Nebraska vs #4 Missouri

Check out our latest game preview as the No. 4 Missouri Tigers look to break a streak dating back 30 years as they try to get a win in Lincoln, and keep their national championship hopes alive.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Missouri Tigers

10/03/08
--by Vince Campisi



GAME FIVE
October 4th, 2008
8:00 PM CT
Lincoln, NE

Television Coverage:
ESPN

MISSOURI (4 - 0) (0 - 0)
VS
NEBRASKA (3 - 1) (0 - 0)



Gametime Weather

Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Missouri

Latest Line - Missouri by 10.5.

Schedules/Results

Missouri
08/30/08 - vs. Illinois - W 52-42
09/06/08 - vs. Southeast Missouri State - W 52-3
09/13/08 - vs. Nevada - W 69-17
09/20/08 - vs. Buffalo - W 42-21
10/04/08 - at. Nebraska
10/11/08 - vs. Oklahoma State
10/18/08 - at. Texas
10/25/08 - vs. Colorado
11/01/08 - at. Baylor
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas State
11/15/08 - at. Iowa State
11/29/08 - vs. Kansas

Nebraska
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado


Player Breakdowns

Missouri Offense

Missouri's offense is one of the nation's best.  The Tigers have little problems lighting up the scoreboard week after week.  After playing four games, they rank 2nd nationally in total offense (595.50 ypg), 2nd in passing (404.30 ypg), 5th in passing efficiency (183.45 rating), 31st rushing (191.25 ypg), 2nd scoring offense (53.75 ppg), and 40th in turnover margin (+0.50 mrg).  

QB: Sr. Chase Daniel (101 of 133, 1412 yds, 12 TDs, 1 INT) is one of the most efficient QB's in the nation, as few run the spread with his precision.  Daniel is completing 75.9% of his passes this season, with an impressive 193.40 pass efficiency rating.  Daniel was near perfect in his last outing, against Buffalo.  He was 36 of 43 for 439 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Quick drops and quick outs keep him from getting sacked much, but he's also got enough foot speed to get himself out of trouble.  He isn't a track star by any means, but it is a threat and has to be respected.  On the season, he has rushed for 74 yards on 14 carries with a long of 18.  A seasoned veteran, Daniel isn't easily rattled and is rarely off his game.  Behind Daniel are Sr. Chase Patton (9 for 12, 136 yds) and TFr. Blaine Gabbert (4 for 11, 37 yds).  

RB: Starting at tailback So. Derrick Washington (53 carries, 361 yds, 8 TDs).  Washington is a bigger back than Missouri has been using for the past few years at 5'11" 225 lbs.  Right now, Washington is playing just about as well as any back in the Big XII, averaging over 90 yards per game.  He has a good mixture of speed and power running, making him a dangerous weapon in the Tigers' offense.  His reserves, Sr. Jimmy Jackson (20 carries, 129 yds, 1 TD) and RFr. De'Vion Moore (21 carries, 107 yds) are the more typically sized recent Missouri backs at 5'9", 200 lbs.  Not much was expected from this unit after losing Tony Temple to the pros, however, they have done an admirable job.  Between the top three backs, they are averaging 6.35 yards per carry.  Much of this is due to the spread offenses nature to spread the defense out, creating big lanes for the running backs to run through.  In the Missouri spread, the backs also get a few passes their way each game as well.  Washington has caught 7 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, Jackson has caught 2 passes for 13 yards this season.  

WR/TE: The Tigers lost some great players from their receiving corps a season ago, however, still have an experienced and talented unit this season.  Starters are So. Jeremy Maclin (26 catches, 391 yds, 4 TDs) at "H", Jr. Jared Perry (16 catches, 270 yds, 2 TDs) at "X", and Sr. Tommy Saunders (19 catches, 308 yds, 2 TDs) at "Z".  Jr. Danario Alexander (2 catches, 34 yds, 1 TD) will split time with Perry at "X" as he reaches 100% health.  This is about as good of a receiving corps in the Big XII.  Alexander is the biggest, at 6'5", 210 lbs, while everyone else in the top 4 is no taller than 6'1".  They do an excellent job of getting yards after catch, helping keep drives going the right direction.  Maclin is the best playmaker for the team, and one of the best in the nation.  Top reserves at receiver include TFr. Jerrell Jackson (6 catches, 70 yds), TFr. Wes Kemp (1 catch, 15 yds), and Sr. Earl Goldsmith.  Goldsmith is a converted running back, and has yet to make a catch this season.  At TE is the outstanding Sr. Chase Coffman (28 catches, 379 yds, 3 TDs).  He had been part of one of the best TE duos in recent memory with Martin Rucker, but with Rucker off in the NFL now, Coffman has seen a bigger chunk of passes come his way.  Behind Coffman is TFr. Andrew Jones (5 catches, 37 yds), TFr. Michael Egnew (2 catches, 11 yds), and Jr. John Gissinger (1 catch, 10 yds).  Unusual for this group of receivers, Maclin, Perry, and Coffman each lost a fumble in their last game, against Buffalo, all lost in Buffalo territory.  You can bet they won't be quite that generous this week.

OL: Missouri's offensive line is performing well, despite replacing two four year starters, Tyler Luellen and Adam Spieker.  So far this season, the line is allowing for an average of 5.8 yards per rush, also giving up just 2 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in four games.  Starting at left tackle is RFr. Elvis Fisher (6'5", 300 lbs), and starting at right tackle is Sr. Colin Brown (6'8", 330 lbs).  Brown is one of the biggest linemen that you will see, and one of the better tackles in the Big XII.  TFr. Dan Hoch (6'7", 315 lbs) and So. Mike Prince (6'3", 300 lbs) are the top reserves at tackle.  Starting at guard is Sr. Ryan Madison (6'5", 305 lbs) on the left and Jr. Kurtis Gregory (6'5", 305 lbs) on the right.  Both Madison and Gregory are returning starters from last season and are quality blockers for the pass as well as the run.  Top back-ups at guard are RFr. Jayson Palmgren (6'2", 305 lbs), RFr. Austin Wuebbels (6'4", 300 lbs.), and Jr. Dain Wise (6'5", 305 lbs).  Wise was expected to contend for the left tackle position but has fallen all the way to third string right guard.  At center is So. Tim Barnes (6'4", 305 lbs), with RFr. J.T. Beasley (6'4", 295 lbs) serving as his back-up.  Barnes is a solid blocker that is going to be a rock at center for the next 2 1/2 seasons.


Missouri Defense

Missouri's defense has had trouble shutting down opposing offenses, despite not playing top offenses.  Through four games, they rank 79th nationally in total defense (378.50 ypg), 111th pass defense (279.50 ypg), 58th pass efficiency defense (117.34 rating), 24th rush defense (99 ypg), 47th in scoring defense (20.8 ppg), 82nd in fumbles recovered (2), and 39th in interceptions (5).  The struggling Tigers' defense ranks dead last in the Big XII in total defense.

DL: Missouri's defensive front has a lot of experience, returning three starters from last season.  The unit has been tough against the run this season, and was outstanding against Buffalo two weeks ago, holding the Bulls to just 49 yards on 35 carries.  Through four games, they are allowing 2.8 yards per carry, while picking up 11 sacks and 36 QB hurries.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Tommy Chavis (11 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF) on the left and Sr. Stryker Sulak (16 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 BK) on the right.  Sulak is a complete player, with a good combination of speed and power.  Chavis is also playing at a high level, both should be in the running for All-Big XII selections at the end of the year.  Top reserves at end are TFr. Jacquies Smith (6 tackles, 4 PBU), Jr. Brian Coulter (1 tackle, 1 PBU), and RFr. Chris Earnhardt (7 tackles).  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Ziggy Hood (13 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 BK), with RFr. Terrell Resonno (4 tackles) and Jr. Andy Maples serving as back-ups.  Hood is a beast in the middle, and was able to record two sacks against Buffalo.  At the nose is Jr. Jaron Baston (7 tackles, 1 FR), with RFr. Dominique Hamilton (2 tackles) and So. Bart Coslet (1 tackle) performing back-up duties.  Baston is playing well in his first year as a starter, but hasn't been dominant at the nose.
 
LB: Missouri's linebacking crew is a strength for the defense, with speedy tacklers.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Brock Christopher (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU), with TFr. Will Ebner (15 tackles) providing back-up.  Christopher is a solid Mike backer, good in run support as well as pass coverage.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Sean Weatherspoon (48 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 PBU, 1 QBH), while So. Andrew Gachkar (8 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) backs him up.  Weatherspoon is the best athlete of the group, and was tough against Buffalo, picking up 20 of his 48 tackles against the Bulls.  He is also the best coverage linebacker the Tigers have, utilizing his speed to make plays on the ball.  So. Luke Lambert (14 tackles) starts as the strongside backer, with So. Jeff Gettys (5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH) and Sr. Van Alexander (2 tackles) serving as his top reserves.  Lambert hasn't played too badly for a first time starter, however, hasn't been the playmaker that Christopher and Weatherspoon are.  Alexander should see more time as he gets back to 100% from a torn ACL that sidelined him for three games this season.  

DB: The Tigers' secondary is full of experience, however, has been among the nation's worst groups statistically (111th against the pass).  Opponents are completing 54.3% of their passes with an average completion of 11.8 yards per reception.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Castine Bridges (15 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 PBU) on the left, and So. Carl Gettis (23 tackles, 1 PBU) on the right.  Bridges is a tall cornerback at 6'2", and has most of his success against shorter receivers.  Teams are throwing at the less experienced Gettis, who is a solid tackler, but still has plenty of room to improve in coverage.  Top reserves at corner are Sr. Tru Vaughns (16 tackles, 2 PBU), So. Kevin Rutland (11 tackles, 1 FR, 4 PBU), and RFr. Trey Hobson (9 tackles).  Rutland is a speedster and although young, has made some good plays on the ball, leading all corners in passes broken up.  Starting at strong safety is Sr. Justin Garrett (27 tackles, 1 QBH), with Jr. Hardy Ricks (8 tackles) serving as the top back-up.  At free safety is Sr. William Moore (16 tackles), while Jr. Del Howard (13 tackles) and TFr. Kenji Jackson (10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) are the top reserves.  Moore is the best of this unit, however, due to a foot injury, he is listed as questionable for this week.  Moore has played in just 2 games this season for the Tigers.


Missouri Special Teams


Missouri's special teams play is solid.  They have the talent at the return positions to be a threat to score each time on the field.  The Tigers currently rank 58th in net punting (35.20 yd avg), 57th in punt returns (9.86 yd avg), and 50th in kickoff returns (22.43 yd avg).

K: Sr. Jeff Wolfert handles field goals, extra points, and kickoffs for the Tigers.  He has made 6 of his 7 field goal attempts, with a long of 51.  He has been strong on kickoffs, pushing 8 of his 35 kickoffs for touchback and a 64.8 yard average.

P: Jr. Jake Harry is an excellent punter, averaging 42.6 yards on 9 punts with a long of 55.  3 of his 9 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: Missouri's top kickoff return unit consists of So. Jeremy Maclin (7 kick returns, 31 yd avg, 1 TD, 99 yd long) and Sr. Tru Vaughns (2 kick returns, 24 yd avg, 24 yd long).  Top punt return man is So. Jeremy Maclin (12 punt returns, 10.2 yd avg, 46 yd long).  Maclin can be tough to bring down, and is easily the most dangerous scoring threat for the Tigers.

Coverage
: The Tigers' kick coverage team has been pretty solid, allowing an average of 22.7 yards on 29 kickoff return attempts.  However, Missouri did allow Ernest Jackson of Buffalo to score on a 97 yard kickoff return two weeks ago.  The punt coverage team has been excellent, allowing an average of just 4.7 yards per return on 3 punts.



Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense was expected to be great this season, but hasn't come close to matching those expectations thus far.  After four games, Nebraska ranks 33rd nationally in total offense (421 ypg), 24th in passing (265.50 ypg), 12th in pass efficiency (159.83 rating), 57th in rushing (155.50 ypg), 17th in scoring offense (37.50 ppg), and 75th in turnover margin (-0.25 mrg).  

QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (67 for 104, 997 yds, 7 TDs, 4 INTs) is one of the many good quarterbacks in the Big XII, but he isn't in the top tier.  Overall, he has played fairly well this season, but not consistently through a game.  At times he makes every throw possible, checking down his receivers and making good reads.  Many other times, he has been off the mark, making poor decisions and forcing passes that should otherwise be thrown away.  11% of his incomplete passes are actually interceptions, averaging one per game.  Some of his struggles last week against Virginia Tech were due to poor blocking, not allowing him to get set properly.  However, even when he had time, he wasn't always on the mark.  He does have good feet and can run the ball effectively, even the occasional speed option.  He has rushed for 123 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries this season.  Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (4 for 6, 40 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds).  Neither has seen meaningful snaps, but Witt has shown a problem taking snaps in both games he played in this season.

RB: Nebraska's stable of running backs is talented, and one of the best in the Big XII.  Unfortunately, there hasn't been much of a push up front to give them running lanes.  Sr. Marlon Lucky (42 carries, 186 yds, 4 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (27 carries, 164 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (25 carries, 95 yds, 1 TD) are considered the co-number 1's.  Lucky is fourth all-time in total offensive yards in Nebraska history, no small feat.  He doesn't hit the hole with great authority, but is tough to bring down as a pass catcher in the open field.  Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping and cutting ability.  He finds and hits the hole better than anyone else in the backfield.  Castille is the strongest runner of the group, and not afraid to take defenders head-on.  All can be successful when used properly.  RFr. Marcus Mendoza (5 carries, 45 yds) is the team's fourth option and looks to be a solid flash back, with his superb quickness.  Lucky (8 catches, 94 yds, 1 TD) is arguably the best pass-catching running back in college football, but the offense really hasn't showcased him in that way as they did a season ago.  He made a phenomenal one-handed catch last week that netted 29 yards.  Castille (4 catches, 61 yds), Helu Jr. (3 catches, 48 yds), and Mendoza (1 catch, 0 yd) have also caught passes this season.  At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) should be back to 100% after having his appendix removed a few weeks ago.  He wasn't expected to, but he played last weekend.  

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps has a good amount of talent, however, much of it is still unproven.  As a whole, the group needs to do a better job of getting open.  Sr. Nate Swift (15 catches, 259 yds, 2 TDs) starts at "X", and is Ganz's top threat in this offense.  He has great hands and good speed, which has helped him to average over 17 yards per catch.  Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (15 catches, 187 yds, 1 TD), who made some big catches a week ago.  Unfortunately, with just 8 seconds to go, Peterson fumbled a big completion past midfield that ended the final chance for a Nebraska comeback.  Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (8 catches, 103 yds), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks.  Holt has big play ability, but needs to be more crisp in his route running, as well as getting open.  Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (4 catches, 58 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (1 catch, 5 yds).  Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters, but haven't seen much come their way.  At TE is So. Mike McNeill (6 catches, 126 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 65 yds), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill as the top pair of back-ups.  McNeill is turning into a big playmaker for the Husker offense, giving them a legitimate threat at TE.  

OL: Nebraska's offensive line another lackluster outing last week against Virginia Tech.  If this unit can't get a good push up front, the run game will continue to be stagnant, and the Huskers will continue to lose games.  This season the line is allowing 4.8 yards per carry, which is an inflated number from playing New Mexico State's porous defense.  Last week the Huskers averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.  Starting at tackle is So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right.  After playing well as a group for the first three games, tackle play was not up to par against Virginia Tech.  Murtha is usually the line's best player, but really struggled last week.  So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT.  Burkes is a better run blocker than Smith, and could see more playing time if the struggles continue.  Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard.  Guard play has been poor this season, and Williams has been added to the starting line-up this week to see if he can help.  So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and So. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard, as Huff was recently demoted in favor of Williams.  However, Huff will likely get plenty of snaps, considering the amount of rotation Nebraska uses on their line.  Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up.  Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force, by any means.


Nebraska Defense


Nebraska's defense has been giving up a lot of yards each week, but has done a good job of keeping opponents out of the endzone.  After playing four games, the Huskers rank 64th nationally in total defense (354.75 ypg), 96th pass defense (245 ypg), 55th pass efficiency defense (114.39 rating), 35th rush defense (109.80 ypg), 40th scoring defense (19.5 ppg), 102nd in fumbles recovered (1), and 39th in interceptions (5).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season.  Opponents average just 3 yards per rush this season, a stark improvement over last year's 5.2 yard per rush average.  So. Pierre Allen (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU) starts at open end, with TFr. Cameron Meredith serving as his top back-up.  Allen has played very well after taking on a starting role for the injured Barry Turner a few games ago.  Sr. Zach Potter (15 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU, 1 BK) starts at base end, and is the most versatile player on this line.  Sr. Clayton Sievers (3 tackles, 1 QBH) is the top reserve at base end behind Potter, and has done well in that role.  Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (19 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (4 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (6 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up.  Suh is a great athlete for a big man, with great foot-work and strength.  Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (20 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up.  Steinkuhler has been a stalwart in the middle, really playing well now that he is healthy.  

LB
: Nebraska started three new linebackers this season, and they are playing better than what the Huskers had last year, however, last week was not a great outing for them.  They weren't particularly good in coverage, and weren't as solid tackling as they have been in the previous three games.  Jr. Phillip Dillard (28 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) starts at MLB and is the leader of this defense.  He's a solid LB that leads the team in assisted tackles (22), showing that he has a nose for the ball and helps his teammates bring the opposition down.  Behind Dillard is TFr. Will Compton and Jr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles).  Compton has yet to get on the field this season, and probably won't unless there is an injury to Dillard.  Sr. Cody Glenn (35 tackles, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB after converting from RB in the off-season.  He flies to the ball and is the team's top tackler this season.  He does make a few mistakes, which comes from not knowing everything about the position just yet.  So. Blake Lawrence (4 tackles) is Glenn's top reserve, but doesn't play much.  Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (4 tackles), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups.  Fisher, like Compton, probably won't play unless there is an injury to a starter to preserve his red-shirt.  Expect to see less of Wortman this week, as the Huskers will go back to more nickel and dime defensive sets against the Missouri spread attack.  

DB: Nebraska's secondary has been giving up a lot of yards between the 20's, leaving many receivers wide open for big plays.  They are stronger in the red zone, when there is less green to cover, but need to find a way to get better coverage on their opponent.  Sr. Armando Murillo (21 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU) is the starter at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (19 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard backing him up.  Murillo is the most veteran player in the secondary, and has been the best of the group.  Hagg is also playing well, considering his youth and inexperience.  So. Anthony West (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (19 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (9 tackles) serving as his back-ups.  West and Amukamara have played fairly well, but have also each given up big plays this season.  At safety, Jr. Larry Asante (20 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at SS, with Jr. Major Culbert (5 tackles) backing him up.  Asante needs to do a better job of making plays on the ball, as well as reading an offense, not biting on every play-fake.  He gets beat far too often.  Jr. Rickey Thenarse (3 tackles) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) share the top spot at FS on the depth chart.  Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is the harder hitter and better athlete.


Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams have been great in some areas, and mediocre in others.  The return game and kicking game has been great, but the coverage units have been missing many tackles.  The Huskers rank 116th in net punting (27.50 yd avg), 16th in punt returns (17 yd avg), and 45th in kickoff returns (22.78 yd avg).  

K: So. Alex Henery (6 for 7, 48 yd lng) is a dependable kicker, and hit his career long 48 yarder last week against Virginia Tech.  So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs and extra-long field goals due to his outstanding leg strength.  Kunalic has pushed 12 of 28 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 67.7 yard average.  

P: Sr. Dan Titchener is averaging 38 yards on 13 punts with a long of 54.  3 of his 8 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He isn't doing quite as well as he did last season, when he averaged over 41 yards per punt.   
 
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (12 returns, 25.8 yd avg, 1 TD), RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (2 returns, 24 yd avg), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (2 returns, 10.5 yd avg).  At punt returner is So. Niles Paul (5 returns, 9.8 yd avg, 28 yd long) and Sr. Nate Swift (4 returns, 26 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long).  Swift had a big 88 yard punt return for touchdown against Virginia Tech that got Nebraska back into the game in the 4th quarter.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams struggled last week to make tackles.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 25.4 yards on 17 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 11.1 yards on 8 punt returns (up from 5.2 a week ago).  


Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Missouri's Defense


Nebraska's passing game hasn't really been flowing smoothly since the season opener against Western Michigan.  Since then, it has been a lot of inconsistent play from everyone involved.  Nebraska has been up against good secondaries for much of the season, however, it hasn't necessarily been the defenses that have caused the problems.  QB Joe Ganz hasn't been nearly as prolific as he was at the end of last season, the offensive line isn't doing a good enough job up front, and the receivers could do a better job at getting open.  Improvements have to be made and quickly.  If there is one positive for Nebraska this week, it is that the Missouri defense is the worst in the Big XII at defending the pass, despite playing soft competition.  This would seem to present a great opportunity for a big day, however, Missouri came into the Nebraska game last season with similar poor numbers defensively, yet shut the Huskers down to just 6 points.  Missouri is allowing opponents to complete 54.3% of their passes, while Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz is completing 64.4% of his attempts this season.  
Ganz is going to have to be more efficient this week, and will try to build from a strong fourth quarter against Virginia Tech to get into a comfort zone early against the Tigers.  WR Nate Swift was silent for much of last week's game, but made some big catches late, picking up large chunks of yards after making the initial catch.  TE Mike McNeill is now a proven weapon in the Husker offense and will be one to watch this week.  Missouri's defensive backfield could get a big boost if SS William Moore is 100% healed from a foot injury.  He's an NFL talent and his presence will have an effect on how well Nebraska can throw the ball around.  Ganz cannot afford to force throws this week, as turnovers will be critical.  
There is a chance Ganz can have a big day against Missouri, with his scrambling ability and quality receivers, but it will be up to the offensive line to give him time.  It will be tough, with the aggressive, blitz heavy Tiger defense.  If Ganz can't get comfortable, it will be tough to move the ball, as was shown last week against Virginia Tech.  One big part of Nebraska offense last year that appears poised to show up on a milk carton is passing to the running back out of the backfield.  Marlon Lucky led the team in receptions last season, but has only had 8 catches this year.  With the excellent talent at RB, the Huskers have a more concerted effort to get them the ball.  

Nebraska's running game has only clicked against one team this season, New Mexico State.  Against the Aggies, the Huskers totaled 330 yards on the ground.  In Nebraska's other three games this season, they have rushed for a total of just 292 yards.  The Huskers are loaded at I-back, but have no lanes to run through.  The Huskers offensive line was supposed to be a big strength for the team this season, but so far, that hasn't been true.  It will be very important for Nebraska to develop a threat of a run game, especially this week.  Nebraska's intent will be to sustain long drives to keep Missouri's explosive offense on the sidelines.  The best way to do that is with a solid run game, but there will have to be dramatic improvement up front for that to have a chance of happening.  
There aren't many signs that the run game will get any better for the Huskers this week against a Missouri rush defense that ranks 4th in the Big XII (99 ypg).  The Tigers have a pretty solid front seven and have allowed just one rushing touchdown through four games.  LB Sean Weatherspoon has been a big part of their success, leading the team with 8 tackles for loss.  There is a lot of talent in the Nebraska backfield, including Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu Jr., and Quentin Castille, and if the Tigers shut down the run game, the Huskers need to get these guys involved in the passing game.  Nebraska QB Joe Ganz is also a threat to run the ball, either in designed runs or from scrambling out of the pocket.  
The Tigers' defense is allowing their opponents to convert 34% of their third downs (45th nationally), and allowing them to score on just 60% of their red-zone chances (4 touchdowns, 2 FG's) (12th nationally).  Three games into their season, Nebraska is converting 35.6% of their third downs (85th nationally), and have are scoring on 80% of red-zone opportunities (12 TDs, 2 FGs) (59th nationally).  If the Huskers want to do well, third downs must get better.  They can't allow themselves to be in many third and longs.

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 303 lbs, while Missouri's average defensive lineman is 6'3", 280 lbs.  The Tigers have two 300+ lb. tackles in Ziggy Hood and Jaron Baston, with two lighter, quick ends in Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak.  They get into the backfield often, and it will be a challenge for Nebraska to hold off the rush all night.  Nebraska averages 4.8 yards per carry, while Missouri is giving up 2.8 yards per carry this season.  This will be a huge match-up to watch.  QB Joe Ganz hasn't played well under pressure, and Nebraska is having serious troubles running the football.  If Missouri can disrupt play in the backfield, it will be very difficult for the Huskers to do much offensively.  Nebraska has given up 5 sacks and allowed 28 tackles for loss on the year, while Missouri has picked up 11 sacks and 36 tackles for loss (2nd nationally) through four games this season.  


Missouri's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Missouri has one of the more prolific passing offenses in all of college football this season.  QB Chase Daniel is one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, and will now begin the meat of the schedule.  Daniel is among the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation, and few run their offense with the success of Daniel.  With Daniel at the helm, the Tigers have yet to experience a three and out.  Through four games, that is a very impressive statistic.  He does a nice job of getting the ball out quickly, and has the experience to not force a lot of throws.  He has completed 75.9% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 57.2% of their passes.  The amazing thing about Daniel is that many of his 32 incompletions were catchable balls, but were dropped.  He just doesn't miss his target.
The Husker defense had a lot of trouble last week with mediocre Virginia Tech passer Tyrod Taylor, giving up 171 yards on just 9 completions.  Missouri struggled in their last game against Buffalo, as their receivers lost three fumbles.  Buffalo kept everything in front of them, squared up and crushed the Missouri receivers after the catch, ripping at the ball.  Nebraska has already faced a few spread offenses this season, and performed well on the scoreboard against them.  They gave up plenty of yards between the 20's, but were stingy once inside the red-zone.  Missouri is obviously better than those other teams that Nebraska has faced, and does a better job at finishing drives than anyone the Huskers have played this season.  
With threats Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Jared Perry, and Danario Alexander, it is going to be an incredible challenge for Nebraska to slow this offense down.  With Alexander healthy, his 6'5" frame adds a great dimension to the Missouri offense that has really been lacking - a wide receiver with great size other than a tight end.  There is a lot to like about these receivers matching up against Nebraska's secondary this week.  The Husker secondary has struggled this season with many breakdowns in coverage, a problem that has occurred for nearly every defensive back, not just one or two.  If the secondary is as shaky as it has been this season, that will mean a huge day for Chase Daniel and company through the air.  

Missouri's run game is doing very well behind the talented sophomore RB Derrick Washington.  Washington is a sturdy back, able to take it between the tackles and get positive yards, as well as break outside for big gains.  He is averaging an impressive 6.8 yards per carry this season.  One of his advantages is that in Missouri's offense, most defenses are looking for the pass first, so when he takes off with the ball, the opposition is spread out all over the field, while he runs through the wide splits up front.  
Nebraska has been good against the run this season, and will present a challenge for Washington.  In the past, Nebraska has had some trouble with misdirection type plays and reverses.  Watch for Jeremy Maclin to rush the ball a few times this week to take advantage of Nebraska's lack of sideline-to-sideline speed on defense.  The Huskers will be in a lot of nickel, dime, and dollar sets this week to defend the pass, and it will be interesting to see how they game-plan to stop the run from that.  If Nebraska wants to hang around in this game, they will have to hold Washington to under 4 yards per carry.  If he is allowed around 5 yards per carry, the Missouri offense can open up fully and put up big numbers.  
Missouri is converting a great 48.8% of their third downs (17th nationally), with an 89% red-zone scoring average (14 TDs, 3 FGs) this season.  Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to convert on 38.5% of their 3rd down attempts (70th nationally), and has allowed a solid 70% red-zone scoring percentage (8 TDs, 6 FGs) this season.  

Up front, Missouri's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 309 lbs, and Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs.  Missouri splits their offensive line out pretty wide, and will face the best front four they have seen thus far this season.  Daniel hasn't been under too much pressure this season, able to pick apart all four defenses he has been up against to this point.  And the line has also been doing a nice job of opening running lanes for the backs.  Missouri is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 3 yards per carry this season.  The Tigers have allowed 25 tackles for loss and just 2 sacks, while Nebraska has accumulated 32 tackles for loss and 11 sacks (14th nationally) in four games this season.  It will be important for Nebraska that the front four gets pressure on Daniel without having to send a constant LB or DB to do so.  If they can do that, it could force some mistakes in the passing game and turn this into a very interesting game.


Keys to the Game

For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Don't turn the ball over - Missouri's offense is too good to give away field position and scoring chances to.
2.) Eliminate penalties - Nebraska is 106th in penalties per game at 8, and 100th in penalty yards per game at 68.25 ypg.  Penalties help lose the VaTech game.
3.) Pressure Chase Daniel - You aren't going to sack him much, but you can get him out of his comfort zone.
4.) Improve on 3rd downs - 2 for 11 against Virginia Tech.  Unacceptable.
5.) Establish a running game - 55 yards against Virginia Tech, with the running backs getting just 15 carries.  To take heat off of Ganz, a stable run game must be present.  This will also allow for sustained drives, eating up the clock and shortening the game.

For Missouri to Win:
1.) Make Nebraska one-dimensional - Stuffing the run, which has been done successfully against NU this year, will force them to throw to win.  This has ended in many 3 and outs for the Huskers.
2.) Receivers need to protect the football - 3 fumbles last week versus Buffalo kept the game close in the second half.  Not good.
3.) Get after Ganz - He isn't poised under pressure, and has a tendency to make mistakes when the pocket collapses.
4.) Pass defense should improve - 111th ranked unit in the nation.  Nebraska's Joe Ganz has shown in the past he can sling it, just not lately.
5.) Do what you do offensively - If it isn't broke, don't try to fix it.  Daniel is on the money, Washington is running well, and the receivers match up well with any defense.  


Position Advantages:

Position/Advantage
QBs: Missouri
RBs: Nebraska
WR/TE's: Missouri
OL: Missouri
DL: Nebraska
LB: Missouri
DB: Missouri
Special Teams: Even
Coaching: Missouri


Injury Report

Nebraska:
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out indefinitely
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - medical - out

Missouri:
SS - William Moore - foot - questionable


Final Outlook

Saturday will be the 102nd all-time meeting between Missouri and Nebraska.  Nebraska leads the series 63-35-3 since first playing in 1892.  The Tigers were victorious in a non-competitive game last year, defeating Nebraska 41-6 in Colombia, Missouri.  The last meeting in Lincoln, two seasons ago, as Nebraska defeated Missouri 34-20 using a balanced attack offensively (236 passing, 183 rushing) and a solid defensive performance to get the win.  The home team has won the last 6 games dating back to 2002, and Missouri hasn't beaten Nebraska in Lincoln since 1978.  In addition, Nebraska has won 30 consecutive conference openers.  Those are three streaks most expect to fall come Saturday night.  The game will be played at 8:00 P.M. central time on Saturday, one of the latest starts ever inside of Memorial Stadium.  Nebraska is 28-4 in night games at Memorial Stadium, with the most recent night game being last week's loss to Virginia Tech.  

Missouri enters Saturday night's game with a perfect 4-0 record.  The Tigers have filled up on mostly cupcakes, thus far, with their best win coming against Illinois in the season opener (52-42).  After crushing Southeast Missouri and Nevada, Missouri had a tough time putting Buffalo away last week.  The Tigers led the Bulls by just 6 points before taking over with 1:25 left in the 3rd quarter.  A pair of touchdowns and a safety put the game away, as Missouri won 42-21.  The story of that game was turnovers, as Missouri had 3 lost fumbles in Buffalo territory.  Amazingly, Missouri outgained Buffalo by 304 yards, and still struggled to put the game out of reach.  Nebraska enters Saturday's game with a record of 3-1, coming off a difficult home loss to Virginia Tech 35-30.  Nebraska was dominated in the first 2 1/2 quarters of play, unable to get first downs on offense, and having difficulties stopping the Hokies from getting into the red-zone.  A late punt return for touchdown got Nebraska back into the game, but the offense couldn't capitalize when it needed to in order to take the lead.  The Huskers haven't beaten anyone of substance this season, with their best win coming against Western Michigan in their season opener (47-24).  This week is yet another chance for Nebraska to beat a top ten team, a feat they haven't pulled off since 2001.

With Chase Daniel at QB, Missouri hasn't had much of a problem scoring points, averaging almost 54 points per game.  One of the reasons he is so successful is his efficiency on first downs.  Daniel has a QB rating of 232.40 on first downs, the best in the nation.  When you don't make mistakes and pick up yards on first down, you set drives up for success, which is exactly what he does.  He should have a solid day against a Nebraska secondary that has been leaving opposing receivers wide open play-after-play this season.  Missouri's receivers are the best group that Nebraska has seen this season.  Nebraska's safety play has been pretty awful this season, as they seem to wait to long to decide whether to come in for run support or go assist in pass coverage.  This has led to many big passing plays for the opposition.  It's hard to say if anyone for Nebraska can cover TE Chase Coffman well.  WR Jeremy Maclin could also have a big day against a Nebraska defense that has had tackling problems this season.  Maclin is the type of player that makes you miss and he's gone for six.  That can't happen if Nebraska wants to play this game close.  Solid tackling and assignment football will be paramount for the Husker defense.  While the Tigers have been throwing the football at will this season, the run game isn't something to be overlooked.  Derrick Washington is a versatile back that will make a defense pay if they aren't expecting a run.  Nebraska's rush defense is probably the best (2nd best statistically to Nevada, however) the Tigers have seen this season, and Nebraska's best chance to be in this game is to shut Washington and company down.  It could happen, as Nebraska does have good players.  However, getting those good players to play to their potential for four quarters has been a challenge.

Nebraska is going to have to find a way to run the football this week.  You just can't win many football games running the ball for less than 100 yards.  The Huskers have no shortage of quality running backs, possessing a deep talent pool.  However, the push from the offensive line just hasn't been there this season.  For all the hype that surrounded that unit coming into the season, it has to be considered the biggest disappointment so far for the Huskers.  One problem Nebraska has had this season is often scoring too quickly.  While that doesn't sound like a bad thing, nine of Nebraska's scoring drives this season have been in five plays or less.  That wouldn't be so bad if many non-scoring drives didn't take a similar number of plays.  This ends up putting the defense on the field too much, increasing the chance for a 4th quarter break down.  A solid run game will alleviate that, garnering long drives and shortening the game.  The Missouri run defense has been very good this season, and will make it difficult for the Huskers to turn it around this week.  QB Joe Ganz also has to be better this week.  Just like the run game, that starts up front.  If he can get time to make good decisions, he should have a big day against a struggling Missouri secondary.  His success will also hinge on how much SS William Moore will play, who is said to be around 85% health.  Nebraska seems to have an emerging playmaker in TE Mike McNeill and the always stable WR Nate Swift has been excellent when his hands are on the ball.  Both could both do quite well Saturday, and some of the younger Husker receivers could also play an important role.  Make no mistake, if Nebraska is going to win this game, they will have to be very good in all areas offensively.  

Missouri will score points, and a good amount of them, that much is certain.  Nebraska has the capability to put up big numbers as well, but they just haven't been executing well on a consistent basis this season.  Despite both teams being known for their passing attacks this year, it may very well be the run game that decides this game.  Over the last few years, when Missouri hasn't been able to run the ball effectively, that has put increased pressure on Daniel, and he has thrown interceptions (Mainly against Oklahoma twice last season).  Nebraska's offense is dynamic when there is a good push up front for the backs, but when an opponent can shut the run game down, it has been tough for Nebraska to put up points.  When all is said and done, too many things have to go in Nebraska's favor to pull off an upset.  Missouri should win the game by a few scores, in a match-up that could be a fun one for a while.  However, it would surprise few if this becomes a blowout victory for Missouri.


Missouri - 48
Nebraska - 31

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