It's a big one and you wonder how the Huskers will play at home as well as wonder if there will be any post big game slumps that Missouri could suffer after knocking off Oklahoma last weekend.
This game has everything. It has two highly rated teams trying to clear a path to Dallas to represent the North. It has resentment because of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 to head to the Big 10. It also has a revenge factor as Husker fans will be thinking about 52 points the last time Missouri was in town.
All of these things swirling around and I have to narrow it down to three storylines? OK, here are the storylines and matchups that I will be watching on Saturday.
1. What haven't we seen? - Coach Bo Pelini has alluded to showing some things on Saturday that Missouri and the world haven't seen. You know that Gary Pinkel is good for that too. I mean Pinkel has to bring pictures of formations out to show officials before the game of formations they plan to use. I believe that he will probably have more than a sheet or two on Saturday to share with the officials. Pelini is working on his own answers. What a chess match.
2. Change for the better at home? - Coach Bo Pelini also said that he has made some adjustments to play at home. When there is not enough motivation to come out and play Texas just for Texas or Missouri just for Missouri then something is definitely wrong. Home field for Nebraska has usually meant at least three if not more points on the board. This year, Nebraska might be better served that the home field advantage came out in black and gold and cheered for Missouri. The Huskers are some serious road dogs though.
3. Improvements in the run game, for and against - Nebraska scored 51 points last week and zero points came from rushing touchdowns. Nebraska still had 217 net rushing yards against Oklahoma State and averaged nearly five yards per carry. The rushing game was effective when it came to opening things up with the pass. I think that the Nebraska coaches would take five yards per carry all day long. Then again, the Nebraska staff is trying to shore up their defense against the run. Oklahoma State averaged nearly six yards against Nebraska's defense. Nebraska is allowing 4.1 yards per rush, average, on the season. Most of this, beyond scheme, has been Nebraska's inability to be good tacklers.
1. Nebraska DL/Missouri OL - When you think of the Missouri offense you are going to say Blaine Gabbert, Wes Kemp, T.J. Moe or possibly Jerrell Jackson. However, the Missouri offensive line is probably the second piece of the Missouri offense that I think about. Missouri doesn't have a standout running back, but between three running backs they average around 120 yards. The Huskers this year are allowing around 138 yards rushing per game. If the Huskers are in the dime for most of the game, like you think they would be, there could be some struggles to stop the run.
2. Taylor Martinez - It seems like each week he does something a little bit better than the week before. Last week Martinez actually outperformed Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State when Martinez was 22-for-34, 312 yards and five touchdowns. He was nothing short of brilliant. Nebraska shouldn't have to lean on Martinez to put up these types of numbers every week though and as they make adjustments to take what the defense is giving them in the rushing game you will see Nebraska's offense balance out.
3. Jacquies Smith/Aldon Smith v. DJ Jones/Marcel Jones/Jeremiah Sirles/Yoshi Hardrick - Aldon Smith is back and he looked great last week. The play of Nebraska's offensive line has looked great at times this season and at others, well, lacking. The big matchups along the line of scrimmage when Nebraska has the ball will be on the edges. Missouri is 9th in the nation in sacks. The loss of Dominique Hamilton for Missouri also should shift the emphasis to try and get pressure on Martinez to the outside of Missouri's defensive line.
Honestly, I am not as scared about this game as I was the game against Oklahoma State or even Texas for that matter. Missouri historically doesn't play well in Lincoln for one (despite the 52 points allowed the last time they were in town) and there are always big let downs following big wins. There weren't any bigger wins last week than for Missouri over #1 Oklahoma in Columbia.
Still there is some reason to question which team will show up for the Huskers on Saturday and I am developing a theory about why the Huskers don't play well in front of the Nebraska faithful. This is going to be weird, but to some extent it's about the fans.
Now, hear me out, but this is basically like when everyone was younger and had to play big games in front of their parents. There was a strong desire to play up in front of your families. It's the pressure to some extent. It's about trying hard to make plays and at the same time failing to execute. It's the little things.
And that's it, the players feel the pressure. They know that there are expectations. More than that, there is some fear of failure. Think about it. How crazy was it that Niles Paul gets confronted, in front of his family no less, after the Texas game?
Yes, I said that Paul should have done more and shouldn't be asking for the ball one week and getting the ball the next week and doesn't do anything with it. He's human. It's a team game. It's a team win or loss. The catches were just a part of the game. Make the tackles, don't turn the ball over and execute by everyone is just as much a part of the failure that was the Texas game.
Does anyone honestly feel worse after a loss more than the players? No way. And the fans that see the missed opportunities don't feel good about it so imagine what it's like to be that guy. Pressure. Expectations. It all adds up.
That's why Nebraska comes out on Saturday and just plays ball. This is the biggest game, in my opinion, in Bo Pelini's career (sorry to add to any pressure). Yes, I say it's bigger than the Big 12 Championship, Holiday Bowl and any other regular season game that Nebraska has played in this year. This could be the biggest game at Nebraska in nearly a decade. It's that important.
Still, it's about executing. Go out and play and good things will happen. I don't think that Missouri is prepared for all of the man coverage that they will see in the secondary and I don't think that any success that they might have running the football will offset it.
Missouri will try to alter their short passing game to some extent and probably try and test the field vertically. Oklahoma State was able to do it and Missouri will see that success. That underthrown pass is so difficult to defend.
Huskers will put it together in front of a supportive home field on Saturday and come out with a victory. More than that, they will control their own destiny when it comes to the Big 12 North. That, and they leave the Big 12 with a win over Missouri, 34-24.