Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Missouri Tigers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
--by Vince Campisi
October 30th, 2010
2:30 PM CDT
Television Coverage: ABC
#6 (BCS) MISSOURI (7 - 0) (3 - 0)
#14 (BCS) NEBRASKA (6 - 1) (2 - 1)
Weather Report for Missouri vs. Nebraska
Opening: Nebraska by 6.
Current: Nebraska by 7.5.
09/04/10 - vs. Illinois* - W 23-13
09/11/10 - vs. McNeese State - W 50-6
09/18/10 - vs. San Diego State - W 27-24
09/25/10 - vs. Miami (OH) - W 51-13
10/09/10 - vs. Colorado - W 26-0
10/16/10 - at. Texas A&M - W 30-9
10/23/10 - vs. Oklahoma - W 36-27
10/30/10 - at. Nebraska
11/06/10 - at. Texas Tech
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas State
11/20/10 - at. Iowa State
11/27/10 - at. Kansas**
* - in St. Louis, MO
* - in Kansas City, MO
09/04/10 - vs. Western Kentucky - W 49-10
09/11/10 - vs. Idaho - W 38-17
09/18/10 - at. Washington - W 56-21
09/25/10 - vs. South Dakota State - W 17-3
10/07/10 - at. Kansas State - W 48-13
10/16/10 - vs. Texas - L 13-20
10/23/10 - at. Oklahoma State - W 51-41
10/30/10 - vs. Missouri
11/06/10 - at. Iowa State
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado
Saturday will mark the 104th all-time match-up between Missouri and Nebraska. Nebraska leads the series 64-36-3, with their first meeting being held in 1892. Nebraska won every meeting from 1979 to 2002, often by large margins, however, the series has been pretty even since then. Since 2003, Missouri has won 4 of the 7 meetings, as a rise in Missouri's program coincided with Nebraska struggling to find a coach to turn them around. This is the first meeting with both teams being ranked in the top 15 since 1980, when Nebraska was ranked 8th and Missouri 15th. That game was also in Lincoln, with the Huskers getting the better of the Tigers, 38-16. Last year, in Columbia, a downpour made way for a very sloppy football game. The rain had a major impact on the offenses, as Missouri led 12-0 going into the 4th quarter. Nebraska's offense would suddenly come to life in that final frame, however, and score 4 unanswered touchdowns after some big plays from the defense helped swing momentum. Nebraska would win the game 27-12. The last meeting in Lincoln took place in 2008. The Tigers dominated the Huskers from start to finish, dismantling Nebraska 52-17.
Missouri's offense is a pretty standard no-huddle spread attack. As the season has gone along, the Tigers' offense has continued to improve. They were able to find more balance last week against Oklahoma, rushing for 178 yards while passing for another 308. If they can maintain this balance and do it against quality defenses, the offense will be tough to keep out of the endzone. The Tigers are currently ranked 32nd nationally in total offense (424.86 ypg), 16th in passing (286.43 ypg), 37th in passing efficiency (138.43 rating), 79th in rushing (138.43 ypg), 24th in scoring offense (34.71 ppg), 12th in interceptions thrown (4), 79th in fumbles lost (7), and 36th in giveaways (11).
QB: Jr. Blaine Gabbert (181 of 269, 1899 yds, 11 TDs, 3 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Tigers. Gabbert is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in terms of arm strength and accuracy. He is a big (6'5", 240lbs), strong, and decently quick QB. His 137.85 passer rating puts him 39th nationally. He seems to be playing to the potential that was described when he was coming out of high school. A big reason for that is the blocking he is receiving up front. With that protection, he has been able to be more patient in finding the open man. In their 5 wide sets, this can be very tough to defend when he delivering a good ball. When opponents have gotten pressure on Gabbert, he has been significantly less productive, being rushed on his decisions. While he is a very good quarterback, he isn't immune from throwing bad passes, whether they are high or into the turf. Against Oklahoma last week, he threw a few passes that probably should have been intercepted, but were not. Running the spread, you'll rarely see Gabbert under center, unless he is going to run a sneak. He hasn't run the ball much this year, but does have pretty good wheels if need be. He has a net of 0 yards on 41 carries due to losing 87 yards on sacks this season. Behind Gabbert are TFr. James Franklin (11 of 14, 106 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) and RFr. Ashton Glaser. Franklin has played well when having to come in this season, and his great athleticism adds a different dimension to the offense. Franklin is a great threat to run with the football and has rushed for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries. He has run the wildcat for the Tigers this season.
RB: The Tigers' running game has been by committee this season due to team captain Derrick Washington getting kicked off the team shortly before the start of the season. Jr. De'Vion Moore (50 carries, 273 yds, 4 TDs), So. Kendial Lawrence (39 carries, 177 yds, 2 TDs) and TFr. Henry Josey (50 carries, 319 yds, 4 TDs) have led the way this season. Moore is just 5'9", but really drives his legs and runs with a fair amount of power to carry potential tacklers with him. In addition to the power, he also has the speed and quickness to hurt defenses in the open field. He broke a number of tackles last week as Oklahoma appeared to be trying to strip the ball rather than wrap up on Moore. Lawrence has very good athleticism and rarely goes backwards on a run. He hasn't been quite as effective as Moore and Josey, but is a quality option at RB. Josey is the fastest of the group and is really a pure speed back. He's not going to break a lot of tackles or bowl over anyone, but he can get to the perimeter quickly and get into gear fast. He'll also line up at receiver before coming in motion to take a handoff around the edge. Other backs in the reserve rotation include TFr. Marcus Murphy (15 carries, 96 yds, 1 TD) and So. Jared Culver (1 carry, 2 yds). Neither have factored heavily into the Tigers' gameplans this season, and aren't likely to see many carries unless the games are far out of hand or if there is an injury. The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, with Moore (2 catches, 3 yds), Lawrence (3 catches, 23 yds), Josey (2 catches, 17 yds), and Murphy (2 catches, 5 yds) each catching passes this season.
WR/TE: The Tigers' receiving corps doesn't have the big time playmakers they've had in the past, but it is a deep and quality unit. While there isn't a Danario Alexander on this year's team, most of the receivers here are dependable and solid athletes. Starting at the receiver spots are Jr. Jerrell Jackson (27 catches, 385 yds, 3 TDs) at "X", Jr. Wes Kemp (27 catches, 302 yds, 3 TDs) at "Z", and So. T.J. Moe (53 catches, 625 yds, 3 TDs) at "H". Jackson has good hands, has nice speed, and turns up-field quickly after the catch. Jackson is the best of the bunch when he is healthy. He is finally at about 100% after breaking a bone in his wrist and it showed against Oklahoma last week as he caught 9 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. He did get his knee tangled up with an OU defender during a tackle late in the game that caused him to limp off the field. That shouldn't be a problem heading into Saturday, however. Kemp does a good job of getting open is a great asset with his 6'4" frame. Moe is a great athlete in the slot and really has a knack for finding an opening in the defensive backfield. Reserves at receiver include Jr. Brandon Gerau (5 catches, 96 yds), So. Gahn McGaffie (5 catches, 31 yds), So. Rolandis Woodland (2 catches, 14 yds), RFr. L'Damian Washington (5 catches, 35 yds), and TFr. Marcus Lucas (2 catches, 17 yds). This group of reserves has some talent in it, and in the 5 receiver sets, sees plenty of time of the field. Sometimes you'll see some sloppy routes, but with 5 guys on the field, it hasn't really been an issue yet. At tight end is Jr. Michael Egnew (56 catches, 445 yds, 3 TDs) with Jr. Andrew Jones (1 catch, 7 yds) and TFr. Eric Waters backing him up. Egnew is an excellent, athletic tight end that isn't really a tight end. He really doesn't line up tight to the line and at 225lbs., isn't a big time blocker either. He is, however, a quick 6'6" target that has great leaping ability and soft hands.
OL: Missouri's offensive line returned 4 starters from last year and has been very good so far this season. While they were expected to be solid going into this season, they have exceeded those expectations. They've been able to keep QB Blaine Gabbert upright and have allowed just 8 sacks in 7 games this season (17th nationally). They have given up a lot of tackles for loss this season, however, ranking 88th nationally (46 tfl allowed). Starting at tackle is Jr. Elvis Fisher (6'5", 295 lbs) on the left and Jr. Dan Hoch (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. Fisher has been a solid pass blocker since a season ago, but has really improved as a run blocker this season. He has shown a number of times this year the ability to create an opening on the edge for the running backs. Hoch isn't as athletic as Fisher, but has also improved as a run blocker. Both Hoch and Fisher looked great last week against Oklahoma, keeping the talented Oklahoma defensive ends out of the backfield. The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Mark Hill (6'6", 260 lbs) and So. Jack Meiners (6'6", 305 lbs). Starting at guard is Jr. Jayson Palmgren (6'2", 305 lbs) on the left and Jr. Austin Wuebbels (6'4", 300 lbs) on the right. Palmgren is the only first-year starter of the group and is also the shortest of the bunch. Wuebbels has looked good this year as the pulling guard, plowing through opposing defenders. Top back-ups at guard include Sr. Kirk Lakebrink (6'6", 300 lbs) and RFr. Justin Britt (6'5", 300 lbs). Starting at center is Sr. Tim Barnes (6'4", 300 lbs), with So. Travis Ruth (6'3", 290 lbs) backing him up. Barnes is a tough center that has played well this season and always delivers a great snap to Gabbert in the shotgun.
Missouri's defense is a very fast and athletic group that loves to bring blitzes from all over. They are phenomenal in the redzone (1st nationally), mostly due to having a knack for forcing turnovers in those situations (3 red zone interceptions alone). They allowed Oklahoma over 300 yards through the air last week, but held them to just 99 yards on the ground. They've looked pretty good against offenses with drop back quarterbacks, but have yet to truly face a great dual-threat. The Tigers are currently ranked 38th nationally in total defense (339.14 ypg), 76th in pass defense (224.57 ypg), 15th in pass efficiency defense (108.04 rating), 23rd in rush defense (114.57 ypg), 5th in scoring defense (13.14 ppg), 16th in interceptions forced (11), 42nd in fumbles recovered (6), and 16th in total takeaways (17).
DL: The Tigers' defensive line has been very good this season at getting into the backfield. It's an athletic line that has some outstanding speed rushers on the edges. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Jacquies Smith (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) at left end and So. Aldon Smith (17 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 QBH) at right end. Jacquies Smith has great straight ahead speed, but has seemed to struggle at times when trying to change direction quickly. He is very versatile and they like to drop him back off the line and into coverage looking to catch a QB off guard which has put him into position to break up passes. Aldon Smith played his first game back after breaking a non weight bearing bone in his leg earlier in the season. He still looks a half-step slow, but is still every bit the playmaker he was before the injury and managed an interception that OU QB Landry Jones threw right to him. He is a tough end to block and consistently beats opposing tackles. In certain situations, he'll slide into a defensive tackle spot, helping to increase the speed rushing across the line. Top reserves at end include RFr. Michael Sam (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 1 BLK) and So. Brad Madison (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU). Sam has made a lot of plays off the bench this season, and none bigger than the forced fumble last week against Oklahoma while they were threatening in the red-zone. Madison is another end they like to drop back into coverage and has also been great at getting pressure off the edge, leading the team in sacks (4). Starting at defensive tackle is Jr. Terrell Resonno (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 1 BLK), with RFr. Marvin Foster backing him up. Resonno is the biggest on the line (6'5", 295 lbs.) and has done a nice job against the run this season. He's also quick enough to get into the backfield. At nose guard is So. Jimmy Burge (4 tackles, 1 PBU), with Jr. Brendan Donaldson (3 tackles, 1 sack) performing back-up duties. Burge will be replacing Jr. Dominique Hamilton (20 tackles, 1.5 sacks), after Hamilton broke his ankle last week against Oklahoma. Burge is smaller than Hamilton by about 3 inches and 25 pounds, but performed pretty well against the run last week against Oklahoma after the Hamilton injury. He'll have to step-up quickly, especially with what is on the line this week.
LB: Missouri's linebacking corps has been pretty good this season, but does miss the leadership and athleticism of Sean Weatherspoon. Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Will Ebner (22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 4 PBU), with Sr. Jeff Gettys (7 tackles) backing him up. Ebner is tough in the middle and doesn't miss tackles very often. He hasn't made as many plays behind the line of scrimmage this year, however, with just 1 tackle for loss compared to 9.5 from a season ago. He has improved his pass coverage skills this year and doesn't bite on as many misdirection plays as he has in the past. Gettys is a walk-on that gets most of his work on special teams. Sr. Andrew Gachkar (45 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 3 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with RFr. Andrew Wilson (24 tackles, 0.5 sack) backing him up. Gachkar is a hard hitting, physical backer that wraps up well on the ball carrier. He doesn't have elite speed, but does a fair job out in space. Wilson doesn't have great lateral speed and has not defended the pass well this year. He's very green, though, and this experience he has gotten this year will greatly benefit him going forward. At weakside linebacker is So. Zaviar Gooden (45 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 PBU), while Jr. Josh Tatum (7 tackles, 1 sack) backs him up. Gooden is the fastest of the backers, which isn't a surprise, considering he was originally a safety. He is great when blitzing, seemingly always getting into the backfield to disrupt the play even though it may not show on the score sheet. His pass coverage is inconsistent, though, with the occasional big play along with a blunder or two. Against Oklahoma last week, he made a great play on a tipped pass and intercepted it.
DB: The Tigers' defensive backfield has been pretty decent this season, and are coming off their best game of the season relative to competition last week against Oklahoma. Starting at cornerback is Sr. Carl Gettis (28 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 PBU) at left corner and Sr. Kevin Rutland (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 PBU) at right corner. Gettis is in his third year as a starter and is typically a dependable corner. He's a physical corner that doesn't miss tackles and rarely gives up big plays. Rutland is speedy and used often in corner blitzes. He's missed some tackles this season due to not wrapping up on his man and also had a tendency to get beat by good receivers one-on-one. Players in the reserve rotation at corner include So. Kip Edwards (22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 4 PBU), TFr. E.J. Gaines (12 tackles), Jr. Trey Hobson (5 tackles), and So. Robert Steeples (4 tackles). Edwards, like Gettis, is an aggressive, physical corner that has done well off the bench. Starting at strong safety is Jr. Kenji Jackson (39 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with RFr. Tavon Bolden (8 tackles) and RFr. Matt White (11 tackles, 2 PBU) backing him up. Jackson is a small safety (5'10", 195 lbs), but has good football instincts and has made plays all over the field for the defense this year. Sr. Jarrell Harrison (43 tackles, 2 PBU) starts at free safety, with Sr. Jasper Simmons (20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR) serving as the top back-up. Harrison is a hard hitting safety that doesn't let go of the ball carrier. He has been marginal in coverage this season and was beaten for an early touchdown last week against Oklahoma. Simmons is an aggressive safety that is a high-risk high-reward type player. He'll make some big plays for you every now and then, but he'll also miss out on plays too and give up some first downs and touchdowns.
Missouri Special Teams
Missouri's special teams units have been fair this season. The kicking game is strong, but the return and coverage games have been pretty inconsistent. The Tigers currently rank 24th in net punting (38.91 yd avg), 29th in kickoff returns (23.84 yd avg), 93rd in punt returns (5.65 yd avg), 81st in kickoff coverage (22.40 yd avg), and 10th in punt coverage (3.31 yd avg).
K: Jr. Grant Ressel has made 13 of his 14 field goal attempts with a long of 50 this season. He possesses one of the most accurate legs in the country and has rarely missed a kick in his career. So. Trey Barrow serves as the kickoff specialist for the Tigers, pushing 7 of his 48 kickoffs for a touchback with a 65.7 yard average, kicking between the 4 and 5 yard line.
P: Sr. Matt Grabner has a solid leg and ranks 50th nationally, averaging 41.8 yards on his 32 punts with a long of 58 this season. 14 of his 32 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Tigers consists of TFr. Marcus Murphy (10 kick returns, 23.2 yd avg, 39 yd long) and Jr. Wes Kemp. RFr. Gahn McGaffie took the opening kickoff last week against Oklahoma 86 yards for a touchdown. Sr. Carl Gettis (15 punt returns, 5.6 yd avg, 31 yd long) and So. Kip Edwards (1 punt return, 4 yd avg, 4 yd long) work as the top punt return men. Last week Gettis made a poor decision to field a punt he was not in position to return and botched the catch, turning the ball back over to Oklahoma.
Coverage: The Tigers' kick coverage unit has been spotty this season, allowing some nice returns, but the punt coverage unit has been stifling. Through seven games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 22.4 yards on 40 kickoff return attempts with a long of 77. The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 3.3 yards on 13 punt return attempts with a long of 13.
Nebraska's spread option offense got back on track last week against Oklahoma State after struggling against Texas the week before. The biggest difference was that against the Cowboys, the Huskers caught the passes that hit them in the hands and resulted in 5 touchdowns through the air. Against Texas, Nebraska dropped between 3 and 5 potential touchdown passes. When the Huskers are catching balls to give the offense balance, they are going to be a major challenge for any defense going forward. Nebraska currently ranks 17th nationally in total offense (459.14 ypg), 100th in passing (169.14 ypg), 27th in pass efficiency (149.36 rating), 5th in rushing (290.00 ypg), 10th in scoring offense (38.86 ppg), 4th in interceptions thrown (3), 107th in fumbles lost (9), and 46th in giveaways (12).
QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (66 for 111, 1046 yds, 8 TDs, 3 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Huskers. Martinez is the fastest of the QB's and is an explosive playmaker on the ground, rushing the ball 100 times for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 95 yards on sacks) this season. He bounced back very well against Oklahoma State after getting benched the week before against Texas. Against the Cowboys he threw 23 of 35 for 323 yards and 5 touchdowns with zero interceptions. In addition, he totaled 112 yards rushing on 19 carries. His inconsistent play can most definitely be chalked up to being a redshirt freshman. There is still room to improve in all facets of the game for Martinez. He needs to make better reads in the zone-read option, as there have been a number of plays this season that would have gone for bigger gains had he either handed off or kept it, depending on the situation. His decision making overall just needs to get better, which should improve as he continues to gain experience. Martinez appears to have a pretty solid arm, but needs to increase his consistency. His arm can be quite erratic; he has shaky footwork in the pocket, and also tends to stare down his receiver. His arm strength is somewhat of a question because while throws at a high velocity, he does occasionally under-throw open receivers. He's had two pretty great games through the air in a row, and when his receivers are catching for him, he looks like a well rounded QB. So. Cody Green (7 for 12, 79 yds, 1 TD) is among the top two backups. Green has the tools to be a very good quarterback for Nebraska, but lacks the extra burst of speed that Martinez possesses. He has shown a propensity for fumbling, however, that was earlier in the season. Green has carried the ball 15 times for 64 yards this season. Sr. Zac Lee (7 for 13, 59 yds), last year's starter, is listed as co-number two at QB with Green on the depth chart. He has a strong arm and can be successful when he has protection. Lee has decent speed and has rushed for 46 yards on 13 attempts this season. He played well a couple of weeks ago against Texas, but he and Green will only see action now when or if Martinez is severely struggling.
RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented. They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (74 carries, 500 yds, 5 TDs). Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He can beat defenders by running around, by, and over them. He really is a complete running back. The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (71 carries, 437 yds, 3 TDs), an impressive back that does a very nice job running between the tackles. He hits the hole quickly and breaks tackles well. He also has the speed to pick up chunks of yards running to the outside. As his vision continues to improve, he'll only be more dangerous to defend. The duo of Helu Jr. and Burkhead is one of the best in the Big XII, and are more of a 1A and 1B option rather than a clear 1 and 2 in the depth chart. So. Dontrayevous Robinson (11 carries, 12 yds) and Jr. Austin Jones (10 carries, 50 yds, 1 TD) are splitting 3rd back carries this season. Robinson has potential to be a quality power back, but really isn't quick enough to produce in the spread offensive sets and is much better suited out of the I-form where he can get some momentum going and has a fullback in front of him. Jones has looked solid in his limited carries, albeit the carries have come late in games against tired defenses. In the passing game, Helu Jr. (2 catches, 10 yds) and Burkhead (8 catches, 104 yds) have good hands and could be big contributors this season, but with Nebraska's offense becoming less pass oriented, they've seen fewer opportunities than in recent years' past. At fullback, Jr. Tyler Legate (1 catch, 1 yd, 1 TD) is the top guy but hasn't really seen much time on the field. He's a good blocker, but hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do with the ball in his hands. He got his first touch of the season last week on a 1 yard touchdown catch. Jr. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 11 yds) is the top back-up at fullback. A former TE, Hill's hands can be an asset for Nebraska at the FB position.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers, while talented, have had their share of struggles with consistency in catching passes and their route running. The unit has been plagued with dropped passes as well as lazily run routes. Last week against Oklahoma State was a huge improvement, but drops were still present. There is good potential in the group, however, some of the depth receivers need to step up. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Niles Paul (26 catches, 358 yds, 1 TD). He has a great combination of size, speed, and quickness. He is very inconsistent, though, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones. Paul also has had fumbling problems and concentration issues. He is a great blocker, however, and has opened some big lanes along the sideline for the backs. Starting at "X" is Jr. Brandon Kinnie (21 catches, 281 yds, 3 TDs). Kinnie has great measurables (6'3, 220 lbs) and is Nebraska's best wide out. He is a physical receiver, throwing some big blocks to open big runs downfield. He typically has great hands and turns up field quickly after the catch. He caught 3 passes last week against OSU, all for touchdowns. Sr. Mike McNeill (11 catches, 191 yds, 1 TD) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end in the off-season. McNeill has a knack for getting open and does a nice job of picking up yards after catch. Top reserves at receiver include TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), So. Khiry Cooper, Sr. Will Henry (2 catches, 32 yds), and So. Tim Marlowe. Enunwa shined in fall camp and saw his first catch in the second half of the season opener. Cooper has plenty of upside, but needs to be more physical and work to get open. Henry is a big body (6'5") but has yet to make an impact in his career. Nebraska's top TE's are So. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 12 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (5 catches, 174 yds, 3 TDs). Cotton is a better blocker than Reed, but Reed is a better athlete. Reed's athleticism makes him a tough match-up for linebackers and safeties, but isn't targeted nearly enough. A possible season ending back injury to Sr. Dreu Young has hurt the depth at TE.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line, when they are fully engaged, can do a great job of taking on defenders and imposing their will on them. When they are focused, they have shown the ability to dominate the opposition. However, they have yet to dominate a high quality defensive line. The splits on the line this season are a bit wider than in years past, as Nebraska has transformed into more of a spread option team. They have allowed just 31 tackles for loss, god enough for 19th nationally in that category. They have also allowed 9 sacks (33rd nationally), but many of those were due to Martinez holding onto the ball too long. Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs). Both have looked pretty good so far this season, with Sirles starting and Hardrick coming off the bench. Sirles has picked up the offense quickly, and should turn into a solid lineman, while Hardrick is a JUCO transfer that has the potential to be a force. Sirles was injured in last week's game against OSU and it will be interesting to see if he can return this week. Hardrick played well in Sirles' absence. Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) and Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs) are expected to split time at right tackle this season. Marcel has the potential to be a rock on the right side; however, he has shown some difficulties against athletic defensive ends. He has struggled with a back injury for much of the season, but is able to play now. D.J. doesn't have great torque in his hips and also will get beat by athletic ends. Starting at left guard is Sr. Keith Williams (6'5", 310 lbs), while Sr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 305 lbs) starts at right guard. Williams is a solid blocker that has had trouble staying healthy during his career. He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes. Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which often gets the better of him, drawing flags. When he's not committing penalties, he's the line's top pancake blocker. So. Brandon Thompson (6'6", 290 lbs) and RFr. Brent Qvale (6'7", 320 lbs), and TFr. Andrew Rodriguez (6'6", 325 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Jr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Cole Pensick (6'2", 270 lbs) backing him up. Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and use of leverage. He has been outstanding so far in his first season as a starter.
Nebraska's Blackshirt defense has been one of the better in the country this season, but had a very tough game against Oklahoma State last week. The Cowboys were able to snap a 14 game streak Nebraska had of allowing no more than 21 points. They scored 41 against the Huskers last week, pounding Kendall Hunter at them and airing it out to Justin Blackmon. Nebraska needs to find a way to clean up their tackling problems at the safety spots. Too many first downs were picked up due to missed tackles over the past two games. The Huskers are currently ranked 18th nationally in total defense (305.86 ypg), 3rd in pass defense (140.71 ypg), 2nd in pass efficiency defense (90.10 rating), 79th in rush defense (165.14 ypg), 17th in scoring defense (17.86 ppg), 8th in interceptions (12), 111th in fumbles recovered (2), and 37th in total takeaways (14).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line play has been up and down this season and the loss of Ndamukong Suh has been glaring at times. They play a two gap system, in which the d-linemen line up square with the opposing o-lineman, and attempts to take responsibility for the gaps on either side. What this does is allow for fewer men in the box and keeps the secondary numbers up, so it doesn't become an opportunity for the offense. The group is talented, but needs to show more consistency snap to snap, especially in controlling the A and B gaps if they want to be a great unit. They are allowing 4.74 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 8 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (29 tackles, 0.5 sack, 4 QBH, 1 PBU) on the left. Allen is a great athlete that does well against the run and also as a pass rusher. He injured his knee against OSU last week, but could play this week. Meredith has a good first step and enough strength to power by opposing tackles. So. Josh Williams (6 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH) and RFr. Jason Ankrah (1 tackle) are the top reserves at defensive end. Both were outstanding high school players, and each possesses excellent athleticism and the ability to become great pass rushers. Williams appears to be a step ahead of Ankrah at this point. Jr. Jared Crick (31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (5 tackles, 1 QBH) providing back-up. Crick is big, strong, and has good speed to get into the backfield to cause problems for opposing offenses. Randle has a great motor and a good first step, but still has a ways to go in terms of beating his blocks. Starting at nose tackle is So. Baker Steinkuhler (29 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) backing him up. Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks this season, but should get better with more experience. Moore had a close race with Steinkuhler in fall camp, and like many on the line, just lacks consistency.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has had problems with injuries all season, but should improve weekly with the recent return of Will Compton. With Sean Fisher out for the season, the unit is as strong as it will be all season. The group has some issues with misreading running plays and hitting the wrong gap. This should be getting better as the unit earns more experience, but it is slow going. Starting at middle linebacker is So. Will Compton (4 tackles), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 tackles) and So. Eric Martin (20 tackles) backing him up. Compton brings more game experience into the game after starting a season ago. His return to the lineup should help the rush defense tremendously. Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and has worked as a back up since. Martin is a physical linebacker that hits like a freight train, but is still very much learning the position after playing mostly special teams up to this point. He has been suspended by the Big XII for this week's game for a supposed helmet to helmet hit that he actually led with his shoulder and was not flagged for on the field last week against OSU. Fair or not, Nebraska will be without his services on Saturday, and will be a big loss on special teams. Jr. Lavonte David (78 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 QBH, 6 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (8 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (3 tackles) proving back-up. David is a JUCO transfer that didn't arrive in Lincoln until the summer, yet quickly proved to be a playmaker. He leads the Big XII in tackles per game (11.1), and will continue to be a big time player for the defense as he gets more experience in the system. Nebraska is calling their hybrid strongside linebacker/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (20 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (8 tackles) backing him up. Hagg is a great athlete and gets into the backfield quickly on the blitz and making tackles in the open field. After struggling with coverage earlier in his career, it appears he is finally coming into his own.
DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield is one of the best in the nation, especially on the edges. This group as a whole spends a lot of time watching film and studying their opposing receivers to the point that they know every route they'll run. This has resulted in them jumping many routes, picking up 11 interceptions and returning 3 for scores this season. Sr. Prince Amukamara (27 tackles, 7 PBU) starts at LCB, with TFr. Ciante Evans (3 tackles) as the top reserve. Amukamara is a great athlete and an outstanding cover corner. He is one of the nation's best corners, making it tough on opposing receivers and forcing opposing offenses to game plan away from him. He gave up a few big plays to OSU's outstanding receiver Justin Blackmon, who is near impossible to cover one-on-one. Evans quickly worked his way onto the field, but isn't quite ready to face the better receivers around the country. Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (15 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) is the starting RCB and has shown to be a star in his own right across from Amukamara. He's a physical corner that makes outstanding plays on the football and is a very solid tackler. Behind Dennard are So. Antonio Bell and RFr. Dijon Washington. Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (34 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with So. P.J. Smith (36 tackles, 3 INTs) battling him for that starting spot. Thenarse missed most of last season with a knee injury and has brought back his hard-nosed, big hitting ability back for his senior year. His problem is that he always goes for the impressive looking big hit and will miss tackles, instead of wrapping up for a sure tackle. Smith is tied with Dennard and Hagg for the team lead with three interceptions. He should continue to improve as time goes on, and really needs to get better at making sure tackles. At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (63 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Anthony West (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) being his top back-up. Gomes is solid in coverage, has great ball-hawking ability, but will need to be better at taking down physical running backs. Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it. West is a former starter at corner, but fell down the depth chart due to lackluster play. He has only been average in his career, and has made a switch to safety for his senior season. He played quite a bit against OSU last week, and didn't tackle well.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units are some of the best in the nation. They have some of the top kickers in the nation, and the return men have the ability to break free on any given return. The coverage teams have been weak, however, due to some sloppy tackling and taking poor angles on the return man. The Huskers are currently ranked 31st in net punting (38.68 yd avg), 17th in kickoff returns (25.16 yd avg), 12th in punt returns (15.88 yd avg), 120nd in kickoff coverage (24.36 yd avg), and 88th in punt coverage (11.53 yd avg).
K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. This season, he is 9 for 9 with a long of 52. Dating back to last season, he has made 17 in a row, tying a school record. He has also made 43 of his last 44 kicks from under 50 yards. Henery is close to breaking a number of NCAA career records. He holds an incredible 89.4% career average (NCAA record is 87.8%), 76.9% from 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 72.1%), and 97.5% from inside 40 yards (NCAA record is 97.0%). Sr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and has been among the best kickoff specialists in the nation throughout his four year career. Kunalic has pushed 21 of 50 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.0 yard average, kicking to about the 1 yard line.
P: Sr. Alex Henery ranks 7th nationally, averaging 46.30 yards on his 28 punts with a long of 62 this season. 11 of his 28 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He added punting duties to his repertoire last season, and has been a key weapon for the Huskers. When directional punting or attempting to get the ball downed inside the 10, he is exceptional. Last week in the first quarter against Oklahoma State, Nebraska faced a 4th and 8 from their own 22. Henery was asked to run a fake punt and he delivered, rushing the ball 27 yards for a big first down. The Huskers went on to score a touchdown on that drive.
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Sr. Niles Paul (9 kick returns, 25.6 yd avg, 1 TD, 100 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Kinnie (5 kick returns, 25.4 yd avg, 39 yd long). Paul picked up a 100 yard kickoff return for touchdown last week in which he was virtually untouched. Kinnie lacks burner speed, but does a good job of navigating quickly though his blockers. At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (14 punt returns, 11.4 yd avg, 31 yd long). Paul has had issues with ball control, and doesn't always make great decisions on whether or not to field a ball. These units can be very good, but can also be very inconsistent.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty mediocre this season. Their problems have been missed tackles and taking poor angles to the opposing return man. Against teams with good return units, this is a problem and needs to be fixed. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 24.4 yards on 28 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 11.5 yards on 15 punt returns (24 yd long). The suspension handed down from the Big XII offices to Eric Martin could loom large on special teams for Nebraska.
QBs: Missouri +
RBs: Nebraska ++
WR/TE's: Missouri +
DL: Missouri +
LB: Nebraska +
DB: Nebraska ++
Special Teams: Nebraska +
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
LB - Luke Lambert - Knee - Questionable
NT - Dominique Hamilton - Ankle - Out for Season
S - Jasper Simmons - Suspension - Out Indefinitely
DB - Munir Prince - Neck - Out for Season
LB - Donovan Bonner - Suspension - Out for Season
DE - Pierre Allen - Knee - Probable
OT - Jeremiah Sirles - Ankle - Probable
WR - Khiry Cooper - Illness - Questionable
TE - Ryan Hill - Concussion - Out Indefinitely
TE - Dreu Young - Back - Out Indefinitely
OL - Jesse Coffey - Foot - Out for Season
LB - Sean Fisher - Leg - Out for Season
OT - Mike Smith - Leg - Out for Season
CB - Anthony Blue - Knee - Out for Season
Keys to the Game
1.) Get It Going on the Ground - Nebraska's defensive backfield is excellent and in order to get big plays from your receivers, it needs to start with a legitimate threat running the football. Oklahoma State was able to run through the Nebraska defense, especially in the first half, but the Tigers don't have an all-star like Kendall Hunter in the backfield. Moore, Josey, and Lawrence will have to get the job done against a suspect Nebraska run defense. Things looked good against Oklahoma last week, and momentum will have to be built from there. Having a good ground game will help keep pressure off Gabbert, as well, an added bonus.
2.) Focus on the Nebraska Run Game, but be Wary of Martinez' Arm - Everyone knows the way to slow down the Nebraska running game is by playing sound, assignment football. Mind your gaps and don't make mistakes. The problem is that you need the athletes to keep up with their speed. Now Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez has shown he can sling it around as well, and if his receivers are catching the passes, their offense can be scary. You have to slow down their zone-read game and hope the secondary can win the battles in the air.
3.) Continue Forcing Turnovers - Forced 3 last week against OU, and each were backbreakers for the Sooners. Nebraska has shown a tendency to put the ball on the carpet and a few turnovers could spell disaster for Nebraska's offense, helping the Tigers' chances tremendously.
1.) Must Play More Disciplined - The biggest problem for Nebraska this year so far are the missed tackles that have plagued the defense for the past two games. Nebraska tackled well against Kansas State and shut them down, but for whatever reason have been sloppy and lackadaisical when going for the tackle, especially at safety. Nebraska played a cleaner game against OSU, by fumbling just once, but they did lose that fumble. On the year Nebraska has fumbled 24 times this season, losing 9 (107th nationally). Continuing to limit those mistakes will pay dividends.
2.) Start Fast and Get An Early Lead - When Nebraska has scored first, they've won. When they've been able to have early success, OC Shawn Watson has been able to sprinkle in some variety in the play calling to keep the opposing defense on their heels.
3.) Is the Home Game Hex Real? - Nebraska seems to come out flat for home games, something that has not gone unnoticed by the Nebraska coaching staff. Some sort of changes may have been made to pre-game preparations this week, but according to Bo Pelini, nothing major. Are the home game problems in the Huskers' heads? They better hope not.
This game could very well decide the Big XII North. At the least, it will go a long way toward deciding the favorite. A Nebraska win would put the Huskers and Tigers in a 1 loss tie for the top of the division, with Nebraska holding the tie-breaker. In that situation, the team with the better record in the final four games gets in. On the other hand, if Missouri wins, they take a two game lead in the division and due to holding the tie-breaker, would need to drop 3 of their final 4 games for Nebraska to have a chance to win the North.
One streak worth noting this week is that Missouri has dropped 15 straight games on the road to teams ranked in any poll. Meanwhile, Nebraska has not beaten a top 10 team at home since taking down then-No. 2 Oklahoma in 2001. One team's streak will end on Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska's offense once again looked like one of the nation's best against Oklahoma State after not showing up against Texas the week prior. The biggest difference was that Nebraska's receivers actually caught the passes that hit them in the hands. When that is happening, it opens up some things in the running game and allows them to be balanced and very tough to defend. Granted, Oklahoma State doesn't have a great back seven, but they do have a pretty good defensive line that the Huskers were able to keep from being much of a nuisance. Oklahoma State's rushing defense was 36th nationally going into the contest, giving up about 124 yards per game and Nebraska was able to put up 217 on them. Through the air Nebraska added 323 yards and 5 touchdowns. Missouri's defense is also coming into their game with Nebraska with similar numbers against the rush, giving up about 114 per game. They've yet to play a dual threat quarterback in the same speed stratosphere as NU's Taylor Martinez, so it does change how you look at that rush defense statistic. Nebraska has a pair of talented backs in Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead that haven't been leaned on too much this year and both have very fresh legs this far into the season. Missouri shut down OU's Demarco Murray, limiting him to only 49 yards on 12 carries. The big match-up to watch will be Missouri's talented defensive ends against the Nebraska offensive tackles. Aldon Smith might be coming off a broken leg, but is still as fast as any end in the Big XII and will present major problems for the Husker tackles. The Tigers lost starting NT Dominique Hamilton to a broken ankle last week, and it will be interesting to see if Nebraska is able to exploit that at all. They don't often line up and pound it right at the tackles, but it is something to consider. The Tigers' back seven has defended the pass pretty well, especially in the red zone, but opportunities for big plays are there between the 20's. WR's Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie have stepped up, as has TE Kyler Reed. They need to continue to catch the ball for the Husker offense to be successful. They match up against a group of physical defensive backs that will be tougher than what they saw against Oklahoma State last Saturday. The bottom line is that if Martinez looks as good as he did a week ago in terms of accuracy and minimizing mistakes, they should be able to have a great day. If the offense plays like it did against Texas, it could get ugly.
Missouri's offense has been solid this year, but not always spectacular. They played a great game against a porous Oklahoma defense last week, putting up 486 yards, over 100 yards more than they had been averaging giving up to that point. The offense is predicated on getting QB Blaine Gabbert time to throw and letting him pick apart the opposing defense. He has a good group of receivers to throw to that do well at getting yards after the catch, but will face their toughest challenge of the season this week against Nebraska's secondary. The Huskers defensive backfield is one of the best units in the nation, but had some problems against Oklahoma State's phenom WR Justin Blackmon. Fortunately for Nebraska, there aren't many guys with the skill set of Blackmon in the nation, and while Missouri does have some talented receivers, none are in Blackmon's league. The Tigers have done a pretty nice job of mixing in the run this year and were gashing the Sooner defense last week (178 yards), especially in the second half. Missouri uses a committee of backs to get the job done, and all of them are smaller, shifty backs with good speed and quickness. Henry Josey is the fastest of the group and can really stretch a defense laterally. Nebraska's defense has struggled to get into the offensive backfield, ranking 119th nationally as they average just 2.27 tackles for loss per game. For comparison, Nebraska averaged 6.64 tackles for loss a season ago. Oklahoma State was able to slash through the Husker defense on the ground, as RB Kendall Hunter went for 201 yards (out of 212 total). Hunter never lost yardage on any of his 26 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per rush. As with Blackmon, Hunter is a physical freak that are rarities around the country. Few backs can come close to matching his combination size and athleticism. The problem Nebraska has had in defending the run has been rush support from the safeties, as there have been numerous missed tackles. It was slightly better against Oklahoma State then the 28 missed tackle day the week before against Texas, but still has a lot of room for improvement. Missouri may not have a Kendall Hunter, but their mix of backs will make you pay for missing tackles with their speed. The key will be up front for both teams. Missouri's offensive line played one of their best games in recent memory last week and will need to be on top of their game again this week. While Nebraska may not have the most impressive numbers from their defensive line, there is good talent there and they can't be taken lightly. Missouri will have a big day offensively if Nebraska hasn't corrected their tackling woes. If they do cut back on the missed tackles, they should be able to limit the Tiger run game and put the pressure on Gabbert's arm throwing into a gauntlet of great DB's.
This game will tell us which team is the class of the Big XII North this season. Both teams are coming off nice wins over Big XII South foes and should be ready to go on Saturday for what looks like the highest stakes game remaining on the Big XII schedule until the championship game. Nebraska seems to struggle at home, and have called themselves out for it over the past couple of weeks. With that, look for an inspired Nebraska team, knowing a loss this week will result in a failed season since they will have almost no chance to play for a conference title. Missouri won't have a big hangover after last week's win over Oklahoma, but it is often tough to get up for 2 huge games in a row. This will be a physical game and likely a tight game throughout. Nebraska will hold a small cushion for much of the game before tacking on an extra field goal or touchdown late to put Missouri away. Nebraska by about 7-10.
Missouri - 24
Nebraska - 34