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2010 Jun 17

BIG 12 OPPONENT REPORT: Mizzou

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By HuskerLocker

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(This photo is from the Kansas City Star)

As Nebraska’s 2010 spring football season is over, Husker Locker takes a glance at what NU’s opponents – as well as the Big 12 and the nation as a whole - are doing this spring.

Team: Missouri (8-5, lost to Navy 35-13 in the Texas Bowl)
Coach: Gary Pinkel (140-83-3 overall, 67-46 at Mizzou)
Plays Nebraska: Oct. 30, 2010
Spring Game: April 17

Summary: Is it possible that Missouri will sport a better defense in 2010 than offense? It’s entirely possible. The Tigers, while returning quarterback Blaine Gabbert, most of its offensive line and running back Derrick Washington, saw quite a few strides from its defense during the spring. Gary Pinkel’s best recruiting classes are finally rounding into shape, and Missouri’s defenders will be spending their second year under defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Plus, the Tigers may boast the Big 12’s most dominant defensive lineman in defensive end Aldon Smith, who will give Nebraska’s Jared Crick a run for his money in 2010.

The spread shotgun offense is run by Gabbert, who has healed from a nasty ankle injury suffered in the 2009 Nebraska game. Gabbert’s size and skills could fit into any offense, but his mobility is especially helpful for the Tigers, who rely on their quarterbacks getting outside of the pocket to create plays downfield. Washington, meanwhile, dropped more than ten pounds, and returned, at least in the spring, to his sophomore form, when he was one of the best running backs in the Big 12.

Progress so far: Gabbert was hot and cold during the spring, but he was also operating against an improved defense and without two of his best receivers from 2009: Jared Perry and Danario Alexander. He’s never like to be as pinpoint accurate as his predecessor Chase Daniel - not many quarterbacks are - but Gabbert’s arm strength and raw athleticism allow him to make plays few can. Washington improved, averaging more than five yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns. TJ Moe, a sophomore from suburban St. Louis, emerged as one of the Tigers’ leading receiver while tight end Michael Egnew is close to becoming a top-flight tight end.

The defense appears to be where the real strides have been made. The secondary, frequently burned in 2009, was more aggressive in the spring. The defensive line, anchored by Smith, will be among the best in the Big 12. Sean Weatherspoon has to be replaced at linebacker - and that will probably take more than one season - but the Tigers appeared to have simplified the scheme and put more emphasis on playmaking instead of schematic trickery.

Breakout player: On offense, look for Egnew. There’s a chance the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder will become Gabbert’s favorite target down the field. Defensively, redshirt freshman Brayden Burnett, from Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School, had a fine spring, and should contend for major playing time.

What You May Not Know: Missouri will likely have a true freshman backup quarterback in James Franklin, who beat out three other quarterbacks (including Tyler Gabbert) to seemingly secure that No. 2 spot. Blaine Gabbert needs to stay healthy, in other words. Mizzou was so concerned about the backup QB issue last year that Gabbert, badly hobbled, couldn’t afford to take a week to heal.

Keep an eye on: Defensive improvement throughout fall camp. If Steckel’s schemes take hold among his players, the Tigers could be a sleeper team in not just the Big 12 North - where it will compete for the title with Nebraska - but the Big 12 as a whole.

Spring Opponent Reports: Texas A&MOklahoma State, Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State, Kansas, Western Kentucky, Colorado

Tags: spring opponent report, missouri, blaine gabbert, gary pinkel, derrick washington

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