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Conversations With a Missouri Fan: The HuskerH8er

To get a different perspective of this week's Big XII opener between the Huskers and Tigers, we turned to one of the more flamboyant bloggers out there, AJ the Huskerh8er.  After Missouri blew out the Huskers in Lincoln last fall, AJ declared the "ultimate victory" and announced his retirement.  And then, just like Brett Favre, unretired this offseason with a new project where he'd show the hate for all of college football.  Except this rerun is just like the original, baiting Husker fans once again.

We answered AJ's questions about this week's game, and he graciously answered ours.

Who would you rate as Missouri's MVP so far this season?  Sean Weatherspoon, Blaine Gabbert, Derrick Washington, or Danario Alexander?
The easy answer is Blaine Gabbert, because he is putting up ridiculous numbers.  However I think most folks knew he was going to be pretty good. (probably not this soon though).  To me, the real MVP so far is Danario Alexander.  Mizzou's offense requires a go-to guy that requires defenses to mark him at all times.  With Jeremy Maclin playing on Sundays, this role was very much in question prior to the season.  Alexander has been around a long time and has put up good numbers when he was healthy.  However, I think most fans were waiting to see how he would react being the #1 option.  So far, he's been outstanding.  Grant Ressel is a solid #2 pick as well, especially if you remember the kicking troubles Mizzou had before Jeff Wolfert.

On that same note, which one of those players could Missouri least afford to lose?
Despite being my MVP so far, the Tigers still have some depth at Wide Receiver.  The one guy they could LEAST afford to lose in my eyes is Sean Weatherspoon.  Mizzou's defense has taken a beating in the press over the last couple of years, and Weatherspoon is the glue that has kept them together during the "rebuilding" transition.    Losing him would be a huge blow to a defense and a team that desperately needs leadership following the most successful senior class in school history.  The defense goes as Weathersoon goes, and I struggle to think who would take that role in his place.

Nebraska fans raised their expectations for Thursday night after Missouri had to come back against Bowling Green in Columbia, then played a close game against Nevada in Reno. Juice Williams got benched with Illinois now at 1-3. Are Husker fans unreasonable in suggesting that Missouri hasn't played anybody this season?
I'm going to avoid the temptation of throwing out a bunch of stats, because to me, it's way to early to truly decide who is "great" and who "sucks".  It's simply too unpredictable;  Look at Iowa..they looked like world beaters against Penn State, but barely beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.  Miami looked hapless against Virginia Tech, but then looked like world beaters against Oklahoma.  Oregon looked horrible against Boise State, but then absolutely railroaded a good Cal team.  The point is, I feel the game is more about matchups and intangibles than comparing opponents.

Missouri's seniors are 34-11 while Nebraska's seniors are 26-17 over the past four years.  Both the Bowling Green and Nevada games are circumstances where pre 2007 Mizzou teams would have most certainly folded their tent and lost.  Instead, a winning culture has taken hold, and the switch was flipped.  Good teams do that, even when they're young and trying to figure things out.  To answer your question, yes...they are completely unreasonable and walking into a trap in my opinion.

Last year's Missouri defense didn't perform well against the pass, and this season needed to replace several premier players from that group, such as Ziggy Hood.  How is the Tiger defense different this season?
The #1 difference is obvious to me, and that is the strategy that DC Dave Steckel is using compared to the departed Matt Eberflus.  Steckel is keeping his blitz packages in check, except in random 3rd down situations (mostly), and playing a LOT of zone.  What that means is a lot of dink and dunk yards, but very few big plays.  Mizzou's defense has only allowed 3 plays of 20 or more yards.  Illinois had that many in the first half last season.  Mizzou's defensive line is quick to the QB, but young.  Steckel, at least so far, has been playing things safe and trying to avoid the big play...something that stung the Tigers over and over the past few seasons.  (Hell, the past few decades.)

OK, you've watched three Missouri games and one Husker game.  Give us your prediction.
Truth be told, Roy Helu has impressed me a great deal and is probably the most scary Husker weapon for an opponent since Brandon Jackson.  Because of his play, and the defensive scheme I just mentioned, I think Nebraska has a good chance of controlling the clock and controlling the line of least early on.  On the other side, Nebraska is for sure going to blitz the hell out of Blaine Gabbert, and make him make decisions quickly.  The problem with that however, is that Mizzou lives off of the screen pass and Nebraska's linebackers have given up big plays, and are still really really young. 

Mizzou doesn't have the offensive firepower to put up 50, 60 points against teams this year, and Nebraska's defense has obviously made great strides as well.  However, the key is the Husker offense, and whether or not they can make adjustments if/when Mizzou stacks the box to stop Helu.  If Lee can find seams and make plays, Nebraska has a good chance of being in the game til the end.  If Mizzou can somehow find a way to shutdown Roy Helu, I like their chances against a Zac Lee who is facing a far more hostile crowd than Husker fans are giving credit for.

In the end, I think Nebraska's offense is going to struggle against a Mizzou defense that will be fired up.  I think Blaine Gabbert should find enough holes in an untested Nebraska secondary to do the job.

41-24 is too predictable, so I'm going to go with 30-14 Mizzou.  :)

You're leaving for Columbia at 1 am on Thursday morning.  With TV games lasting 3 to 4 hours, it may be nearly midnight before the game is over.  How are you going to survive this day?
I usually only get to a game or two a year in Columbia, so when we do make it down there, it's a result of a lot of planning.  We learned LONG ago not to try and make it back home the same night, so a close hotel is a must.  The other key is pacing yourself and remembering that tailgating at an older age is more about food and interacting with other fans than it is pounding Natty Lights out of a funnel.  Regardless, it is a long long day...but well worth it in the end.  The tailgating environment in Columbia has really built itself up over the past decade or so.

If ESPN and the Kansas City Chiefs ever approached Missouri and Nebraska about playing this game in Kansas City for two seasons, what would the interest level be from the Missouri side?
In a normal situation, I think it would be a great thing...just as the first KU-Mizzou game at Arrowhead was a huge success.  However, I think most Mizzou fans are growing tired of neutral site games because they've had so many over the past couple of years w/ Illinos and Kansas.  They're 3-1 in those games, but I think most people would like to put those on hold for a while just to shake things up.  On the flip side, I think it would be a fantastic idea for Nebraska to do a home and home there with OSU or K-State or somebody like that.  Not sure if Tom Osborne would do that though...but Arrowhead is a great place to watch a college football game as I'm sure your readers know.

What's your first recollection of "hating" the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and how old were you at the time?
There was always dislike there, especially after Matt Davison in '97 and losing to Monte Freaking Christo in '98 with one of Mizzou's best teams (at the time) in a generation.  However, while attending the Mizzou-NU game in Columbia in 2001, I sat next to a guy from St. Louis wearing one of those giant red foam hats and bright red corduroys.  He explained to me that he moved away from Nebraska at age 3 but had always loved them "since then".  After Eric Crouch's 97 yard run, he threw the double fingers in my face and started dancing around with his buddy who was wearing overalls.  It was at that point I think where I truly realized I was dealing with more than just mouthy friends and obsessive media.  I hope that guy is dead and his family is somehow growing sad reading this. 

Name association!  What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the following?

Larry Smith - overmatched
Woody Wiedenhofer - Nausea 
Matt Davison - lucky
Eric Crouch - flakey
Brad Smith - Sleek
Dale Klein - Anger
Chase Daniel - Cocky
Randy Jostes - Hero
Ndamukong Suh - Spit
Norman Goodman - Snap
Kevin Cosgrove - Confused
Bo Pelini - Hothead
Gary Pinkel - Progress

There you have it from the mouth of the Huskerh8er.  Just remember, AJ does this just to get a rise out of Husker fans.  After all, what do you expect from a guy who declared Nebraska football vanquished last October:

We know that Bo Pelini is a horrible coach and Nebraska is no better than they were a year ago. Ok, it’s far too early to call him a horrible coach and this weekend will go a long long way in telling us about your future. But this much we do know: Pre-season predictions of 9-3 seasons, fully stocked cupboards and warm-weather bowl dreams were..and always were a complete and total figment of your wildly red-clad over active imagination. You weren’t going to win 9 games. You were never going to win 9 games. You should feel butt-ass ridiculous for even DREAMING of winning 9 games. Win 6 first..then worry about 9.