Two of the nation's top 20 offenses get together in Columbia tonight (9 PM on ESPN) for a game that will go a long way in shaping the Big 12 North race. #21 Nebraska (3-1, 0-0 Big 12) visits #24 Missouri (4-0, 0-0) in hopes if getting back to their dominant ways in this series. Gary Pinkel's Tigers have won four of the last six in the series, including the last three meetings in Columbia by an average of 23 points per contest. Things should be a lot closer tonight, and the Huskers may even leave with a victory provided they take full advantage of their scoring opportunities.
That's what cost them in their one defeat of the year, an 16-15 loss at Virginia Tech last month. Nebraska moved the ball throughout due to the production of QB Zac Lee and RB Roy Helu Jr. but could not finish in the red zone. That ultimately cost them when the Hokies finally woke up offensively late. Not falling into that same trap is key tonight because they face an offense that has proven to be nearly as explosive as the 2008 edition even with key personnel losses.
Sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert has made the transition from seldom-used backup to starter in grand fashion, leading the Big 12 in pass efficiency while throwing for over 1,100 yards and eleven touchdowns with no interceptions. And while the skil position players haven't become household names in the fashion of Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman they have been productive, especially receivers Danario Alexander and Jared Perry.
Given the nature of both offenses this game will likely come down to which defense can make the key stops. Nebraska has the statistical edge, ranking fourth in the Big 12 in total defense while the Tigers are eighth in that category. Bo Pelini also has one of the nation's best defensive ends in senior Ndamukong Suh, and the Blackshirts will need to live up to the tradition of their name if Nebraska is to beat Missouri on the road.
The pick here: Missouri, due to their recent dominance in the series and they're defense should be able to do enough to slow down Helu Jr. on the ground. Tigers by a touchdown.
Friday: Louisiana Tech (2-2, 1-0 WAC) @ Nevada (1-3, 0-0) 9 PM on ESPN
Two of the expected challengers to Boise State will play on Friday night in Reno with the home team looking to build upon the momentum gained in their 63-28 beating of in-state rival UNLV last week. Nevada has had few problems in regards to offensive production outside of their shutout loss to Notre Dame but turnovers have been a killer in their three losses.
For the season Chris Ault's team is a minus-12 in turnover margin, with Nevada giving the ball away fourteen times (ten lost fumbles). They were even a minus-3 against the Rebels but when you put up 773 yards of offense the turnovers can be accounted for. Mike Ball (184 yards), Colin Kaepernick (173 yards) and Luke Lippincott (170 yards) were outstanding last week in helping the Wolf Pack rush for 559 yards last week, so if starting RB Vai Taua (elbow) can't go tomorrow night then it won't be a huge issue.
But they will receive a stiffer test from the Bulldogs, who had a solid night on the ground last Wednesday against Hawaii in their conference opener. Daniel Porter led the way for Derek Dooley's team on the ground against the Warriors, rushing for 160 of Louisiana Tech's 352 rushing yards, and Nevada will also have to account for WR Phillip Livas. What may do them in on the road however is their rushing defense (allowing 187 ypg), which ranks seventh in the conference.
Going up against a rushing attack that's tied for third nationally, Tech will need to hope that the Wolf Pack are charitable with the football on Friday night. Look for Kaepernick and company to do a better job of ball security.