Tonight, Nebraska finds themselves looking for more than just a win; Nebraska looks for a "signature win". It would be a win that they haven't gotten when it comes to playing a ranked opponent on the road. If Nebraska wants to win the game these are some of the things that will play a large factor in determining the outcome:
1. No turnovers – We and sloppy conditions, potentially as many as five inches of rain on game day, might hinder the passing game of both Nebraska and Missouri. That is going to give Nebraska a huge advantage because Nebraska's run game is head and shoulders better than that of Missouri's. However, add precipitation to that and the only thing you like beyond yards and points is not turning the ball over.
2. Make Gabbert make mistakes – So far on the season Blaine Gabbert has played very, very well. It's a tribute to him. However, the defenses that he has played against weren't Nebraska. Blaine hasn't thrown an interception yet and has 11 touchdown passes to his credit. Nebraska will need to keep Gabbert contained, like Tyrod Taylor from Virginia Tech, but will also need to make him feel the pressure to get rid of the ball. The more often Blaine gets hit, the more apt he will be to throw the ball earlier or make a wrong read.
3. All eyes on Nebraska's secondary – Questions about Larry Asante's health, questions about inconsistent play, Alfonzo Dennard rolling with the #1s, who is in the nickel and dime packages, etc. While it won't be Chase Daniel back there for Missouri, still expect Missouri to get four and five wide and really test Nebraska's secondary. This is going to be an incredible test for Nebraska and they are going to need their defensive line to limit the amount of time they are covering receivers downfield.
4. Which Lee will show up? – This may be a little harsh, but everyone has now seen the two sides of Zac Lee. They have seen the successes against Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Then they have also seen 11-for-30 for 135 yards and two interceptions against Virginia Tech on the road. Granted there may or may not have been an injury to the hand of Lee; there is no doubt that the team is only as good as Lee is playing at that moment in time.
5. Win the battle in the trenches – Nebraska is going to have to win up front, on both sides of the ball, to win the game on Thursday night. This is going to be a test for both sides of the ball, because of what they will be asked to do Thursday night and how many times, but it could be seen against Virginia Tech and UL-L that the old Nebraska is back when it comes to wearing down their opponents. Nebraska will have to keep an eye on Sean Weatherspoon and where he lines up. More than that, Nebraska has struggled against good edge rushers and although just a freshman, Aldon Smith is a playmaker.
6. Emerge from shadows of previous games – 41-24, 41-24 and 41-6. Those are the last three final scores for games in Columbia. It hasn't always been like this. Nebraska is 16-4 against Missouri the past 20 years, 63-36-3 in 102 game played, and has lost all four of those games in the past six years. Nebraska has played in a difficult away game environment already this year and played well. Nebraska will get another dose of that tomorrow night.
7. Realize the importance – This game can be argued as the most important of the year and potentially the most important of Bo Pelini's career to this point. This is a top 25 matchup, an away game, a Big 12 North opponent and is a nationally televised game. All of these things, in recent years for Nebraska, have added up to losses. More than all of this is that Missouri could really be a game that can propel this team into the rest of the season.
8. Establish dominance of the Northern Division – Yeah to some this isn't a big deal, but the North is at stake with this game and Nebraska needs to put a stamp on it this year and for years to come. Nebraska must travel to play it's most difficult opponents in the North -- Missouri, Kansas and Colorado – and this is the first of those three games. This will also play into some recruiting battles…most notably Tyler Gabbert, Curtis Carter, Chance Carter, Kony Ealy and others…who Nebraska and Missouri are both recruiting.
9. Time to step it up – This game is really what it's all about. Nebraska has things not going in their favor of being on the road, potential weather and a recent history of not playing well against ranked opponents. This is as ideal of circumstance as Nebraska could hope for. Missouri who has basically run over the North the past two years is rated and has played some inferior opponents. In comparison to teams such as Illinois and Nevada, Missouri should have a huge wake up call when they take the field against the Blackshirts.
10. Finish the game – It's simple to understand, yet so difficult to do. One play can be the difference between a win or a loss. Nebraska experienced this again this year against Virginia Tech while games like Texas Tech last year and in 2005, Texas in 2006 and so on and so on come back to point at one or two plays that cost Nebraska a win. This is the time to remember what it's like to play well enough to win except for those few seconds when it's snatched away from you and usually late in the game when physical and mental fatigue set in. Nebraska needs to play hard and smart for 60 minutes.
Bottom line to tonight is this, Nebraska is more physical on the line of scrimmage than Missouri. More than that, the Huskers don't have to do anything really special for Blaine Gabbert like Nebraska tried to do for Brad Smith in 2003. Nebraska just needs to play them straight up and take the physical game to them.
I would look for a lot of pressure from the Blackshirts much like Nebraska handled Josh Freeman before in the past and bringing a blitz just about every play or so to rattle Gabbert. It's clear you can't give him time for his receivers to get open.
If Nebraska can contain Gabbert yet get pressure on him and hold onto the football in some wet conditions, then Nebraska wins this game. I am going to say that Nebraska gets it done tonight and give you my final score prediction of 27-20, Nebraska.