Huskers vs. Tigers

This particular game hasn't been a friendly one for Nebraska, especially down in Columbia. The Huskers have given up 41 points each of the last three road trips to take on the Tigers. Can they change their fortunes? Check out our game preview as we give you the most comprehensive look around at perhaps the game that decides the division, Nebraska vs Missouri...tonight.

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

--by Vince Campisi

October 8th, 2009
8:00 PM CT
Columbia, MO
Television Coverage: ESPN

#21(AP)/#22(C) NEBRASKA (3 - 1) (0 - 0)
#24(AP)/18(C) MISSOURI (4 - 0) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Missouri

Latest Line
Nebraska by 3.5.

09/05/09 - at. Illinois - W 37-9
09/12/09 - vs. Bowling Green - W 27-20
09/19/09 - vs. Furman - W 52-12
09/25/09 - at. Nevada - W 31-21
10/08/09 - vs. Nebraska
10/17/09 - at. Oklahoma State
10/24/09 - vs. Texas
10/31/09 - at. Colorado
11/07/09 - vs. Baylor
11/14/09 - at. Kansas State
11/21/09 - vs. Iowa State
11/28/09 - at. Kansas

09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech - L 15-16
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 55-0
10/08/09 - at. Missouri
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State
10/31/09 - at. Baylor
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado

Player Breakdowns

Missouri Offense

Missouri's offense has played pretty well despite replacing many of last year's top performers.  They have had problems running the football this year, and struggle against a good pass rush.  The Tigers are currently ranked 16th nationally in total offense (453 ypg), 10th in passing (310 ypg), 6th in passing efficiency (166.23 rating), 60th in rushing (143 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (36.75 ppg), 1st in interceptions thrown (0), 25th in fumbles lost (3), and 1st in giveaways (3).  

QB: So. Blaine Gabbert (87 of 131, 1161 yds, 11 TDs, 0 INTs) has done a great job so far of replacing three year starter Chase Daniel.  Gabbert is a big (6'5", 240 lbs), athletic QB that has a very good arm and good foot speed to go along with it.  Gabbert's 168.57 passer rating is 4th best in the nation, and the best in the Big XII.  He didn't spend a lot of time in the pocket last week, as most of his passes were either quick outs or bootlegs to throw deep.  He does have a lot of confidence in his arm, as he will take some chances deep into coverage.  So far this has worked well, considering he has yet to be picked off.  He has struggled under pressure, and will face more of it as the Tigers enter Big XII play.  Even with the pressure, he is often able to escape the pocket and make plays on the run.  He's not going to outrun an entire defense, but he is deceptively fast.  The Tigers will run the read option, which he has done well.  He has rushed for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 attempts (63 yards lost on sacks).  Behind Gabbert is So. Jimmy Costello (6 of 11, 39 yds).  Costello has played in mop-up duty in just two games this year.  

RB: The Tigers' running game is struggling this year, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry as a team.  The running backs are fairly talented, but just haven't been getting it done on the field.  Jr. Derrick Washington (68 carries, 301 yds, 2 TDs) is the top back for the Tigers.  Washington was an All-Big XII caliber back a season ago, but is 8th in the conference right now in yards per game (75.2).  He doesn't have great top-end speed, or tremendous acceleration, but has enough of both to be a capable back, which he showed last year.  His numbers are helped by a 42 yarder he reeled off against an out of position Nevada defense in the second half of last week's game.  Top reserves to Washington include So. De'Vion Moore (9 carries, 24 yds), TFr. Kendial Lawrence (27 carries, 132 yds), and So. Gilbert Moye (6 carries, 35 yds).  The backs see an occasional throw their way, typically by way of a middle screen for a change of pace.  Washington (5 catches, 22 yds), Moye (1 catch, 5 yds), and Moore (1 catch, -3 yds) have all caught passes this season.

WR/TE: The Tigers' receiving corps had the tough task of replacing a huge chunk of last year's playmakers, most notably, Jeremy Maclin and Tommy Saunders.  It isn't as good of a group as it was a season ago, but there are some bona fide playmakers present and accounted for.  Starting at "H" is Sr. Danario Alexander (29 catches, 404 yds, 4 TDs), with So. Jerrell Jackson (8 catches, 94 yds, 1 TD) and TFr. T.J. Moe (2 catches, 8 yds) backing him up.  Alexander is the top playmaker on the offense, he has great leaping ability and is tough to bring down.  He had an incredible 170 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the hapless Nevada secondary.  His tall 6'5" frame makes him tough to match-up against, allowing him to come down with lofty jump balls from QB Gabbert.  Jackson does a nice job in the slot, and is a solid target.  He's thrown to more than his number of catches might indicate.  Starting at "X" is Sr. Jared Perry (25 catches, 381 yds, 5 TDs), with So. Brandon Gerau (2 catches, 19 yds) and RFr. Rolandis Woodland (1 catch, 5 yds) backing him up.  Perry is another excellent target, has great hands, and leads the team in touchdown receptions.  Starting at "Z" is So. Wes Kemp (10 catches, 219 yds, 2 TDs), while So. Michael Egnew (2 catches, 14 yds) backs him up.  Kemp has been one of the top deep threats in the Big XII thus far this season.  He has great size (6'4") and speed to go with it.  This season's group of tight ends lacks the great targets they have contained in the past, most recently Chase Coffman.  Taking his place are So. Andrew Jones (7 catches, 39 yds) and So. Beau Brinkley.  Both are almost identical in size at about 6'5" and 230 lbs.  With that kind of size, you would assume they'd present some great match-up problems for their opponents, however, that hasn't quite come to fruition this season.

OL: Missouri's offensive line is a mostly young group, but doesn't lack experience.  They were expected to be a very solid unit at the beginning of the season, but have been disappointing, unable to pave lanes for the running game.  Last week against Nevada, the pocket was often collapsing quickly, forcing QB Blaine Gabbert to run from sideline to sideline to buy time to throw.  Starting at tackle is So. Elvis Fisher (6'5", 300 lbs) on the left and So. Dan Hoch (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Fisher is a pretty solid pass protector, but he can definitely improve as a rush blocker.  Hoch is the biggest of the bunch, but is not the most athletic.  Against Nevada, he was consistently beaten off the edge by the opposing DE.  The top reserves at tackle are TFr. Justin Britt (6'5", 295 lbs) and TFr. Jack Meiners (6'6", 305 lbs).  Starting at guard is So. Austin Wuebbels (6'3", 302 lbs) on the left and Sr. Kurtis Gregory (6'5", 305 lbs) on the right.  The Tigers have had trouble running between the tackles, and both of these starters need to get better.  Gregory had a lot of trouble last week against Nevada, getting pushed around and outmuscled by the opposing defensive tackles.  Top back-ups at guard are So. Jayson Palmgren (6'2", 305 lbs) and RFr. Travis Ruth (6'3", 305 lbs).  At center is Jr. Tim Barnes (6'4", 310 lbs), with So. J.T. Beasley (6'4", 295 lbs) backing him up.  Barnes does a good job of delivering consistently placed snaps in the Tigers' shotgun spread offense.  

Missouri Defense

Missouri's defense has been pretty mediocre, giving up a lot of yards to less than excellent opposing offenses.  The Tigers currently rank 59th nationally in total defense (351.75 ypg), 68th in pass defense (218 ypg), 39th in pass efficiency defense (113.27 rating), 61st in rush defense (133.75 ypg), 21st in scoring defense (15.50 ppg), 101st in interceptions forced (2), 56th in fumbles recovered (4), and 95th in total takeaways (6).  

DL: The Tigers' defensive line has been decent, but has struggled mightily to stuff the run, even against the weaker teams they've played this season.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Brian Coulter (7 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH) on the left end and RFr. Aldon Smith (20 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU) on the right end.  Smith has been a nice surprise this season, playing like a veteran despite being just a freshman.  He does a very good job as a pass rusher and leads the team in sacks.  Coulter has been decent, and had a huge fumble recovery on the Missouri 3 yard line last week against Nevada.  Top reserves on the ends are So. Jacquies Smith (13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 QBH), RFr. Marcus Malbrough (1 tackle), and RFr. Brad Madison (1 tackle).  Starting at defensive tackle is So. Terrell Resonno (4 tackles), with So. Dominique Hamilton (11 tackles) backing him up.  Hamilton has started the past three games for Resonno, however, Terrell is expected to get the nod this week.  These guys are trying to fill the void left by Ziggy Hood this year, a tall task.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Jaron Baston (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU), with RFr. Jimmy Burge serving as his back-up.  Baston is solid at nose, but isn't your prototypical size at just 6'1".  The line needs to do a better job of filling running lanes, because they won't get away with victories in the Big XII with a porous rush defense.  
LB: Missouri's linebacking corps might be the best unit on the defense, but has still had their share of problems.  They have been biting hard on misdirection plays as well as play action.  Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Luke Lambert (9 tackles), with So. Will Ebner (29 tackles, 1 sack) backing him up.  Lambert has been injured, but is expected to be back this week.  He's not the best athlete you'll see on the field, but is a pretty smart backer.  Ebner took his place, doing a pretty good job of tackling and hitting hard, however, was easily fooled by the zone read option and was not great in pass coverage.  At weakside linebacker is Sr. Sean Weatherspoon (38 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), while TFr. Donovan Bonner (8 tackles) backs him up.  Weatherspoon is probably the best player on the defense, if not the entire team.  He's fast, strong, and a solid hitter.  He does well in all areas of defense, whether he's blitzing, filling a gap, or dropping back in coverage.  Jr. Andrew Gachkar (20 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) starts at strongside linebacker, with RFr. Zaviar Gooden (7 tackles) providing back-up.  Gachkar, like the other linebackers in this group, is a hard hitter.  He isn't lightning quick, however, and needs to show better instincts in pass coverage.

DB: The Tigers' secondary is a middle of the road unit.  Opponents are completing a high 61.2% of their passes, good enough for 10th in the Big XII.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Carl Gettis (19 tackles, 1 FF, 3 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Kevin Rutland (14 tackles, 1 PBU) on the right.  Gettis is the only returning starter back from 2008 in the secondary.  He's been the best all-around in the group this season and leads the team in break-ups.  Rutland is a very speedy corner that should get better each week as he gets more experience.  Players in the reserve rotation include So. Trey Hobson (9 tackles), RFr. Robert Steeples (2 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Kip Edwards (5 tackles).  Jr. Munir Prince (5 tackles) is a top back-up at corner for the Tigers, however, is not expected to play due to a hamstring injury.  Starting at strong safety is Jr. Jarrell Harrison (10 tackles), with So. Kenji Jackson (17 tackles) and Sr. Del Howard (4 tackles, 1 FR) serving as his back-ups.  Harrison shot up the depth chart after joining the Tigers in January as a former JUCO player.  Jackson is listed as a co-starter and sees just as many snaps as Harrison.  At free safety is Jr. Jasper Simmons (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR), while Sr. Hardy Ricks (2 tackles, 1 INT) backs him up.  Ricks was the starter a season ago but was beaten out by Simmons over the off-season.  He was been a sure tackler and hard hitter, and is playing well enough to stay on the field over Ricks.

Missouri Special Teams

Missouri's special teams units are decent, but unspectacular, lacking punch in their return games and fairly mediocre in coverage.  The Tigers currently rank 2nd in net punting (42.82 yd avg), 60th in kickoff returns (21.82 yd avg), 91st in punt returns (5.50 yd avg), 103rd in kickoff coverage (24.46 yd avg), and 18th in punt coverage (3 yd avg).  

K: So. Grant Ressel has made all 10 of his field goal attempts with a long of 46 this season.  He has been very impressive in his first season as the top kicker.  Sr. Tanner Mills has a big leg and is the kickoff specialist, pushing 7 of his 31 kickoffs for a touchback this season.  He is averaging 66.5 yards per kickoff.  

P: Sr. Jake Harry is averaging 45.1 yards on his 16 punts with a long of 69 this season.  6 of his 16 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  His numbers have been helped by a lengthy bounces.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Tigers will be Jr. Jasper Simmons (7 kick returns, 23.3 yd avg, 33 yd long) and So. De'Vion Moore.  The top punt return man is Jr. Carl Gettis (5 punt returns, 6 yd avg, 19 yd long), while So. Brandon Gerau (1 punt return, 3 yds) also fields punts this season.  The return units have not been as dynamic as a season ago, due to the loss of Jeremy Maclin.

Coverage: The Tigers' kick and punt coverage units have been fairly mediocre this season.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 24.5 yards on 24 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 52.  The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of just 3 yards on 4 punt return attempts, with a long of 4.

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense has looked very good this season, but does struggle with consistency.  They have good balance, able to beat teams running and/or throwing the football.  Nebraska currently ranks 19th nationally in total offense (440 ypg), 33rd in passing (256.25 ypg), 20th in pass efficiency (152.90 rating), 39th in rushing (183.75 ypg), 9th in scoring offense (39.25 ppg), 30th in interceptions thrown (3), 1st in fumbles lost (0), and 1st in giveaways (3).  

QB: Jr. Zac Lee (68 for 105, 927 yds, 7 TDs, 3 INTs) has been a very efficient QB that has looked about as good as anybody in the country this season, except for a difficult road game at Virginia Tech.  In that game he went 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions.  He did bounce back nicely last week against Louisiana and was nearly perfect (15 of 18).  When he has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy.  He does tend to lock onto his target and telegraph his throws, which is something he needs to work on.  He has good speed and is able to escape pressure in the backfield and also pick up yards in designed run plays.  Lee has rushed for 61 yards on 20 attempts.  Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (12 for 17, 98 yds, 1 TD) and Jr. LaTravis Washington.  Green has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB.  He can run well, and has shown a very strong arm.  Green has carried the ball 6 times for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Washington has a strong arm with good speed as well, but he has not made the strides that Green has.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (73 carries, 464 yds, 5 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them.  He has really turned into a complete back over the past season.  Behind Helu Jr. is TFr. Rex Burkhead (18 carries, 84 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young back that looks like a solid second option.  RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), So. Marcus Mendoza (1 carries, -1 yds), and So. Austin Jones (3 carries, 11 yds) are also possibilities to see carries in the backfield.  There's potential in the reserve group, but nothing proven yet.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, and will be a bigger part of the offense as the season moves forward.  Helu Jr. (11 catches, 91 yds) and  Burkhead (7 catches, 62 yds, 1 TD) have caught passes, both having great ability to break a few tackles after the catch and motor downfield.  Burkhead made some outstanding moves and broke multiple tackles on his way to a 24 yard touchdown off a shovel pass.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time with the ball .    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps has been pretty good this season, just inconsistent.  The Huskers are still looking for someone to be an eye-opening threat.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (10 catches, 110 yds, 1 TD).  He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills.  In addition to being able to catch the ball, he is also a solid blocker.  Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (9 catches, 98 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed.  He has potential to turn into a great target, but continues to drop passes and hasn't been a very good blocker.  Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (8 catches, 255 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (8 catches, 111 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 catch, 5 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), RFr. Khiry Cooper (3 catches, 32 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), and Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds).  Gilleylen is a speedster and has developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat.  Brooks is turning into a solid possession receiver this year, and is becoming a big contributor for the unit.  Kinnie and Cooper are two exciting young players that could work their way up as the season moves forward.  Henry is a big body (6'5") and if he puts it all together, could be an excellent threat.  Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (11 catches, 138 yds, 2 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 61 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (2 catches, 25 yds) competing behind McNeill.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  Reed will also be used as a HB this season, as the coaches look to get his skills onto the field.  This is a deep and talented group of tight ends that is a big strength for the Huskers' offense.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line appears to be getting better each week this season, but still has a ways to go consistency-wise.  The right side of the line has been a problem, both with blocking and penalties.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Smith has a history of back problems, and it is critical for him to stay healthy.  Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side.  Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones, even though Marcel sees more snaps.  D.J. really struggled against Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds a couple weeks ago.  TFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) is another possibility to see in a reserve role at tackle.  Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a great blocker and should only get better.  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 can sometimes get him in trouble.  Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Christensen is a former starter that missed last season mostly due to a suspension.  Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up.  Hickman is the leader of the group and a solid center.  He had some issues with shotgun last week, but will not likely be a recurring issue.

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense has looked solid so far this season, much better than they have performed in years.  Nebraska is currently ranked 21st nationally in total defense (285.50 ypg), 23rd in pass defense (169.75 ypg), 16th in pass efficiency defense (97.65 rating), 39th in rush defense (115.75 ypg), 1st in scoring defense (7 ppg), 78th in interceptions (3), 56th in fumbles recovered (4), and 81st in total takeaways (7).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line has become the dominant group they were expected to be in the pre-season over the past few games.  They're big, strong, and athletic.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (16 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (15 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FR, 5 QBH) on the left.  Both Allen and Turner have excellent athleticism, but have been pretty inconsistent this season.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Williams (3 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith has been impressive in his back-up role, and is pushing for more playing time.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (26 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 6 PBU), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up.  Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers.  He very rarely comes off the field, yet still has the energy to bring it in the fourth quarter.  So. Jared Crick (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (13 tackles) providing back-up.  Crick is counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and is getting better each week.  

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has seemed to really gel with the return of Phillip Dillard two games ago.  With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they are getting better each week.  Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (8 tackles, 1 sack).  Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that didn't play in the first two games, but is doing a great job at WILL.  He brings athleticism and experience to the field, invaluable, especially as they get into league play.  Behind Dillard are Jr. Blake Lawrence (10 tackles) and So. Matthew May (4 tackles).  Both have been bothered by minor injuries this season.  Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (20 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (5 tackles) is the top reserve.  Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and will make mistakes.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (20 tackles, 1 FR. 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (5 tackles) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up.  Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense.  Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, he'll be a good one.

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played well this season.  Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (21 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (4 tackles, 1 FF) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Amukamara has been pretty solid and has great athleticism, just needs to be more consistent in coverage.  Jr. Anthony West (7 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Alfonzo Dennard (4 tackles) and So. Lance Thorell (3 tackles, 1 PBU) listed as the top reserves.  West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (23 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith (4 tackles) backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter.  He had his first interception returned for touchdown in his last game against Louisiana.  He injured his ankle, but should be ready to go on Thursday.  Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) starts at free safety.  O'Hanlon is often picked on and susceptible to being burned, however, has made some big plays in his career as well.  Sr. Rickey Thenarse (11 tackles, 1 FF) was a co-starter at the position, however, suffered a likely season ending knee injury in their last game.  Behind O'Hanlon will be Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (4 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne.  

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units have been very good this year, .  The one area for improvement is tackling on the coverage units, especially kickoffs.  The Huskers rank 63rd in net punting (36.07 yd avg), 45th in kickoff returns (23.22 yd avg), 25th in punt returns (13.14 yd avg), 53rd in kickoff coverage (20.80 yd avg), and 31st in punt coverage (5 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He has made 8 of his 9 attempts this season, with a long of 46.  He's made 21 straight kicks from under 50 yards.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation.  Kunalic has pushed 16 of 31 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.5 yard average.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 42 yards on his 14 punts with a long of 76 this season.  7 of his 14 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20, including a pair downed inside the 2 in his last outing.  He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and is getting better each week.  
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (8 returns, 24.2 yd avg, 32 yd long), and TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 kick return, 15 yds).  Others that could possibly return kicks are So. Curenski Gilleylen and So. Alfonzo Dennard.  At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (11 returns, 10.1 yd avg, 55 yd long).  TFr. Rex Burkhead (3 returns, 24.3 yd avg, 33 yd long) and RFr. Tim Marlowe could also see time returning punts.  These units have been great at times, but consistency is still an issue.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have looked pretty good this season, just inconsistent.  Nebraska had difficulties with missed tackles against Virginia Tech a couple of weeks ago.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.8 yards on 15 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 5.0 yards on 6 punt returns.    

Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Missouri's Defense

Nebraska's offense has been driven well by QB Zac Lee.  He had a difficult time in his first road test a few weeks ago against the athletic, confusing Virginia Tech defense.  He bounced back nicely last week against Louisiana, with a near perfect performance (15 of 18).  Lee has shown this season that he can make all the throws, and he likes to spread the ball around.  To date, 17 different receivers have caught passes from the Nebraska quarterbacks.  That's an impressive stat, considering just four games have been played.  Lee also excels at scrambling in the pocket, whether to buy himself extra time to throw, or take off with it on the ground.  His mobility has been very useful to the Husker offense this season.  On the road against Missouri's defense, he'll look to have a better game than he did against the Hokies a few weeks ago.  He was banged around in that game, and got rattled, something that can't happen on Thursday if the Huskers are to be victorious.  The Tigers' defense has allowed their opponents to complete a high 61.2% of their passes this season, while Zac Lee is completing 64.8% of his attempts on the year.  If Lee is completing at 61.2%, you'd have to feel pretty good about Nebraska's chances.
The Huskers' receivers seem to be getting better week-to-week, but still we haven't seen an All-Big XII type playmaker in the group.  WR Niles Paul has probably been the best of the unit, but Missouri native Chris Brooks is starting to look like the caliber of receiver he was projected to be out of high school.  He had a great game last week against Louisiana, catching 3 balls for 50 yards and a score.  He would have had a second score, but the throw was a tad off the mark.  Curenski Gilleylen is another one to watch out for, as the speedster is averaging an impressive 31.9 yards per catch this year.  Missouri doesn't give up a lot of big plays in the passing game, but if Nebraska's going to get one, Gilleylen would be the most likely target.  The group of tight ends, led by another Missouri native in Mike McNeill, is possibly the deepest in the conference.  Given the way the Missouri pass defense has played, the tight ends for Nebraska should prove to be a valuable asset in the short to medium routes.  Missouri's starters in the secondary are all upperclassmen, but only returned one starter from a year ago.  The Tigers will face their toughest test of the season after matching up against some fairly mediocre groups in the non-conference schedule.  The unit has good size, with only one man under 6 feet tall, with solid, fast d-backs.  In pass coverage, the Tigers' secondary ranks fair at 39th, allowing a rating of 113.27, while Nebraska's QB Zac Lee ranks 16th nationally in pass efficiency (155.21).  

Nebraska's running game has been pretty solid, and possesses the Big XII's best back in Roy Helu Jr.  Helu carried for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns on 15 carries last week against Louisiana, and was not happy with his performance.  He did not practice the past two days, due to an illness, but is expected to be fine for Thursday night's game.  He's the workhorse for Nebraska, and his health is very important to the success of the offense.  Top backup, Rex Burkhead, finally got to see a good chunk of playing time in last week's game, and showed his abilities off in both rushing and receiving opportunities.  Burkhead was not given any opportunities to carry the ball against Nebraska's last tough challenge, at Virginia Tech, and when he came in to spell Helu, it was always a pass play.  The Husker offense will need to have Burkhead get a few touches to be at least a threat the Tigers will have to think about when he is on the field.
Missouri's rush defense has not been great this season.  Through four games, the Tigers are allowing their opponents to rush for 4.46 yards per carry (taking sacks out).  The front four seems built towards more of a pass rushing unit, leaving a lot of clean-up for the back seven.  The linebackers are talented, and led by Sean Weatherspoon, who is going to give all Big XII offenses someone to think about out there.  Against Nevada last week, the Tigers really had issues with getting gashed between the tackles, and also difficulties with misdirection and the read option.  The linebackers seemed to really bite on the RB on the zone read when Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick kept the ball.  Kaepernick rushed for 85 positive yards during the game, both when scrambling and on options.  The Wolf Pack's RB Luke Lippincott ran for 114 yards during the game as well, which has to be a concern moving forward as the Tigers will see much better backs.    

Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 47.06% of their third downs (22nd nationally), and scoring on an excellent 94% of red-zone opportunities (11 TDs, 5 FGs) (15th nationally).  Nebraska was over 54% on third downs last week against Louisiana (6 for 11).  The Tigers' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 41.54% of their third downs (86th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on 91% of their red-zone chances (7 TDs, 3 FGs) (102nd nationally).  Missouri's defense has played pretty well in the red-zone, holding their opponents to field goals on 30% of the scores.

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Missouri's average defensive lineman is 6'4", 276 lbs.  On the season, Nebraska has averaged 5.96 yards per carry while Missouri is giving up 4.46 yards per carry.  Nebraska has allowed 3 sacks and 19 tackles for loss on the year, while Missouri has picked up 9 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in four games this season.  More than likely, the Tigers will try to match DE Aldon Smith against Nebraska RT Marcel Jones.  Jones is Nebraska's youngest starter on the offensive line and has been among the most mistake prone.  Virginia Tech matched their top DE, Jason Worilds against the Nebraska RT and he had a great game.  Smith isn't as good as Worilds, but he is the best pass rusher for Missouri, and will give Jones a big challenge.  The Huskers' offensive line appears to be getting better, though, in both rush and pass blocking, but will need to show it against better competition than the Sun Belt had to offer.  The Tigers' d-line didn't look too tough against Nevada last week, though, and were pushed around up front when the Wolf Pack decided to man up and get physical.  If Nebraska decides to do the same, it'll keep Missouri's offense off the field while Nebraska chews the clock and wears down the Tiger defense.  

Missouri's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Missouri's passing attack has not had the drop many expected after losing multi-year starter Chase Daniel to graduation.  QB Blaine Gabbert has taken the reigns and played admirably, throwing 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Granted, he hasn't played against a quality defense, or one that currently ranks in the top 88 nationally, but he has kept mistakes to a minimum.  Last week against Nevada, which has been one of the worst pass defenses in the country the past few years, Gabbert threw for 414 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He has shown that he can keep drives alive by rushing with the football, taking a handful of carries each week for decent gains.  His feet are used more for getting out of the pocket to buy him extra time to throw, and he's been very good on the run.  Last week against Nevada, he completed an improbable pass while nearly running out of bounds.  He'll have to show that he can do all of these things against a good defense this week in Nebraska.  After four games, Gabbert is completing 66.4% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 50.4% of their passes this season.   
Missouri's wide receivers are led by Danario Alexander, Jared Perry, and Wes Kemp.  The crew has a mix of good size, speed, and ability after the catch.  Alexander is performing like an All-American right now, shredding through the defensive backfields of pretty much every team the Tigers have faced.  Perry is more in the mold of your traditional possession receiver, while Wes Kemp has provided an excellent deep threat, averaging 21.9 yards per catch.  They will give Nebraska's defensive back seven plenty to account for.  Unlike in years past, however, the Tigers really don't have a great tight end, with Andrew Jones leading that group with only 39 yards receiving.   
Nebraska's pass defense has been pretty solid this season.  With the injury to co-starter at FS, Rickey Thenarse, the way Nebraska lines up in nickel, dime, and dollar situations will be something to keep an eye on.  While Thenarse is more of a loss to the special teams than directly to the defense, there may be a few different faces shuffled around in that 5th or 6th d-back.  And against a team that runs a spread like Missouri, they will likely be in those alignments more often than not.  Nebraska will look to get as much pressure from the front four as possible, to allow the defense to keep everyone covered.  If they can't get pressure from the front four, Missouri should have a good amount of success through the air.  In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 16th, allowing a rating of 97.65, while Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert ranks 4th nationally in pass efficiency (168.57).  

The Tigers are looking for more production from their ground game after struggling through the first third of the season without much success.  It gets much harder starting this week, so they have to hope they're righted any wrongs during the bye week.  RB Derrick Washington was expected to be a stud, but has only had a few real chances to break anything, most recently on a season-long 42 yard run against Nevada last week.  Other than that run, the Tigers rushed for just 36 yards on 33 attempts.  Of course, Nevada in many situations was stacking the box, but Missouri must get much better for Big XII play.  Back-up De'Vion Moore is expected to be healthy this week and paired with fellow back-up Kendial Lawrence, could see a few touches on Thursday.  Neither has shown much this season, but Lawrence is the best of the groups in yards per carry (4.9).
The Tigers will face their toughest challenge of the season in Nebraska's rush defense.  The Husker defense contained Virginia Tech's rushing attack as well or better than Alabama's vaunted defense did this season.  The Huskers also kept their three Sun Belt opponents in check.  They get a good push up front and the linebackers have been doing their job as well.  Since Nebraska brought veteran LB Phillip Dillard back into starting line-up two games ago, the defense has been even stingier.  Missouri has yet to get their running game going fluidly this season, and it likely won't get on track this week either.

Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Missouri has converted a very good 44.83% of their third downs (31st nationally), with an 93% red-zone scoring average (7 TDs, 7 FGs) (18th nationally).  Red zone scoring is an issue with the Tigers' offense, as they have had a lot of issues scoring with a short field.  This is part of the problem with most spread offenses that don't have a potent rushing attack to lean on.  Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert a decent 35.59% of their 3rd down attempts (47th nationally), and has allowed an outstanding 67% red-zone scoring percentage (3 TD, 1 FG) (10th nationally) this season.  

Up front, Missouri's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 306 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  On the season, Missouri is averaging 4.28 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.1 yards per carry.  The Tigers have allowed 27 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, while the Huskers have picked up 30 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.  Expect Nebraska to be in the backfield pretty often.  Everybody knows about Nebraska's All-American NT Ndamukong Suh and the difficulties he presents to opposing offensive linemen.  Suh has dominated pretty much everyone he's come up against this season, and this week will go head-to-head against C Tim Barnes with either Austin Wuebbels or Kurtis Gregory.  This group has had tough times against the likes of Nevada, Bowling Green, and Illinois.  Even Furman managed a sack and 3 tackles for loss.  Nebraska is head and shoulders above those four up front.  One area for concern for Missouri has to be RT Dan Hoch, he had a rough game last week against Nevada, getting beat off the edge often.  Nebraska has a good group of defensive ends that will give him more difficulties this week.  This is going to be an interesting unit to watch.  The line must protect Gabbert and create space to run through.

Keys to the Game


1.) Can Lee Perform on the Road? - He struggled at Virginia Tech in his first road game as a starter, and while Missouri's defense isn't as good as VT's, the jury is still out on whether Zac Lee can be a consistent QB away from Lincoln.  He doesn't need to be prolific, but needs to manage the game well.
2.) Get After Gabbert - He hasn't faced a tough, hard-nosed defense yet this season, so a consistent rush with contact will go a long ways to rattle the youngster.
3.) Eliminate Mistakes - Last time on the road, Nebraska struggled with offensive line penalties, and even at home they've had issues with burning timeouts.  These are mistakes that can be eliminated and can make a big impact on the game.

1.) Rush Defense Needs to Step Up - The Tigers have let lesser teams have a lot of success on the ground.  Nebraska has the Big XII's best back in Roy Helu, and cannot afford to allow him a big day.
2.) Find Some Consistency in the Run Game - The ground performance against Nevada was abysmal outside of one long run in the second half.  Nebraska's defensive front is much better than anything they've seen.  Have to dig deep and find a way to grind out some yards on the ground.
3.) Gabbert Needs to be On - We finally get to see him against a real defense.  Will the results still be the same?

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

Injury Report

SS - Larry Asante - Ankle - Probable
CB - Prince Amukamara - Leg - Probable
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out Indefinitely
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season

CB - Munir Prince - Hamstring - Doubtful
RB - De'Vion Moore - Ankle - Probable
MLB - Luke Lambert - Ankle - Probable
OLB - Josh Tatum - Back - Questionable

Final Outlook

Thursday will be the 103rd all-time meeting between Missouri and Nebraska.  Nebraska leads the series 63-36-3 since first playing in 1892.  Missouri has won the last two meetings against Nebraska and the last 3 games played in Columbia.  Last year, in Lincoln, the Tigers annihilated the Huskers 52-17.  Both teams are quite different than a year ago, with many new starters.  Between Nebraska's infusion of young talent and a year of experience under head coach Bo Pelini, and Missouri's loss of most of their playmakers from a year ago, the match-up has evened up considerably.  Nebraska still has to show that they can win a big game on the road, however, as they haven't defeated a top 20 team (Missouri is #18 in coaches' poll) in their house since 1997.

Missouri will present Nebraska with its toughest test in terms of passing attacks, while Nebraska presents the best pass defense that Missouri has seen this year.  Gabbert will have to perform at a very high level against a bigger, faster, smarter defense than he has played to this point in the season for the Tigers to win this game.  If Nebraska is able to get after Gabbert and get him rattled, it will not bode well for Missouri.  The big problem with the Tigers is that they just can't consistently run the football, and without the threat of a solid run game, it can make it easier on a defense.  Nebraska is strong up front on defense, and should control the line of scrimmage, especially considering the way the Missouri offensive line was pushed around and beaten by Nevada's defensive front last week.

Nebraska will look to play much better in their second road game than in their first one they played against Virginia Tech this year.  The Huskers have bounced back well since that game and have shown that they can go at opponents with a balanced attack.  Missouri's defense hasn't played a team with the offensive talents of Nebraska this season, and has struggled against those lesser teams.  Missouri's defensive front was shoved around by Nevada last week, and really struggled with their mobile QB and average RB.  If Nebraska QB Zac Lee doesn't get rattled like he did in the Virginia Tech game, and the run game continues to churn along for the Huskers, they'll have a very good evening.

One thing that could impact the game this week will be the weather.  There is an 80% chance of rain in Columbia at kickoff, and it is supposed to rain almost all day prior to the game.  Field turf drains the water pretty well, but it will still be slippery and wet, especially if it is raining during the game.  With the rain, it's hard to tell who it will favor. Running the ball is typically thought of as having the advantage in ugly situations, but that isn't always the case.  It does help the passing game since the defense will have a harder time keeping footing on the slippery surface.  The one thing the rain can do is keep the score down.

Overall, this should be an entertaining game, probably more so than people may have predicted at the beginning of the season.  We don't know a lot about Missouri just yet, however, because they haven't really played any team that you could call anything better than mediocre.  Nebraska has played three Sun Belt teams, but one of those, Arkansas State, took Iowa to the brink last week in a very good game.  The Huskers were given a test in their game at Virginia Tech two games ago.  They outplayed the Hokies for most of the game, up until the final 2 minutes.  

Nebraska's balanced offense will get opportunities to score against the Tigers' defense that has been giving up big chunks of yards this year.  RB Roy Helu will be a difference maker, keeping drives alive and busting off some big runs.  Missouri will get a few big plays out of Danario Alexander and company, but it won't be consistent enough to come out with a win.  Nebraska should get the win by around 7-10 points.  

Nebraska - 27
Missouri - 20

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