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Mizzou-Nebraska: Beyond the Box Score PREVIEW

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Mizzou-Nebraska Projections

Mizzou Rushing

  • 2007 Mizzou Rushing Offense EqPts+: 136.70
  • 2007 Nebraska Rushing Defense EqPts/Gm: 21.02
  • Projection #1: 28.74
  • 2007 Nebraska Rushing Defense EqPts+: 78.53
  • 2007 Mizzou Rushing Offense EqPts/Gm: 16.21
  • Projection #2: 20.64

Avg Projected Mizzou Rushing Output: 24.69

Adjusted for 2008: 24.0. Mizzou's rushing offense is better in '08, and so is NU's rushing defense. I'm bumping this down a hair, but I still think we're seeing a window of major opportunity here. Derrick Washington could have a monster day.

Mizzou Passing

  • 2007 Mizzou Passing Offense EqPts+: 156.79
  • 2007 Nebraska Passing Defense EqPts/Gm: 13.31
  • Projection #1: 20.87
  • 2007 Nebraska Passing Defense EqPts+: 102.29
  • 2007 Mizzou Passing Offense EqPts/Gm: 18.40
  • Projection #2: 17.99

Avg Projected Mizzou Passing Output: 19.43

Adjusted for 2008: 20.0. Again, NU's pass defense is better than last year's...but Mizzou's pass offense has gone to a new level. If NU can't get pressure on Chase Daniel from its D-line, they're dead meat.

Nebraska Rushing

  • 2007 Nebraska Rushing Offense EqPts+: 99.81
  • 2007 Mizzou Rushing Defense EqPts/Gm: 8.29
  • Projection #1: 8.27
  • 2007 Mizzou Rushing Defense EqPts+: 121.92
  • 2007 Nebraska Rushing Offense EqPts/Gm: 10.03
  • Projection #2: 8.23

Projected Nebraska Rushing Output: 8.25

Adjusted for 2008: 7.0. NU's got little to no running game this year. And Mizzou's just as good at stopping it.

Nebraska Passing

  • 2007 Nebraska Passing Offense EqPts+: 169.46
  • 2007 Mizzou Passing Defense EqPts/Gm: 12.14
  • Projection #1: 20.57
  • 2007 Mizzou Passing Defense EqPts+: 103.91
  • 2007 Nebraska Passing Offense EqPts/Gm: 19.89
  • Projection #2: 19.14

Projected Nebraska Passing Output: 19.86

Adjusted for 2008: 18.0. Here's the deal: NU averaged such high passing numbers in '07 because they were playing from behind so much. Ironically, the fact that they're better at passing in '08 means they probably won't be averaging as many Passing EqPts--games will be closer, and they won't be letting 'er rip quite as much.

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Projected EqPts Score: Missouri 44.0, Nebraska 25.0

Home Field Adjustment (+~3 for home, -~3 for road): Missouri 41, Nebraska 28.

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Special Teams

Lincoln was the place where Missouri fans discovered what kind of kicker they were going to have for the next couple years. The one bright spot of the '06 debacle in Lincoln was Jeff Wolfert crushing a 54-yard FG at the end of the first half...to cut NU's lead to 27-6. Since then, Wolfert's missed almost nothing. He leads what is, despite the kick return TD given up against Buffalo a week and a half ago, the best special teams unit Mizzou's had in recent history, possibly ever. They've got their most accurate kicker ever, their best kick/punt returner ever, and a pretty solid punter.

Meanwhile, NU's unit is far from chopped liver. After Niles Paul got a bit of fumbleitis against Virginia Tech, Nate Swift stepped in and took a punt back 80+ yards for a TD. Meanwhile, primary kick return man Niles Paul also has a TD (a big one too--it broke open the way-too-tight San Jose State game) in this young season. Alex Henery is a solid kicker as well. The one problem: so far they're averaging 27.5 net yards per punt. That's horrendous. Granted, that includes last week's blocked punt, but Dan Titchener's 38.0 average (and propensity to give up some returns) doesn't cut it. Mizzou has a special teams advantage here, but it's not a gigantic one.

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Key Players: Nebraska

WR Todd Peterson, WR Menelik Holt, TE Mike McNeil...every receiver besides Nate Swift

Back in 2005, freshman Nate Swift was Zac Taylor's go-to WR in a mediocre pass attack. 2006 and 2007 were dominated by JUCO transfer Maurice Purify, but now Swift is back to being the #1 guy. Problem is, Mizzou's still pretty darn good at stopping #1 receiving threats (thank you, Carl Gettis). So someone on the Husker offense needs to step up and play the role Ernest Jackson (Buffalo's #2 WR, who scored 3 TDs) played for Buffalo or Will Judson (177 yards, 2 TDs) played for Illinois. Problem is, the only NU WR who's caught a pass of more than 25 yards is Swift. NU's still good at the screen game--RBs Quentin Castille, Roy Helu Jr. and Marlon Lucky (remember him?) all have had at least one long reception--but call me crazy...NU's not going to beat Mizzou by screening them to death. Somebody's going to have to come up with a huge play or two, and it might be Jeremy Maclin's former Kirkwood teammate, TE Mike McNeill.

Or, you know, it might be nobody at all.

RB Marlon Lucky

I wanted to name anybody else but Lucky, but there are a lot of known quantities here. Joe Ganz is going to be pretty solid. Nate Swift is going to make a few catches. The NU O-line is going to be decent but not spectacular. Really, the key ingredient to NU being able to keep up with Mizzou on the scoreboard simply has to be Marlon Lucky. The preseason All-Big 12 RB is barely on pace for 800 rushing yards this year, and despite a 58-yard run earlier in the season, he's only averaging 4.4 yards per carry. While his backup, Roy Helu Jr., has rushed for almost as many yards on 15 fewer carries, Lucky's the workhorse, and he just has to have a big game.

DE Zach Potter

We've covered the "How to beat Mizzou" blueprint on RMN many times. The key ingredient isn't a great secondary or explosive offense--it's having great DEs. You have to be able to generate pressure on Chase Daniel without blitzing, and Potter is NU's only hope of success in that regard. He's having a solid season so far--5.0 TFL's, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries; he might need all of that on Saturday. He's a big dude (6'7, 285), and he's obviously pretty athletic...now he just needs to have a career game at exactly the right time. Unfortunately for him, Mizzou's starting OT's, Colin Brown and Elvis Fisher, have been dominant thus far.

DT Ndamukong Suh

Usually, if I've already picked a DL here, I'd aim for an LB or DB with the second defensive slot. It is, after all, important that NU's DBs cover better than they have in their lives even if the D-line IS generating some pressure. But a) the LBs and DBs just don't really matter if the NU DL doesn't first dominate, and b) Suh's probably NU's most talented defensive player (other than Potter, anyway). The best-case scenario is that the 6'4, 300-pound nose tackle teams with Potter to blow up one side of Mizzou's O-line and harrass all night. I'll believe it when I see it--Suh completely and totally disappeared against good teams last year--but it's something to watch.

Key Players: Mizzou

RB Derrick Washington

It's quite possible that Nebraska, knowing it doesn't have the most wonderful secondary in the world, plays the mushroom cloud style of defense that teams like Arkansas and Kansas attempted against Mizzou last year, rushing 2-3 guys and dropping 8-9 into coverage. If Nebraska attempts this, it will open up humongous holes for Derrick Washington, who has already proven himself to be a better overall weapon than Tony Temple. Temple was a wonderful slasher, waiting for a hole and darting through it. Washington can do that, but he doesn't really need to wait for a hole. He can lower his head into the back of a pile and squirt through the other side for 6 yards; he can also break away for a TD at any time. Washington is the reason it seems impossible to stop Missouri right now, and if he has a big game in Lincoln, I don't see how Missouri loses unless they're fumbling the ball left and right.

OT's Colin Brown and Elvis Fisher

This one's easy--if Zach Potter and Ndamukong Suh are the keys for Nebraska, the guys blocking them (sort of) are keys for Mizzou. Granted, Suh's an NT, so he'll be on the interior of the line, but if he (and DT Ty Steinkuhler) can rough up the middle of the Mizzou O-line, it's up to Brown and Fisher to keep Chase Daniel from being blindsided. I'm not worried about pressure from up the middle--Daniel can see that coming--it's what he can't see that I worry about.

DE Stryker Sulak

After a wonderful start to the season (3 sacks against Illinois), Sulak has more or less disappeared. He's been the second-best DE on Mizzou's team (anybody notice how well Tommy Chavis has been playing?) for the last three games. It's time for Sulak to make some more noise. Ziggy Hood's coming along, and if Sulak lives up to the expectations he built for himself, this defense is suddenly pretty scary.

FS William Moore

Remember him? I'm talking about William Moore the safety, not William Moore the third defensive end. Assuming we scale back the Moore experimentation a bit and he, you know, actually plays free safety (and is healthy enough to play it well), he is Mizzou's most dangerous player. Mizzou held a decent Buffalo offense in check without Moore, but Nebraska's obviously better than Buffalo, and Mizzou will need Moore to start making plays.

Then again, Sean Weatherspoon might just make all the plays, in which case it really doesn't matter what Moore does.

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Summary

I want nothing more than to believe we're going to break a 30-year losing streak in Lincoln by absolutely destroying NU. It's within the realm of possibility. NU can't get to Chase Daniel early, Mizzou races to a quick early lead, Mizzou tees off on Joe Ganz, ..., blowout ensues.

But it's probably not going to happen. I've been saying for two weeks now that we are likely to get everything Nebraska has. Trick plays, inspired blitzes, some completely unknown receiver (Curenski Gilleylen, maybe?) coming out of the woodwork and finding a couple blindspots in Mizzou's Cover-2. They'll probably even get a couple Sea-of-Red-style lucky bounces like the ones that quickly turned the '06 game into a blowout (Really? Will Franklin actually bats the ball to Adam Carriker?).

It's going to be a game. But it comes down to what I've been repeating ad nauseum for the last two weeks: even with inspired play and some homefield bounces, can Nebraska stop Missouri more than Missouri can stop Nebraska? The only reason I can come up with to convince myself that would happen is that...well, this game is in Lincoln. Lincoln has been very bad to Mizzou over the years. But you know what? Manhattan and Boulder had also been bad to Mizzou for the last decade-plus. And Mizzou ended those jinxes quite violently in 2007. It's time to end this jinx too. Bring it on, Huskers.

Prediction: Mizzou 45, Nebraska 24.