnovers through Pressure - Nebraska has not handled defensive pressure well this season.  They have not shown the ability to burn defenses through their passing game by going over the top of defensive pressure.  Missouri needs to selectively bring the 4-4 defensive pressure to bear and force Lord into bad decisions.
  • Anticipate on Passing Downs - Missouri's secondary should see some passes they can pick if they are patient and anticipate where Nebraska's going.  The Huskers do not have a sophisticated passing concept, but they do have so good athletes at WR.  Missouri can't be content to play 10 yards off of Nebraska's receivers and contain them after the catch.  It's time to step up and pick off a few passes against Lord and company.

Offensively, the Tigers will improve their chances for victory if they:

  • Have Balance - A nice dose of Zack Abron to go with Gage, Mitchell and Coffey will make Brad Smith's job a lot easier in this game.  Abron has to run hard and not dance in the hole, basically returning to the form he showed in the Illinois game.  Since Gage will likely draw Groce's coverage, Mitchell and Coffey will need to have breakout games.  Both are capable of doing so.
  • Continue to Grow Along the Offensive Line - The young offensive line showed vs. OU last weekend that they could play against an elite defensive unit effectively.  Nebraska's line isn't as good as OU's, but they aren't bad either. Rising star Tony Palmer and Joe Gianino will need to have crisp trap blocks and continue blocking well downfield, especially when Quicksilver Smith is loose in the secondary.
  • Take Care of the Ball! - Brad Smith must limit turnovers.  Three interceptions last week probably contributed as much to the OU loss as anything else.  If Missouri can move the ball efficiently and take care of the ball, the Tigers should win this game.

Missouri's special teams need to continue getting solid kicking and punting from Matheny and Harvey respectively.  Also, Brandon Smith and company will need to continue their solid coverages as well.

Look for Justin Gage to return some kick offs this week as well.

Finally, Missouri can't come out flat at the beginning of the third quarter as they have so often over the past few years.  Nebraska knows that they will have to make things happen in creative ways to win this game and they'd love to block a punt for a touchdown against a lackluster Missouri team to start the second half.  Essentially, that's what lead to their victory against Arizona State in Lincoln earlier this year.


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