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2010 Jun 17
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
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2009 Oct 07
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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2009 Sep 28
1,168 viewsWe review two of Missouri's key running plays, and how Nebraska might defend it. Insight you need to have before the big game! Check it out with a Locker Pass!
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