Eight years. That's how long it's been since the beloved Big Red have won in Columbia, Missouri. Then there's that long road losing streak against Top 25 teams, dating back to 1997.
You can always consider turnovers as one of the keys to the game. There might be times when one team has a problem with ball security so that it might be more of an issue, but most of the time it's an easy mark for sportswriters and guys previewing the team on TV.
Turnovers will be a big focus for tonight's game because of the two quarterbacks. Nebraska's Zac Lee will be starting on the road for only the second time, his first time coming in a terrible outing at Virginia Tech where he was 11-for-30 passing and had two interceptions with no touchdowns. Compare that to Missouri's Blaine Glabbert who's thrown 131 passes and 11 touchdowns without throwing an interceptions.
Saying that Husker fans will be hoping that the young quarterbacks roles' are reversed tonight is a massive understatement.
Another easy target is the concept of being more physical than the other team. Is there ever a time at which you want to be more effeminate than the other team? Hey, maybe if you're a Missouri or Kansas, but not Nebraska. It should be a given that our guys should beat the snot out of the other guys, especially on the lines.
We'll leave turnovers and the idea of being physical out of our keys from now on in order to foment more discussion about other aspects of the game. If I get lazy and stick them back in one of these without a really good explanation, feel free to let me have it.
On to the keys!
Stop The Big One!
So far this season Missouri has managed 15 pass plays of over 25 yards, compared to 11 for Nebraska. Of those 15, four have gone to Danario Alexander (with a long of 74 yards), six to Jared Perry (with a long of 48 yards) and four to Wes Kemp (with a long of 49 yards).
The long pass play given up at the Virginia Tech game will continue to haunt my writing (and dreams) about Nebraska until we see a big game in which it does not happen. If the Huskers expect to win in Columbia, they must limit Missouri's big plays. Letting no one deeper than the deepest will lead to a great outcome for the Big Red.
Stop the Run (With Only Five)!
Nebraska is going to start the game in the nickel, removing a linebacker and replacing him with an extra defensive back. They might go as far as starting in the dime, but the concept remains the same - the Husker defense will start the game seeing if they can stop Missouri's (somewhat) anemic running game with their four defensive linemen and a linebacker.
The scheme will require that the defensive line play gap defense instead of blowing up the field in an all out rush, something that's gotten Ndamukong Suh more pass deflections than sacks. If the front five can control the Tiger running game, the defensive backfield will be in a better position to limit the big plays. If the secondary is forced to bring someone up for run support, the less men they have to cover receivers. That would play right into Missouri's desire to pop the big one over the top.
Helu Stays Average
Be honest with yourself, for once in your life. Do you really trust Zac Lee to win this game for Nebraska? Or are you going to be like me - hold your breath whenever he's throwing the ball because his only road start to date was as unpleasant as an infection. Until Lee has a good road game (which please let it be tonight!), expecting him to win a game is wishful thinking. Until then, Lee represents unrealized potential - not something you can count on.... yet.
Fortunately, Roy Helu Jr has looked brilliant (!) on occasion this year, rushing for 464 yards on 73 carries for a 6.4 average with five touchdowns. He's had seven runs of over 20 yards with a long of 44. If you're counting on someone to win the game, bet on Helu.
Missouri is going to do whatever they can to stop the Husker run game, which really means they want to stop Roy Helu. They want to force Zac Lee to throw, believing that Lee will re-create his Lane Stadium performance. In order to bring back a Big Red win over the evil that is Missouri, Roy Helu needs to maintain his average, gain over 116 yards, and break a few long ones.
But what if Helu isn't feeling well? What if he's under the weather? What if he's..... now you know how Gary Pinkel feels. You really think it was the media that Pelini was having fun with when he sent that "flu" tweet?