Previewing Missouri - Ask a Blogger

Big Red NetworkSenior Writer IJuly 23, 2008

Big Red Network is committed to covering as many angles in our opponent previews as possible. This includes doing interviews. Instead of rolling out material you can find by picking up a copy of your local fish wrap or a glossy pre-season magazine, we are talking to people who really know their stuff - bloggers. Yep, we're asking a few simple questions of our blog brethren to get you in the know on Husker foes.

First up, Missouri. For this we turn to the fine crew over at Rock M Nation. They tolerated my rambling questions and provided quality answers. Check them out below, and give their site a look for all things Missouri, if you are so inclined.

Coming off of a strong 2007, Missouri is the favorite in the North division, and maybe the whole conference. How would you say the coaches and players are dealing with the higher expectations?

Rock M Nation -- The proper handling of expectations becomes priority number one for this team, as pundits, fans and players all seem to agree that the talent is there. If you looked at the fan base, you'd have one of two responses: either the "OMG we're gonna go undefeated and win every game by 30!!" guy with unlimited optimism, or the "Seriously, we'll be lucky to avoid our trap games against Baylor and Iowa State" guy who tries to justify his fear of nearly every game on the schedule. Luckily, this is why the fan base doesn't suit up on Saturdays. Coach Pinkel has expressed to the media how much their approach hasn't changed and how much the attitude during practices have been focused and similar to last year. The key cog in handling expectations is the veteran leadership, which absolutely refuses to get caught up in the hype and become complacent. The amount of returning experience on this roster allows new guys to come in and not have their heads spinning from expectations.

You have a returning Heisman finalist at quarterback, and a returning All-American as a triple threat (catch, return, run), and more preseason All-Big 12 selections than anyone else in the conference. So, is it possible for you tell us about players you think are emerging or who fans don't necessarily know about at this stage in the preseason?

Rock M Nation - All you'll hear from national outlets is about the leadership and accuracy of Chase Daniel, the explosiveness of Jeremy Maclin, the hands and size of Chase Coffman, and the ball-hawking skills of William Moore. All are very justified and very warranted. But what makes this Tiger team dangerous is its depth across the board. Mizzou loses Tony Temple, now a Cotton Bowl legend, in the backfield, but sophomore Derrick Washington looks more than capable of filling that void. Washington hits the hole with more authority and has much better hands out of the backfield, and can be spelled by red zone/short yardage wizard Jimmy Jackson. At receiver, the stars are lining up for Jared Perry to have a big year. Perry had an outstanding year as a freshman in 2006 but fell off the map in 2007. His emergence has become even more important since Danario Alexander blew out his knee and won't be expected to return until October. On defense, most of the names are still there. If you aren't familiar with LB Sean Weatherspoon, you should be. And sophomore corner Carl Gettis has silently turned into one of the conference's best. Gettis was the main reason why nearly every No. 1 receiver (including Michael Crabtree, Maurice Purify, and Jordy Nelson) that faced Mizzou in 2007 had a below average day.

Where if anywhere do the Tigers have a weakness? It could be either a lack of top end talent at a spot, a newcomer, or a lack of depth at a position. What's potentially "bad" for this team?

Rock M Nation - Two, maybe three spots immediately come to mind. The first glaring issue, as petty as it sounds, is at punter. Even with Adam Crossett, Tiger punting could always be a bit of an adventure. Now, throw in two walk-ons and a less-than-proven transfer for a spot on a unit that struggled enough as it was last year? This is where you begin to hope your nationally recognized offense can keep the punter off the field. Another huge concern is the offensive line. The line returns three starters and on paper shouldn't be too much of a problem, but Mizzou is having to break in Tim Barnes at center, a position where Mizzou's had three starters in the LAST 12 YEARS. With as much 5-wide as the Tigers run and as much pulling/rollouts is required the line, Barnes better learn to call his protections pretty quick. The depth is also a bit of a concern, as once you get past the starters, there's a lot of unproven commodities. My other primary concern is at one of the safety spots. After Pig Brown went down in the Iowa State game last year, Mizzou was never really able to lock down the safety spot opposite William Moore. How quickly Justin Garrett can become a solid contributor and not a glaring weakness in the secondary likely becomes one of the biggest storylines on a unit with 10 returning starters.

It is my opinion that sports is much more about coaching than professional sports. Because teams are always made up of players who are essentially kids, teams take on the personality of their head coach. Is this the case with Missouri? Bonus follow up - Gary Pinkle has had his share of detractors. Does last season put a lot of that in the rear view mirror for him?

Rock M Nation - Oddly enough, I don't think Mizzou has taken on the personality of Gary Pinkel because I think Gary Pinkel has taken on the personality of his players, if that makes sense. Early in his tenure, Pinkel was known as a cold, disciplinarian figure. Ever since the death of LB Aaron O'Neal in a summer workout in 2005, that "cold" figure no longer exists. The team now takes on its own personality, and Pinkel follows suit. He relies heavily on senior leadership, even forming a senior council he meets with once a week to get the pulse of the team and make certain decisions, such as what uniform combo to go with in the next game. Pinkel's always been a bit of a gambler, and perhaps last year he just finally had the athletes to execute. From the fan base, looking at Pinkel now and Pinkel at this time last year are almost like night and day. He had his supporters but there was so much worry about what other Big 12 fans dubbed "Pinkel moments." I can't tell you how much good will last season bought for Pinkel. Now, he's got to be mentioned among the conference's top four of five coaches. Plus, a lot of his success can be traced back to a coaching staff that hasn't changed AT ALL since 2001. I'm not sure how long OC Dave Christensen can be kept up in the coaches box.

Which games are circled on your calendar and why? You can offer more than one, but not more than 4.

Rock M Nation -- I'll go with four of different importance for varying reasons:
-- At Texas, Oct. 18: This is the big marquee matchup on the schedule, as Mizzou travels to Austin to face the Longhorns. This game will decide whether or not Mizzou is a national title contender, or merely just the inheritors of the Big 12 North. The Tigers played well and hung tough in a much tougher road environment in Oklahoma last year, but "hanging tough" isn't going to cut it this year. Mizzou needs this statement win on the road in the South.

-- Vs. Illinois (in St. Louis), Aug. 30: I think both fan bases came away from last year's game very impressed with the team across the field. It just took another 7 or 8 weeks or so before the rest of the nation agreed. Illinois is retooling a little bit, and most projections seem to say that Mizzou should take this one, but season openers (much less against a Top 20 team at a neutral site) can be tricky. Mizzou's offensive line is going to have to grow up fast against Illinois' front four.

-- At Nebraska, Oct. 4: Everyone is a little afraid to get ahead of themselves and look to the Texas game because of this matchup in Lincoln. It seems fully expected for Daniel and Co. to walk in to Lincoln and walk out with no problems, but Lincoln has not been kind to the Tigers historically. If the game was being played on talent alone, Mizzou should win. But so much of college football is based on dealing with atmosphere and adjusting to the pressure. How Mizzou handles that pressure will determine whether or not the Tigers get their first win in Lincoln since '78.

-- Vs. Kansas (in Kansas City), Nov. 29: Why? Because it's Kansas. Because we burnt down their city. Because it's in Arrowhead Stadium. Because it's the first MU/KU game since "Armageddon at Arrowhead" last year. Because it could decide the North if it's not decided already. I really didn't want to include this game on the "circled" list, but if you're a Mizzou fan, the schedule comes pre-circled for the game with KU.

That's where our little Q&A comes to a halt. But, for more about the Tigers, be sure to check out Rock M Nation. They are on the Internet. It should be pretty easy to find, since it is on everywhere and all the time.