Team Report: Nebraska

Check out the latest from the SportsXchange as they give their skinny on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

INSIDE SLANT

   Home sweet home?

   The Cornhuskers might be wondering about the truthfulness of that phrase.

   Entering Saturday's game in Lincoln against undefeated Missouri, the Huskers have gone 2-9 in October home games since the 2005 season. Included in that record is Nebraska's last home game, a 20-13 loss to Texas, a team that lost at home to Iowa State the following week.

   Coach Bo Pelini has a better record on the road -- Nebraska has won seven straight true road games -- than at home.

   "We've been pretty good on the road. Not that we haven't been good at home, but it's definitely something we need to do better at," Nebraska senior Mike McNeill said. "Just little things, for whatever reason, have made us play differently at home, like last week. We need to win at home. The crowd gives us an advantage, and we need to use that."

   Teams used to come to Memorial Stadium and simply wilt. Nebraska had a 47-game home winning streak that ended in 1998.

   Not anymore. Nebraska has lost at least two home games in five of the last six seasons and has endured a two-game home losing streak in each of the last three seasons.

   "You just need to stay focused," McNeill said. "When you're on the road, there's less guys around. It's just the guys who are traveling. You don't have as many fans there. Everyone's rooting against you and booing you. At home, it's a little more laid back."

   Missouri ended a 15-game losing streak in Lincoln with a 52-17 victory at Memorial Stadium two seasons ago. The Tigers have played only one true road game this season, winning 30-9 at Texas A&M.

   The winner of the Nebraska-Missouri game has won the last four Big 12 North titles. 

NOTES, QUOTES

   --None of the past 11 meetings between Nebraska and Missouri have been decided by single digits. The last such game was in 1998, when Nebraska won 20-13 in Lincoln. The closest game since then was a 24-13 Nebraska victory in 2002.

   --Nebraska has scored on its first possession in seven of its last nine games, dating to last season. The only times Nebraska hasn't scored the first time it's had the ball have been against South Dakota State (a 17-3 victory) and Texas (a 20-13 loss).

   --Nebraska is playing its third undefeated team in four games in Big 12 play after handing Kansas State and Oklahoma State their first losses of the season. The last time Nebraska defeated two undefeated teams this late in the season was in 1995.

   SERIES HISTORY: Nebraska leads 64-35-3 (last meeting, 2009, 27-12 Nebraska).

   SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Nebraska's offense is coming off an explosive game against Oklahoma State, but Huskers offensive line coach Barney Cotton knows Missouri's defense will provide a stiff test this week. "I think the biggest challenge they present is their base defense is probably a movement defense," Cotton said. "They don't sit still. Their ends, tackles, noses, linebackers, everybody's involved in movement of some sort. I would expect them very rarely to line up and play a straight defense, so that's going to be our biggest challenge, getting a hat on a hat." Missouri gave up 402 yards to Oklahoma but also forced three turnovers in a 36-27 win. The Tigers are fifth nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 13.1 points per game. Cotton said the Tigers are often changing how they cover gaps and twisting their linebackers before the snap. "They have a very extensive blitzing package, so movement is really their base," Cotton said.

   SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Nebraska's last two opponents have each run for more than 200 yards, and for the season, the Huskers are ranked No. 79 nationally in defending the run. That's not a sudden weakness, either. Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey ran for 155 yards in the season opener, and aside from a solid effort against Kansas State, Nebraska hasn't proven it can shut down an opponent's running game. The good news for the Blackshirts? Missouri is not a ground-oriented team. The Tigers rank 79th nationally in running the football at 138.4 yards per game.

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're all big, they're all big. This is the next one. Our guys are just worried about what to do today to keep getting better as a football team. If we do, we'll be ready." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

   THIS WEEK'S GAME: Missouri at Nebraska, Oct. 30 -- So much was made in the offseason of Nebraska's game with Texas, yet this game with Missouri is really the season-defining game for the Huskers. The winner gets the inside track to the Big 12 North championship, and for Nebraska, anything less than a divisional title this season will be viewed as a disappointment.

   KEYS TO THE GAME: Defensively, Nebraska must clean up the tackling issues that have plagued the Blackshirts the last two weeks. Missouri is especially capable of turning a small gain into a big gain because of poor tackling. Offensively, Taylor Martinez will have to make smart decisions against a stout defense. That begins with securing the football, a bugaboo for the freshman this season.

   PLAYERS TO WATCH:

   WR Mike McNeill -- He's a Missouri native who would love nothing more than to end his Nebraska career with a victory over the Tigers. Plus, he's coming off a five-reception game that nearly doubled his season receptions output.

   S P.J. Smith -- Smith is a regular contributor when Nebraska plays six defensive backs, a look the Huskers will use often against Missouri's spread offense. Smith is tied for the team lead and tied for 21st nationally with three interceptions, and he ranks third on the team with 36 tackles.

   QB Taylor Martinez -- Can the freshman put together back-to-back games? He's been more impressive on the road than at home, but now that he's shown an ability to move the ball with his arm, how will that affect how Missouri defends him?

   ROSTER REPORT:

   --Starting DE Pierre Allen (sprained knee) did not practice Monday, although coach Bo Pelini said Allen could've practiced, an indication Allen probably would return to practice this week.

   --Junior Jermarcus Hardrick played the majority of snaps at left tackle against Oklahoma State in place of injured starter Jeremiah Sirles. Sirles returned to practice Monday.


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