Official Husker Locker Blog
2009 Oct 07
Five Keys to Missouri
Mystery Ingredients: Namely, the weather, and a little flu bug that may hamper some members of Nebraska’s offense.
The forecast calls for heavy rain – truly looking forward to driving in it – chilly temperatures and a north breeze, if not a wind. The conditions aren’t what you’d call “throwing weather” and it puts Nebraska in the position of having to test the Faurot FieldTurf on the fly, essentially, especially if there’s a tarp on it before the game.
That rainy weather will also make for a long day of cabin fever cooped up in a hotel. It’ll get boring. Maybe Bo Pelini can dial up some baseball buddies, learn some new card games.
The flu is a different, slightly more manageable distraction. A full day in a hotel bed might actually be good for some of the players, including running back Roy Helu, who was held out of the last two practices. Plus, the flu can, but does not necessarily, keep a player from being effective.
Zac Lee On the Road - Again: Nebraska’s quarterback doesn’t have beat to Missouri so much as make the throws allowed by Mizzou’s relatively conservative Cover 2. We’ve seen Zac Lee throw the deep ball, and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will certainly dial up some shots – regardless of the coverage. What Lee has to do is hit the short stuff on rhythm – slants and bubble screens and shotgun playaction passes – that keeps NU in third-and-manageable. Then, he’ll have to convert some of those key third down plays.
We’ve got a hunch that, at some point, the Tigers will get aggressive, try to pressure Lee, and force throws against one-on-one coverage. And Lee has to answer that bell. In 2007, Sam Keller left 10-14 points on the field by failing to make quick reads under pressure. As bad as Nebraska’s defense played in that game, Keller played worse, and didn’t recover from it for weeks.
The First Impression: Nebraska’s defense may give up a field goal on Missouri’s opening drive. It may even give up a touchdown. But NU has to send the Tigers a message that 2009 won’t be a repeat of 2008 and 2007. If Mizzou busts another easy score to open the game, it’ll be precisely the emotional juice the Tigers need.
Bo Pelini tends to put his defense out on the field first in games by deferring when he wins the coin toss, which almost automatically means the opponent will choose offense. Let’s see if he changes it up, and gives his offense a crack at drawing first blood.
Stick or Quit: If Missouri’s running game gets shut down early, offensive coordinator David Yost will have a choice to make: Keep plugging away, or put the game on Blaine Gabbert’s shoulders. We think Gabbert’s good enough to do it on his own, but the Mizzou braintrust remains pretty adamant about getting Derrick Washington his carries, especially in the red zone. While the Tigers don’t want to be Texas Tech, can they afford to keep running the ball if it doesn’t work?
Pinkel vs. Pelini: Games like this, blowouts or not, often come down individual plays…and individual decisions made by the head coaches. Pinkel often uses a more tactical, clinical approach. Pelini is aggressive and impulsive. They are pretty apt representatives of the offensive superego vs. the defensive id. Analysis vs. feel.
Pelini is a tactician, don’t get us wrong. Sometimes he overschemes the opponent, in fact. But his basic defensive mindset remains “attack” and he often brings unpredictable blitzes based on a preternatural hunch of what the offense is going to do.
Pinkel’s offense dissects. When a defense bull rushes an offense that prefers to go as much horizontal as it does vertical, the defense loses. That was the main culprit for 52-17 last year.
So Pelini’s plan needs to smarter, but also simpler. Pinkel, meanwhile, may be forced to trust elements of his team - the offensive line, the secondary – that haven’t earned it yet. Can he and his assistants push the aggressive button at the right moment? Or do they bend so much they break?
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