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October 30, 2010

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Missouri

NU Run Offense vs MU Run Defense
While Nebraska went to the pass early and often last week against Oklahoma State, there's still no question that the heartbeat of the Huskers' offense is the running game. In particular, quarterback Taylor Martinez can change a game in one play with his running ability, which would be a huge a advantage for NU if he can find a way to break loose a time or two (or three).

But along with the big runs from Martinez, Nebraska is also going to have to find a way to run the ball between the tackles with backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead to not only take pressure of Martinez but also to control the tempo and keep Missouri's offense off the field.

Edge: NEBRASKA

NU Pass Offense vs MU Pass Defense
Martinez had his best passing game as a Husker last week, throwing for a career-high 323 yards and five touchdowns against the Cowboys. However, all of that came against an Oklahoma State pass defense that now ranks 115th in the country.

Obviously things will be a bit more difficult against Missouri, which boasts one of the most physical secondaries in the Big 12 Conference. The Tigers have 11 interceptions to just seven touchdown passes allowed this season, and they picked off then-No. 1 Oklahoma twice during last week's upset win.

Edge: MISSOURI

MU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
Missouri hasn't been able to do much in the running game since losing back Derrick Washington to suspension before the season, averaging just 138.4 yards per game on the ground. In Washington's place, the committee of Henry Josey (319 yards, four touchdowns), De'Vion Moore (273, four) and Kendial Lawrence (177, two) has done its best to pick up the slack.

Nebraska has obviously had its issues in stopping the run this season, as it has given up an average of 165.1 yards over the first seven games. With the way Missouri likes to spread out defenses with their wide offensive line splits and multiple receiver sets, the Huskers' front four will have to step it up against the run. The return of linebacker Will Compton should help NU's cause more than ever this week.

Edge: NEBRASKA

MU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
This could be the best and most important match-up of the day, as Missouri's offensive strength takes on Nebraska's vaunted secondary. Tiger quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been getting better after every game he plays, and he currently ranks sixth nationally with 25.8 completions per game.

Like Oklahoma State last week, Missouri likes to get the ball out quickly and hit receivers on short routes in the flat and over the middle, which will put a lot of pressure on Nebraska's linebackers and the likes of Eric Hagg and DeJon Gomes to maintain their coverage and not miss tackles. The Huskers adjusted very well in the second half against the Cowboys, and those adjustments should carry over today.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
For once, senior kicker/punter Alex Henery will be matched against worthy adversaries. Missouri's Grant Ressel has connected on a 13-of-14 field goals this season and ranks sixth nationally with 1.86 field goals per game, bettering Henery's 1.29 average. Ressel's 13 field goals are also the fifth-most in college football.

The one thing he can't do is punt, and but Missouri has done just fine with punter Matt Grabner, as the Tigers rank seventh nationally with and average of 3.31 yards allowed on 43 punts.

The good news for NU is returner Niles Paul finally broke one loose last week against the Cowboys, which gives the Huskers a much needed boost in field position if he can keep it up.

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. Martinez is going to have to come up with some big plays with both his legs and his arm. When the Tigers do have the ball, NU needs to make them one-dimensional and force Gabbert to throw against one of the most talented secondaries he'll have faced all year.

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, especially if they can get things going on the ground. Should Nebraska not be able to move the football in the running game, Missouri will certainly look to pressure Martinez into making mistakes and hopefully force some turnovers, which would be crucial in a game like today's.

X-Factor:

Even though Missouri rolled Nebraska the last time they played in Lincoln in 2008, the fact that this game is being played in Memorial Stadium should prove as a huge advantage for the Huskers. With Missouri coming off such an emotional win last week, going on the road and playing such a high-stakes game in front of a fan base desperate for one last win could prove awfully difficult for a team missing some of its best playmakers.

Prediction: Nebraska 31 Missouri 21



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