Nebraska-Missouri: Can MU Continue To Rule The Big Red Or Is NU Back

Mark BrunswigContributor IOctober 5, 2009

Maybe Gary Pinkel didn't think there would be enough talk about the Thursday night prime-time game between his Missouri Tigers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Well, either way, he did a great job of starting things off right with a trip to Husker commit Tyler Gabbert's high school game in a private chopper. Not that I care, we got a plenty of depth at the QB position.

My focus this week is on what will transpire on the field of play Thursday night on ESPN.

Oh, there are all sorts of smack talk going on already, but again, who cares how good NU fans are and how much MU fans lack our respectability and it makes them even more jealous.

Last time Mizzou had a winning streak and finished as Co-Champions, then of the Big 8 (1969), NU went on to win all but three meetings between the two from 1970- 2002.

A grand total of seven wins for the Tigers in 39 years, one meeting a year a winning percentage of 18.4.

I don't see anything like this happening again by any means, just a fact, and, well, MU has two in a row and we were Co-Champs of the Big 12 North.

None of this really means anything come Thursday, as coach Pelini has said, "That’s all history," and got to give credit where it’s due to Gary Pinkel and the program he's building.

So that brings us to the game this week finally.

MU comes into the game at 4-0, even with a couple ugly ones; a win is a win though.

Starting off the season with a beat down over the not so mighty Illini looked good. Then came the game that kind of brings up a few questions, as the Tigers struggled to beat an out manned Bowling Green team.

After that they pound 1-AA Furnam.

The game that made me really think NU had a better then average shot this year was the game in Reno for Mizzou.

The tigers gave up and a season high 218 yards on the ground to a team that ranks in the bottom quarter of the nation in rushing offense.

On top of that they only put of 78 yards of their own on the mighty Wolf Pack.

Nebraska brings one of the best RBs in the nation in Roy Helu Jr. Helu looked very good against the Sun Belt competition, but what has sold the guy to this point is the game at Blacksburg, VA.

Helu only rushed for a career high 169 yards against one of the nation’s toughest defenses in their own house, granted NU lost, but still, you get my point.

With an O-line that should be able to control the Tigers up front, look for Helu, Burkhead, and Co., to control the clock and wear down the Mizzou D.

Now maybe it's the new offense or the new faces on the o-line but MU's rushing attack has been missing this year, and if they are going to have a chance against Bo, Carl, and Co, not just the NU defense, they have to be able to stay balanced.

The biggest problem with finding that balance this week will be Carl's guys up front in the form of Allen, Suh, Crick, Turner, Steinkuhler, and Meredith.

These guys have done nothing more than lead the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, yeah that’s right, .5 points ahead of Florida even.

Behind them is a group of LBs that were all very young, 'til the bright idea of moving senior Phillip Dillard to the Will position.

Dillard, a former four-star recruit according to rivals, had found a tough time buying into the new system and fallen to basically fourth on the depth chart at the Mike backer.

The first couple games we looked ok at LB but since then, mainly the VT game and the move of Dillard, the front seven has become a whole different animal.

If the Nebraska D-line controls the Mizzou O-line, it could be a coming-out game for this unit.

More on the defenses in a minute.

All said and done Nebraska looks to bring the better running game to the table Thursday.

Next, we look at the passing attacks. Mizzou with first year starter Blaine Gabbert, and Nebraska with first year starter Zac Lee.

Gabbert has put up the more impressive numbers—without a trip to Blacksburg.

The new QB and new WRs seem to be taking nicely to new offensive coordinator David Yost's system.

Gabbert's numbers have been inflated do the lack of pass defenses he has faced but still a solid start is a solid start.

With little running game to back him going into Big 12 play though, the young talented QB may find passing yards tougher to come by.

I've been impressed with the play of new WR group also, which has shown the same playmaking ability MU has become known for over the past few years.

Andrew Jones has become a solid player at the TE position also. Again they haven't faced the Blackshirts or anything like them yet this year. Nebraska's passing game on the other hand has been solid three out of four games.

Zac Lee comes into this game showing a great ability to manage a game, similar to Joe Ganz, with a load more athleticism.

Aside from Lee, the Huskers other question coming into the season was the WRs, and to this point I do believe they have passed all expectations.

Niles Paul leads all WRs with 10 catches (McNiell and Helu lead the team with 11 each).

With eight wideouts making catches already this year, and overall 18 different players making a catch, I'd say there's a few players who are capable here for the Big Red.

Oh yeah, can't forget about other national leader, Curenski Gilleylen leads the nation in yards per catch at nearly 32 yards per grab.

The numbers would say MU has the advantage through the air. With the ability to go deep and plenty of depth at the WR and TE positions, I see this being a lot closer to being an equal area between the two.

Overall I think Nebraska has the advantage on the offensive side of the ball.

Now let’s get back to what wins championships, the defenses.

I spoke briefly earlier of the Blackshirts (I know they haven't been handed out yet, but it's habit), all the talk is focused around senior defensive tackle Kdamukong Suh, who leads the team in tackles again this year to this point.

The front four got off to a solid but far from dominating start this season, but have picked up the pace the past two games.

Jared Crick is proving himself as an up and coming player who can only benefit from the play of Suh.

There isn't much of a lack of depth either with Carl Pelini calling RFr DT Baker Steinkuhler "playing at a high level", and fellow redshirt Fr DE Cameron Meredith showing all sorts of upside.

Nebraska's biggest question on the defensives side of the ball coming into the season was the young LB core.

To this point of the season I'd say a B+, since the move of Dillard A-.

Compton shows great leadership at the Mike spot and Sean Fisher has all the tools at the Buck spot.

If there is or was a place on defense where the tigers have a slight advantage it’s at the LB position.

A group that includes All Big 12 performer Sean Weatherspoon.

The Blackshirts' defensive backs have played very solid to date, not great but very solid nonetheless.

Led by a pair of senior safeties (Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante), both of which have an INT this year, Asante’s 68 yrd TD.

O'Hanlon has added a sack and a fumble recovery.

They are flanked by a pair of Jr. CBs, Prince Amukamara and Anthony West, but look to see more of So. Alfonzo Dennard in place of West.

Erick Hagg and Lance Thorell (the pride of Loomis) have played as well as can be asked of at the nickel and dime positions.

Hagg has recorded three tackles behind the line of scrimmage this year already, 2 TFL and a sack.

With only one INT and a team total of nine PBRs the Missouri DBs haven't made as many plays as they could have over the start of the season.

They haven't played bad but no where near good enough to contend for a Big 12 title.

Overall on defense I give Nebraska an A-, and Missouri a B+.

They are both solid defenses, but the Blackshirts are lead by the Pelini brothers.

Special Teams goes to Nebraska, why you ask?

Start with Alex Henry, one of the most accurate place kickers in the nation, solid punter it appears also.

Adi Kunalic has a huge leg and leads the nation in TBs this year.

Niles Paul and Rex Burkhead average over 13 yrds per PR and just over 23 yrds per KR for NU, while MU comes in at 5.5 yrds per PR and 21 yrds per KR.

Overall, I look for a good game, and hopefully a respectful crowd, not just to Nebraska but to the rivalry itself.

Nebraska looks to have an overall advantage in this game, but the Tigers have the home field.

Nebraska wins, 27-17.


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