For Nebraska, it's simple. Sustain drives, contain Brad Smith. Ok, so the only thing really simple about it is typing it as NU has been almost stagnant when it comes to offense and swiss-cheese like on defense against mobile Qbs that can throw. The philosophy is simple though and it's what they will have to do to win this game.
NU's offensive line enjoys more glamour than most offensive lines could dream of. When they are good, they make the front pages of papers and magazines, get star quarterback-like attention locally and are almost deified by kids across the Husker state as they dream of being one of them. When they are bad though or at the very least, not up to NU standards, the New York media might not sniff at the criticism blanketed upon them, but here in the heartland, the scolding can be quite Big Apple-like. Unfortunately for this year's edition of the "pipeline", their success has thrust them into the kind of spotlight that no self-respecting O-line from NU wants to be anywhere near.
Thank goodness they have Jammal Lord.
I do and don't mean that sarcastically. The "do" portion obviously points to the heavy criticism Lord has taken for his role in two humiliating defeats. Of course Jammal wasn't the only cause of the debacles, but he's the quarterback, he's at one of THE most nationally prominent schools in the country and he is absolutely loaded with talent. The second he took the snap as a starter, the blame was going to be his to bear whether it was justified or not.
The "don't" stems from Jammal's sheer potential. With his athleticism, his occasional showings of passing brilliance and his ability to make something out of nothing, there's the sky and he has all of that and then some to look at as his limitations. Jammal can be Missouri's worst enemy or he can be NU's. It just depends on which Lord shows up.
Along with Lord, must the running game go, as except for a game against an overmatched McNeese State team, NU has struggled to get anything going on the ground. Whether it's blocking by the line or blocking everywhere else, none of the very capable backs for Nebraska have gotten anything going, except for their most recent addition, David Horne. But, again, it was against the Cowboys, so we'll see just how patient this young standout is when facing a team expected to be at least a little better at stopping what NU will be throwing at them this weekend.
And what will NU throw at Missouri? Will it be FB48 trap, followed by an option left, option right and a pass because it's 3rd and long or will be it be the type of mixes that allowed NU to score against Penn State and Iowa State? Granted, aside from the running play from the one yard line against the Cyclones, it was only two touchdowns, but they scored and this year, that's coming at a premium.
Most will look for Lord to mix up runs with play-action passes throughout the game. Though NU is stubborn when it comes to wanting to establish the run, it's not worked almost all year long, so it would be safe to say that NU must try something different with their backs most definitely against the wall.
What Missouri will do to stop NU's offense is try and keep them off the field. That's where it could get interesting. You see, Missouri isn't exactly wowing anyone with their stifling defense. They rank almost a full thirty spots below NU in that category, nationwide. When you consider the kind of numbers NU has given up this year compared to most years, that's a ton. So, NU has some light at the end of the tunnel and that all important philosophy about staying on the field and sustaining drives, it might just actually work.
It had better, because it's not just about keeping Mizzou's defense on the field, but their offense off and when you are talking about their offense, you are talking about Brad Smith. Oh, sure he's got two great receivers, but Omboga is out with a cracked rib and DeJuan Groce hasn't shown that he can't cover anyone and he's expected to be blanketing Gage most of the night. So, it will be Brad Smith to make things happen and oh, how he can do just that.
If you watched the OU game, you saw Smith both win and lose that game. A couple of bad decisions passing late in the game took an amazing upset and turned it into a heartbreaking loss. While some OU fans may want to say that if they did this or if they did that, it wouldn't have been that close, it was that close. Smith's team was in it to the end and proved to the nation that the vaunted D-line of Oklahoma is either mediocre or Missouri's O-line just lofted itself to one of the best in the country. That line actually took it to the over-hyped interior of Oklahoma and at times, even pushed them around almost at will.
For NU, heck, for anyone, that is definitely a problem.
Nebraska's success is predicated on controlling the line of scrimmage, something they haven't done in a while, but against a line that just got done showing up the "super d" of OU, coach Craig Bohl will once again have some sleepless nights in Lincoln. In a game of smashmouth football, it could be NU being the one getting smashed.
Brad Smith is the X-factor, the main man, the vera causa of Missouri's success. Heck, he's the man. You can look at Missouri like you look at Iowa State and wonder what each would be without either Smith or Seneca Wallace respectively. Wallace is a good comparison, because as you look at Wallace, you could look at Smith as a player that will evolve to be much like the Cyclone QB.........only better. Yeah, better. With the maturity this young man has at the freshman level, whatever nightmares a team has in their closet to unleash upon an opposing QB, this would be the time to use it, because Smith will get older, Smith will get better and you may wish for him to have at least a little fear when he comes calling on your team.
But, it does come down to him and he is a freshman. He's a mature freshman, but still a freshman and he's not going down to Baylor to play a game, he's coming to the home of the longest home winning streak in the country. He's coming to Memorial.
Chris Kelsay stated recently that NU is a completely different team when they play at home. The intensity rises, the confidence swells and they run to the field after the "tunnelwalk" each time like a team reborn. Nebraska doesn't need a rebirth to win this game, but they need to find a quick death to the problems that have plagued them. Turnovers, penalties, poor execution and even coach Solich admits that the play-calling hasn't exactly been stellar. A unified effort from a team that is as talented as NU should be enough to beat most teams out there.
Will that be what they get this weekend?
The fight song for the Huskers is called, "There is no place like Nebraska." It's actually a classic as far as I am concerned when it comes to fight songs. As the OU theme sticks in your mind as does Notre Dame's and Michigan's, Nebraska's ranks right up there with the best. It's a theme that NU band members play after each score or great play for NU. The pipes have gotten rusty this year, but hope remains. However, if NU drops this one to Missouri, instead of playing, "There's no place like Nebraska", just go ahead and play "taps".
I pick NU to win this game for three reasons:
One: They are at home and I am with Kelsay. This team IS different when within the confines of Memorial.
Two: I think that Jammal has a great game. Yes I do. And by the way, I completely agree with him not talking to the media after the McNeese win. If you ask me, it would have looked worse for him if he did, because after he refused to talk to the media after the ISU game, if Jammal had talked to the press after his record-setting performance, it would have been like trying to take the credit, but never the blame. I think it was just a smart move on his part staying away from public microphones altogether.
Anyway, I think Jammal will have a great game as I think there can only be one of two directions a player can go after having to deal with the stuff he has had to deal with this year. Up or down and I choose up. This game could be a turning point for him and for the team as a whole. I won't go that far to say it will, but I think Lord makes the most out his chances.
Three: They need it. Boy, do they need it.
It won't be pretty, it won't be a high scoring game, but it will be an NU win.
Players of the game:
Offense: Jammal Lord
Defense: DeJuan Groce
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619