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Crossfire Q&A: Nebraska (Double author edition!)

In our never ending question to better know Missouri's 2009 opponents, we've gone abroad and brought in some people a little closer to the situation. This week, we're joined by not one but TWO guests, as Corn Blight and Husker Mike of Corn Nation were both gracious enough to take some time to give us a closer look at the Huskers.

1. It certainly appears high expectations are again in vogue in Lincoln. What are your expectations for this team, and what would be necessary for this season to be a success or a failure?

Corn Blight: My expectation is that Nebraska will win the Big 12 North this year, not so much because we’re overpowering and awesome, but because we appear to have the biggest set of strengths as opposed to weaknesses of all the Big 12 North teams. Failure would be not making a bowl game, which could happen if we get injuries in some key spots.

Husker Mike: Depends on what you mean by "high expectations".  I think Nebraska will compete for the Big XII North title, but that's probably only good for third or fourth best in the Big XII overall.  My initial thoughts are that NU should go 9-3 this season.  I'd consider 9 wins to be a successful season.  Failure?  Failure to make a bowl game would be a failure, though it would depend on the reasons why.

2. What can we expect from the Nebraska offense this year? Should teams expect a lot of Castille and Helu, or do you expect the quarterback play to develop quickly?

Corn Blight: I would expect to see a lot more double tight end sets, although not necessarily the traditional I formation. We’re going to need to find a third back, and we’re going to have to run the ball. I wouldn’t expect a lot of zone read or a lot of spread option stuff because if Zac Lee gets injured, there’s not a lot of experience behind him. Castille and Helu and the offensive line are going to have to carry this team early.

Husker Mike:  Roy Helu really turned up his game in November once he had recovered from a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the season.  If he stays healthy in 2009, I look for him to be one of the league's best running backs.  Quentin Castille was a key reason why NU won the Gator Bowl in relief of Helu.  That's a powerful duo NU can ride in 2009, especially early in the season.  That'll take the pressure off of Zac Lee, who was impressive in the spring game.  Lee has an impressive combination of speed and arm strength, but lacks experience at this level.  A good running game will affort Lee the time to grow into his role.

More after the jump!

3. A lot of people are citing the Nebraska defense as the reason why the Huskers are "back." How much faith do you have in that unit?

Corn Blight: Go back and look at 2007 and you understand why we are back. That team fell apart and the result was the worst defense in over, what, 120 years of football? It was downright painful to watch.

Put it this way - the Pelini brothers took a group of players that had little confidence and weren’t taught much by the previous regime (former DC Kevin Cosgrove had not a clue as to how to defend against the spread), and in a single season put together a respectable defense. They used a number of walk-ons when they could have pulled redshirts off some guys with great potential and they didn’t do that.

That’s why people are excited. We played good football towards the end of last season. That’s something to be optimistic about.… what that translates to this season - who knows, but I have goose bumps thinking about how far we came in a single season.

Husker Mike: I don't think Nebraska is "back".  "Back" for Nebraska is being in consideration for a BCS berth, and Nebraska is there.  Yet.  I think we're getting there, but merely being in consideration for the Big XII North title isn't where Nebraska wants to be.  That being said, NU is going to ride that defense in 2009.  The Blackshirts had some impressive play in the final four games of 2008.  They gave up some points, but typically it was because of a busted coverage in the secondary resulting in a big play.  Eliminate those, and Nebraska has a pretty good defense for the Big XII.  Remember the Blackshirts were ranked second in the conference for total defense last season.

4. Who are a few players that the national media or fans of other teams don't know about that are hidden keys for success for Nebraska this year?

Husker Mike: I'll throw tight end Mike McNeill into the mix; he became an integral part of the passing game late last season.  Shawn Watson loves to exploit his tight ends.  On defense, watch for redshirt freshmen Will Compton and Sean Fisher at linebacker.  Both guys could have contributed last season, but Bo Pelini elected to redshirt them.

Corn Blight: Husker Mike took Mike McNeil, I’ll take Prince Amukamara. Ndamukong Suh and Amukamara on defense. If they team up on a tackle, wow, that’s a lot of syllables. It’ll probably hurt worse than if you were being tackled by Smith and Jones. Amukamara should generate big plays in the secondary this season. Other than that, redshirt freshman middle linebacker Will Compton should become a key player this season.

5. What is the mindset of the Nebraska fanbase for this year's Missouri game? Even on the road, is this a "must-win" in the eyes of Husker fans?

Corn Blight: It’s way early.… gauging the mindset of the Nebraska fanbase, I’d say that since Daniels (ed. note: Daniels? Corn Blight, you vindictive scoundrel...) and Maclin are gone that we should just go down to Columbia for the win. I don’t think it’s a "must-win" game, but it’s certainly important for any team in the Big 12 North to start the conference season on a positive note and develop momentum. I guess it’s darned close, then, isn’t it?

Husker Mike: think Husker fans are cautiously optimistic inside and bombastically optimistic on message boards when it comes to this season's matchup in Columbia.  Yes, Nebraska hasn't won in Columbia since Eric Crouch waltzed coast to coast through Faurot Field in 2001, but what's in the past is in the past.  Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, and Kevin Cosgrove won't have an effect on this game.  The Tigers have much of the same question marks that Nebraska has on offense:  new QB, loss of top receivers, etc.  But Missouri only returns four starters from a bad defense...and Nebraska returns 6 from one of the better defenses in the conference.  So Husker fans have good reason to be optimistic about this matchup.  Is it a must-win?  In terms of egos, yes.  While NU can still win the North despite losing in Columbia, the implications of a loss to the Tigers make that difficult to achieve.

6. Finish the following statements:
-- Nebraska will win if:
-- Mizzou will win if:

Husker Mike -

Missouri will win if...  (a) Blaine Gabbert is the real deal and makes the plays that Brad Smith and Chase Daniel made in past Tiger victories and (b) Missouri finds that they had a better defense on the bench last season.

Corn Blight

Nebraska will win if... the offensive line can run block better than last year’s and new quarterback Zac Lee doesn’t commit a bunch of turnovers.

Missouri will win if... well, Husker Mike took the bit about Blaine Gabbert, so I’ll say that the Tigers will win if all the pieces come together quickly. I wrote the opponent previews for this year’s Nebraska yearbook - what I found is you guys have had a huge amount of turnover - not just in incredible playmakers, but in the coaching staff.

It takes time to work that out, more time than everyone thinks. An example of that is your pasting of us last season in Lincoln. It was earlier in the year, a new coaching staff hadn’t figured out what worked offensively (or better yet, what they couldn’t do, which was run the ball effectively when they needed to), and the defense hadn’t yet learned Pelini’s system. Missouri may not have a completely new coaching staff, but you turned over coordinators, which effectively means you have a new coaching staff. It’ll take time. We get you early. Yay for us. Also - if Zac Lee is out for the game, or gets injured, all bets are off for the season.

7. Give us a prediction and score for the MU/NU game.

Corn Blight: Nebraska wins because your biggest strength on offense plays right into our biggest strength on defense. I don’t see either offense putting up the numbers they did in the past couple seasons, so the game will be closer. We get more turnovers than you do and win it, 28-17.

Husker Mike: It's way too early to do this, but I'll bite. I'm not sure how Missouri managed to score the same 41 points each of the three previous matchups in Columbia.  What's the odds of doing that? 2009 is a different story:  Nebraska 41, Missouri 28