October 8, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Missouri







NU Run Offense vs MU Run Defense


Assuming junior running back Roy Helu is at least close to 100 percent after battling an undisclosed illness this week, this should be Nebraska's biggest advantage of the night. Considering the forecast for tonight's game is calling for as much as a 90-percent chance of rain, ball control and running the football will be crucial for offensive success.



Led by Helu, who ranks sixth nationally with 116 rushing yards per game, the Huskers come into the game averaging more than 183 yards per contest on the ground. On the other side, Missouri is allowing a little less than 134 yard per game, ranking 61st nationally.



Nebraska tore up Virginia Tech's vaunted defense to the tune of 207 rushing yards a few weeks ago, and many would argue that the Hokies posed far more of a challenge as a rush defense than the Tigers. Last week against Nevada, Mizzou allowed 218 yards on 45 carries.



However, if Helu or any NU offensive linemen were to miss tonight's showdown because of illness or any other reason, the playing field would be leveled considerably. Judging from the reports from practice this week, it looks like the Huskers should be good to go.



Edge: NEBRASKA
NU Pass Offense vs MU Pass Defense


While the running game should still be able to thrive in the wet and rainy conditions, the same can't be said for the passing game. Junior quarterback Zac Lee has yet to play in adverse weather, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to it as well as a number of other challenges.



Along with the obvious difficulties of throwing a wet ball, Lee will also have to deal with playing in one of the most hostile environments in the Big 12 Conference. Lee struggled in his first road game at Virginia Tech, and there's little doubt that tonight will be just as loud and far more unpleasant than anything he saw three weeks ago in Blacksburg.



The good news is that Missouri's pass defense has been anything but impressive so far this season, as it's allowing an average of 218 yards and a touchdown through the air. Nebraska has been decent throwing the ball (256 ypg), but Lee's performance against the Hokies left much to be desired in a game of that magnitude.



The weather might make the Huskers shy away from the passing game regardless, but Lee will still have to make some plays with his arm in crucial situations tonight. Lee has talked the past two weeks about having a short memory of his last road trip, and he made a nice rebound against Louisiana-Lafayette. Assuming he continues his progression, tonight should be another step forward.



Edge: NEBRASKA
MU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense


The biggest difference between Nebraska's running game and Missouri's comes down to a matter of physicality. In a game like this, that could make all the difference between a win and a loss.



Senior running back Derrick Washington is no question an extremely talented runner, but he's been fairly pedestrian this season, averaging a little more than 75 yards a game. After him, the cupboard is pretty bare, as freshman Kendial Lawrence ranks second on the team with 132 rushing yards.



To make matter worse for the Tigers, Nebraska has been decent against the run, allowing less than 116 yards a game. The Huskers' front four could make big impact against Missouri's offensive line, which has struggled with the new run-blocking schemes implemented by first-year offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.



The rain could play to be a huge advantage for Nebraska, as the more Missouri is forced to run the football the better chance the Huskers have of keeping them off the scoreboard.



Edge: NEBRASKA
MU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense


Since the day he de-committed from Nebraska in favor of rival Missouri, sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been an enemy of the state of sorts. Tonight, all those emotions will come to a head for both sides.



Husker fans would love nothing more than to completely dominate Gabbert and shut down Missouri's potent passing attack. That, however, could be easier said than done. The Tigers boast a top-10 passing offense, putting up 310 yards and three touchdowns a game.



Gabbert's top receiving targets are Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, who rank 19th (101 ypg) and 21st (95.25) respectively in receiving yards per game. The duo also ranks third and fourth in the Big 12 in the category.



Like everything else, the rain could affect Mizzou's passing ability, which should only help Nebraska's already formidable pass defense. The Huskers have allowed less than 170 passing yards per game, and all of that was in perfectly good weather. But they also haven't gone up against the quarterback that was at one point supposed to eventually be the face of their program, either.



Edge: MISSOURI
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor


For once, junior kicker/punter Alex Henery will be matched against worthy adversaries. Missouri's Grant Ressel has connected on a perfect 10-of-10 field goals this season and ranks third nationally with 2.50 field goals per game, bettering Henery's 2.00 average. Ressel is also the only kicker in the country with at least 10 field goals made to boast a perfect kicking percentage. The one thing he can't do is punt, and that's where Jake Harry comes in. Harry currently ranks seventh nationally with a punting average of 45.13. However, neither is that much better than Henery statistically, and the Tigers' kick and punt returners have been non-factors all season.



Edge: NEBRASKA



Nebraska Will Win If:

It can control the game by running the football and mixing in some timely pass plays to help eat up the clock and put some points on the board. The Huskers should look to ride Helu - if healthy - and keep Missouri's offense off the field as long as possible. When the Tigers do have the ball, NU needs to make them one-dimensional and force Gabbert to throw in the less-than-ideal weather conditions.



Missouri Will Win If:

It can slow Nebraska's running game and get the ball in Gabbert's hands to make some plays. The Tigers have the weapons to exploit some of the Huskers' biggest weaknesses defensively, primarily stretching the field with the talented receivers. Should Nebraska not be able to move the football on the ground, Missouri will certainly look to pressure Lee into making mistakes and hopefully force some turnovers, which would be crucial in a game like tonight's.



X-Factor:

It's been mentioned throughout this story, and it's the perfect definition of an X-Factor for both teams. If the forecasts are correct, it's going to rain and rain some more tonight. That means whichever team handles the wet conditions the best is going to win. Ball security will be huge, and if one team can find ways to move the ball effectively through the air, that in itself is an enormous advantage.



Prediction: Nebraska 27 Missouri 21



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