Missouri travels to Reno, NV for a special Friday night ESPN matchup with Nevada, looking to go 4-0 in non-conference play. The Tigers walloped the Wolfpack, 69-17 at Faurot Field last year, and are gearing up to repeat that performance against an 0-2 Nevada team. Here are three key matchups to focus on during the nationally televised game.
Mizzou defense vs. QB Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick put up both solid rushing and passing stats in 2008 and gave Wolfpack fans reason to hope for a huge junior season. But Kaepernick has stumbled out of the gate in 2009, throwing 4 interceptions in Nevada's two losses to Notre Dame and Colorado State. This should not give Mizzou's secondary reason to relax, though. Kaepernick could feed off the energy of the home crowd (it is Nevada's home opener) and channel his 2008 production. If the secondary can take away the pass against the dual-threat QB, like they did against Juice Williams and Illinois, then the front seven will have to contain Kaepernick in the run game. He is explosive, but Missouri's defense isn't too bad itself.
Derrick Washington vs. Nevada front seven
Washington, who many expected to be the engine of Missouri's offense, has surpassed 100 yards rushing just once in three games this season. Nevada was in the top ten in the FBS last year in terms of stopping the run, but they haven't had as much success this year. In two games, Wolfpack opponents have racked up 357 yards on 87 carries. (4.1 ypc) Washington may not get an opportunity to pad his stats, though, because the Wolfpack's weakness on defense is not their run defense.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Nevada secondary
Nevada's secondary is bad. Real bad. 7 touchdowns given up through the air in two games doesn't sit well for Wolfpack nation. Gabbert will have a chance to exploit Nevada's biggest weakness, and if he does that in the first quarter, this one could turn into a snoozer real quick. If he overthrows a couple deep balls like he did against Bowling Green and Furman, then the score could be close. I think Dave Yost should try and establish the pass early, force Nevada to put an extra defensive back in the game, and then ride Derrick Washington and his fellow backfield-mates up the Wolfpack's throat.
Tonight's game has a chance to be either a close game that goes Nevada's way in the end, or a complete blowout for Missouri. These three matchups will go a long way to determine which one of those scenarios comes true.