Going into Thursday night's showdown in Columbia, Missouri, the margin of superiority to this point between Nebraska and Missouri is almost too close to call. The teams are a combined 7-1 and all scheduling, territory, and intangible arguments aside, both teams have largely looked impressive.
So rather than give an argument for why one team or the other is going to win, why not break this down scientifically? After all, these teams are putting the same amount of players on the field with stars on both sides. Ultimately, the best cumulative effort will pull through in mid-Missouri.
I'll grade these teams by giving them an EVEN score, where neither teams earn a point, a SLIGHT EDGE, where the leading team gets a (+1), and a BIG EDGE, where the leading team gets a (+2).
Do we know how this game is going to go?
Husker fans thought they had a good chance to win last year in Lincoln, and Missouri was up by almost 40 midway through the third quarter. Anything can happen. At least, this way we're putting some logic behind this match up.
Blaine Gabbert is playing as well as any quarterback in the nation. He's among the nation's top producers in touchdowns, passing efficiency, yards/attempt and completion percentage. He's also thrown zero interceptions. I don't except Gabbert to win the Heisman anytime soon, but he's been real good.
Zac Lee on the other hand has been serviceable, but not amazing. He's got a 7:3 touchdown to interception ratio, but hasn't thrown the deep ball very much. Apparently, (I haven't watched the guy play yet), he's got the arm to get it downfield, so I'd look for Bo Pelini to take some shots at a Missouri secondary that has struggled in years past.
This nod definitely goes to Gabbert. He'll be playing at home and he's got significantly better numbers than Lee. However, if Lee gets going, this game is over. Missouri cannot stop both Roy Helu and Lee, and I don't see them (or anybody) cold-stopping Helu.
SLIGHT EDGE: MISSOURI
Peculiar comparison here.
Helu is on fire this year, staking his claim as possibly one of the premier backs in the land. On the other hand, Washington really hasn't gotten going at all after rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring almost 20 touchdowns last season.
Will Helu continue his magic? Will D-Wash continue to struggle?
Helu is the type of rusher that could gash the Tigers, who are pretty good at stopping up the middle with senior defensive tackle Jaron Baston and an impressive linebacking corps. But Helu gets to the outside and slashes on the edge of the line, where linebackers meet up with him after four or five yards of gain.
I see this being a problem for Mizzou.
On the other end, Washington isn't particularly fast for a running back, and Nebraska has Ndamukong Suh on the interior of their defensive line. Suh is possibly the best tackle in the country, so good luck to a struggling Missouri line in regards to opening up holes for D-Wash.
This could be a particularly big area of the game if Missouri tries to stop the run and ends up getting burnt through the air as well. Until I see Missouri have a good running game against a solid opponent, I'm not convinced the Tigers are a decent running team.
HUGE EDGE: NEBRASKA
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Just like I'm not a firm believer in Derrick Washington right now, I am definitely not a huge believer in Nebraska's pass catchers. Whereas the Tigers have both proven and young talent, I'm not sure Nebraska has anybody worth worrying about in the passing game outside of Mike McNeil.
Simply put, Danario Alexander would be playing on Sundays if he was 100 percent the last few years, and it seems like now he finally is. The Tigers top three wide receivers have more yards combined than Zac Lee has thrown for total. Match the two units up, and there really is no comparison at this point. Plus, Husker safety Larry Asante has been banged up, and Rickey Thenarse is also expected to miss the game.
HUGE EDGE: MISSOURI
Not a whole ton to say about this unit, since you don't really break down individual players here.
Nebraska has blocked well and protected Lee fairly well. Missouri has struggled in the run game at times but has been pretty good in pass protection. One thing I don't buy at all: Nebraska "dominated the vaunted V-Tech defensive front." Child please. Tech ranks 78th in run defense.
Yes, the Huskers have Suh, but the Tigers also have Aldon, Jacquies Smith and Brian Coulter, three beast rushers from the outside. Baston is solid on the inside too. I think a huge part of this match-up is how do the quarterbacks facing the pressure handle themselves?
Zac Lee was clearly rattled in Blacksburg and had a tough time dealing with defenders constantly in his face (most guys do). On the other hand, Gabbert has dealt with a collapsing pocket quite well during the season. Suh leads a more talented unit, but not by a whole bunch across the board; and Gabbert should handle pressure better.
SLIGHT EDGE: NEBRASKA
This might be the biggest mismatch of the day.
Sean Weatherspoon is an All-American. Andrew Gachkar, Luke Lambert and Will Ebner are all tough, smart backers. They'll help a ton versus Helu.
On the other hand, Nebraska has a trio of young players that haven't proven themselves outside of this year. In addition, the Huskers have claimed that they'll run a dime package for most of the game, leaving redshirt Will Compton to be the lone linebacker on the field.
Compton is a redshirt freshman that has never seen a passing attack like Missouri's. 'Spoon, Gachkar, and Co. are a talented bunch that have seen high powered attacks in the past.
HUGE EDGE: MISSOURI
Both teams have been good this year. Both teams struggled big time last year. Both teams have new defensive schemes that are taking time to install.
There are a couple of edges I give to both sides.
I think the Huskers are better, but are not completely healthy. In addition, Pinkel had no problem carving up Pelini last season. The Huskers are better than 2008, but game planning is still the same. However, something should be said for the Huskers leading the nation in scoring defense, even if they haven't played any juggernaut offenses.
SLIGHT EDGE: NEBRASKA
Let's just make a list. Because this game will be effected by tons of factors.
-Pinkel creamed Pelni last year. So you have the victor vs. the angry guy seeking revenge.
-The game is in Columbia, on Thursday night, and Nebraska's "best fans in the world" didn't even sell all their student allotted tickets. Just sayin'.
-The forecast says heavy rain.
-Mizzou feels it's underrated. Maybe reasonably so. Here's their chance to prove themselves.
-Nebraska feels the North is their division forever and always, and they want to rightly claim it back. Again, a major opportunity on Thursday.
SLIGHT EDGE: MISSOURI, based mainly on home field advantage.
Well, the matchup's say it all. Missouri plus two. I'm gonna translate that into a two score win for Missouri. Not too unreasonable.
Tigers win, by a margin between 6 and 14.
Should be a fantastic game.