Nebraska travels down to Columbia and oh how the memories stir of kicked balls, miraculous catches and an overtime victory stole from certain defeat. Ok, that was then, this is now and while this game should be exciting and physical, there's little chance that the offenses will be dominating like they did during the ‘97 season. It should be another typical Husker/Tiger game though and that means, physical, physical, physical.
Before the game with Kansas, Missouri was being talked about as the story of the North. Brad Smith only in his second year guides this year's Tiger team to the promise-land. It was a story out of that book that stories like this come from.
Then, came Kansas. Actually, it was Missouri traveling to Lawrence, but the fairy tale story hit a glitch in the resurgent, Kansas Jayhawks and to that end, the Missouri team was defeated and to a certain extent, exposed.
In their first four games, Missouri faced some teams that would be considered typical non-conference opponent for Kansas State, hence, they weren't good.
Opening up against Illinois, Missouri escaped with a narrow victory, edging the Fighting Illini, 22-15. In that game, Missouri wasn't anemic on offense, but close to it as they rushed for just over 120 yards, passed for just over 100, diminishing the anticipated start of Smith and company. During that game, not even the defense could help, allowing close to 300 yards in the air to Illinois in addition to 127 yards on the ground. The difference to this game might have been just one turnover, the one saving grace for the Tigers this year in that they have been stingy when it comes to giving the ball away.
Missouri's next three opponents, well, just their names pretty much says it all. Ball State, Eastern Illinois (Div. 1-AA) and Middle Tennessee State. A little more perspective. Respectively, each team ranks 69th, 75th (That's in Division 1-AA) and 93rd in total defense.
On defense for Missouri, the perspective isn't much better. Against an Illinois team that currently ranks 76th in the country in total offense, they gave up 411 yards. And, their best defensive performance game against Eastern Illinois, a team they blanked, a team that ranks in Division 1-AA as the 111th worst offense in that division out of 122 teams.
Against Kansas, they didn't manage 200 yards in total offense, KU not even ranked in the top 60 in total defense and on the other side of the ball, KU managed 318 yards, believe it or not, only the 3rd highest total allowed by the porous JayHawk's defense, allowing over 400 yards against Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.
On the year, Missouri ranks 44th in total defense and 62nd in accumulating yards per game.
How does that compare to Nebraska?
Let's start with offense, because if Missouri is going to have any edge at all, it's in comparing Mr. Versatile, Brad Smith vs. the much-maligned but opportunistic, Jammal Lord and how their respective teams have done in producing yards per contest.
In that respect, Missouri does hold an advantage, the Tigers' offense putting up 375.40 yards per game while Nebraska puts up 351.80 yards each time out. In passing, this is where you would expect to find the biggest disparity, but that's where the surprise comes in. While NU is ranked expectedly towards the bottom of the NCAA, 114th out of 117 teams, the Tigers aren't that much better, ranked 111th.
I don't know about you, but if Missouri can't pass the ball and the stats clearly say they can't, well, it's going to be a long day for the Tigers, even down in Columbia.
There is one argument Missouri Tiger fans are claiming gives them a legit shot in this game and that's turnovers and the fact that thru this season, the Tigers have given up exactly 2. That's two total times that the Columbia cats have mistakenly given the ball over to the other team. That is impressive and has allowed Missouri to climb up the national ranks in regards to turnover margin, to 29th nationally. Guess what? Nationally, in regards to turnover margin, Nebraska is 2nd.
Ok, so if not on defense, not on offense and not in terms of turnover margin, what else do the fans of Mizzou then have to look forward to as a hope that this game will come out with their team on top?
Punting? Missouri ranks 105th in the country. Nebraska? 27th
Kickoff returns? Missouri ranks 80th. Nebraska? 15th
Punt returns? Missouri ranks 20th. Nebraska? 39th.
Well, there ya go. All Missouri has to do is force Nebraska to punt every single possession and they are a shoe-in to win. Well, ok, but based on their defensive statistics, even against the marginally effective NU offense, that's probably not the strategy you want to draw up for the team to rally around in Columbia.
Hey, there's something. Yeah, it's in Columbia. Surely, down on their own home-field, this is going to be an epic for the books. Well, the game where the infamous "catch" occurred notwithstanding, the results of the last 3 games down on Missouri's home field have been, 42-7, 40-10 and 36-3. And of course, Missouri hasn't beaten the Big Red in around 26 years, home or away.
This almost sounds like a duplicate report of last week as Nebraska took on the overmatched Troy State Trojans, but this isn't Troy State, it's a Big XII team. A team that has a history of playing NU physical every time out, if not taking victories away for the effort.
That's really what this is all about in the end, because if you go by the stats this year, Missouri gets smoked. If you go by stats over history, Missouri gets smoked and if you go by results over the years, even down in Columbia, yeah, Missouri gets smoked.
So, what you have in the end is one of those games where they say you can throw out the records, the stats and just about everything else, because come game time, it's going to be a war.
Missouri had better throw all that stuff out, because none of it favors them, but one thing is for sure. Come game time, it will be a war, but the Tigers are way short on weapons, especially the kind that can hit from long-range.
The war is already over, Nebraska 28 - Missouri 3
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619