Nevada K Brett Jaekle is pretty decent. He missed two FGs last week, but he went 16-for-21 last year and is a decent option. New punter Brad Langley has done a bang-up job so far, averaging 46.9 yards per punt. One problem, though: in two games, Nevada's had a punt blocked and a punt returned for TD. You don't want to have weaknesses in your punting game when you come to Columbia. The return game for Nevada has been more or less a wash this year so far--Dwayne Sanders hasn't had many opportunities to return punts, and Brandon Fragger's been decent but not spectacular in a handful of kickoff returns. Two problems: 1) Nevada's settling for too many FGs (I'll address that below), and 2) Jeremy Maclin returns punts for Mizzou.
And once again, Mizzou has Jeff Wolfert--Nevada doesn't. Never in my life have I taken a 45-yard FG for granted (KNOCK ON WOOD), but that's where we've gotten with Wolfert.
Key Players: Nevada
QB Colin Kaepernick
I hate being predictable, but you have to put Kaepernick at the top of the list. Luke Lippincott is out, and while Nevada's other RBs--Vai Taua, Brandon Fragger--are at the very least competent (Taua might eventually turn out to be as productive as Lippincott), LL's absence does put more pressure on Kaepernick to create on his own. So far he's responded with decent stats--386 passing yards, 143 rushing yards in two games--but he needs to step up his game against the best team on Nevada's schedule. Also, after committing next to no turnovers last year, Kaepernick has three in the first two games of the year--2 INTs and 1 fumble. Missouri's given up quite a few yards so far this year, but if Kaepernick is careless with the ball, Mizzou is more than capable of making him pay.
One other thing--Nevada had numerous chances deep in Texas Tech territory and wasn't able to punch the ball into the endzone, with or without Lippincott. They attempted SIX FG's against Tech, and as was discussed in the offseason, settling for FGs against Mizzou = slow death. It's up to Kaepernick to will the ball into the endzone, and he hasn't proven he can do that consistently against a decent defense yet this year.
WR Marko Mitchell
The key to keeping up with Mizzou, other than not settling for FGs, will be scoring as many easy points as possible--long plays, turnovers, etc. For the "long plays" part of that equation, it's all about Marko Mitchell. Mitchell was a fantastic deep threat last year, and this year has been more of the same so far--in basically 1.5 games against Texas Tech and Grambling, Mitchell has 12 catches for a 16.3-yard average and 1 TD. Aside from maybe a Kaepernick scramble on a broken play, Mitchell represents Nevada's best chance at easy points, and he'll have to come up big at least twice for Nevada to have a chance.
OT's Mike Gallett and Alonzo Durham
Texas Tech racked up four sacks last week. Missouri racked up 5 sacks (four from the DEs) against a mobile QB in Juice Williams. While Mizzou's blitzing has been entirely ineffective, Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis are poised for a big game if the O-line--the OT's in particular--can slow them down. SEMO thrived in the "quick delivery" department, and Mizzou's pass rush was somehow held in check last week, but I don't expect that to happen again.
FS Uche Anyanwu
Anyanwu had a solid game against Tech, with 6 tackles and 1 TFL. He and CB Antoine Thompson--3 pass break-ups last week--are the biggest playmakers in Nevada's secondary, and a lot will be expected of them if Mizzou is going to be held under 5 TDs. I was going to put LB Josh Mauga here because of his blitzing prowess, but...well, until given a reason to, I just don't fear other teams' blitzes. It's all on Nevada's secondary to make plays...or at least not miss any tackles.
Key Players: Missouri
TE Chase Coffman
I'm putting him here because of what I said during the score projections. Nevada was able to bump Texas Tech's WRs and confuse Graham Harrell into a 19-for-46 performance. Aside from two plays, they held Michael Crabtree in check (unfortunately for the Wolfpack, those two plays went for 50 and 82 yards...ouch). If they choose to give Jeremy Maclin the Crabtree Treatment, they can limit his effectiveness too. Combined with tight, bumping coverage of the other receivers, you'd think Nevada would have a pretty good recipe for physically defending the spread.
Only...Mizzou doesn't mind physical. They'll just throw to Chase Coffman 12 times, and...
RB Derrick Washington
...give Derrick Washington 15-20 carries. Washington is a strong, physical runner, and he and Coffman are the two reasons I just can't really fear any specific defensive strategy.
CB Castine Bridges
S Delstin Garward (Justin Garrett + Del Howard)
Here's what I said about Nevada's passing game back in June:
On non-passing downs, Nevada isn't very aggressive in the passing game--their 0.865 Passing S&P is lower than the national 0.884 and disproportionately lower than a lot of their numbers compared to the national average. However, on passing downs, it appears they go deep...a lot. Their success rate isn't that much higher than normal on passing downs, but when they connect, it's a huge play. Their 0.862 Passing S&P on passing downs has got to be one of the higher numbers in the country.
Two things concern me about this: 1) Mizzou was having Castine Bridges give a massively soft cushion on SEMO WRs last week. Maybe that changes this week, but if not, Nevada's horizontal passing game on non-passing downs could find all sorts of dink-and-dunk success against the Mizzou secondary, namely Bridges. So that's why Bridges is on there.
As for Garrett/Howard...well, if it's a passing down, chances are good that Mizzou's blitzing. And if they're blitzing, chances are good that they're sending William Moore. So that leaves Delstin Garward as the last line of defense...a role not filled very capably against Illinois.
Nevada is capable of scoring some points, and they've got enough physical guys on defense that they can wear you down if you let them. Their combination of dink-and-dunk prowess on non-passing downs and deep-ball prowess on passing downs has me a bit worried. I think Nevada will put up some yards. But let's go with the Star Factor here.
Joshua Mauga (potentially)
Jeremy Maclin (the receiver)
Jeremy Maclin (the kick returner)
Missouri is giving up too many yards, and I expect that to continue somewhat on Saturday. But they've just got too many playmakers. I think the BTBS projection (41-17) may be just about dead on with this one, but until someone holds Mizzou under 52, I'm going with the trend*.
My Prediction: Missouri 52, Nevada 17.