October 1, 2008

Huskers leery of a scoring shootout with Tigers

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has a pretty good idea of what his game plan will be Saturday when the Huskers take on fourth-ranked Missouri. He also knows one thing he absolutely doesn't want to do - get into a scoring shootout with the Tigers.

While Pelini is obviously confident in his team's ability to score points, it's going to take a whole lot of them if the Huskers can't find a way to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Chase Daniel and the rest of Missouri's offensive arsenal.

Through their first four games this season, the Tigers have put up Playstation-esque numbers offensively, averaging 53.8 points, 595.5 yards of total offense and 404.3 yards per game passing.

Missouri has also won all four of its games of the season by an average margin of 33 points.

On Saturday, the Huskers will not only be looking to lock down the Tigers defensively, but also establish long, time-consuming drives offensively to keep Daniel and Co. off the field as much as possible.

Maybe more so than any other game, NU is hoping its offense will be it's best defense.

"I hope it's not a scoring contest," Pelini said. "(But) I've never gone into any game making concessions. I won't start this week. We're going to play the best we possibly can. We're going to try and shut them out."

The Huskers are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season in their 35-30 loss to Virginia Tech. The Hokies' 35 points and 377 yards of total offense were both season-worsts for Nebraska, which never led in the game for the first time all year.

Virginia Tech was also able to run 70 plays compared to just 51 by Nebraska, also a season low. For the Huskers to have any chance at keeping the Tigers within reach, they know controlling the ball and keeping Missouri's on the sideline will be crucial.

"We definitely didn't get to do the things we wanted to (against Virginia Tech) because we didn't feel like we had the ball that much," senior receiver Todd Peterson said. "That's something we need to work on and get that ball-control offense so we can get our defense off the field. Not only that, so we can do what we want to do, because you can't do it if you don't have the ball.

"It'll be tough. I mean, if there's somebody you don't want to get into a shootout with, Missouri's one of the best. They're good at putting up points, but we're going to do whatever we can… I don't think the best thing to try to do is to try and outscore Missouri, because that's what they're great at. But who knows? We're going to try and win this game any way we can."

For the defense, containing Daniel has been just one of many concerns this week in practice. The Tigers also boast one of the best wide receivers in the nation in sophomore Jeremy Maclin, who currently ranks fourth in the country in all-purpose yards.

Sophomore cornerback Prince Amukamara said that because Missouri likes to line Maclin up in a variety of spots on the field, NU's secondary plans to cover him by committee rather than assign one player to match-up with him all game.

Amukamara also said freshman Tim Marlowe has been doing his best to replicate Maclin in practice on the scout team. However, Amukamara was well aware that it would be a completely different story when Maclin himself steps onto the field.

"He's definitely a game-changer, a playmaker," Amukamara said. "He's elusive and explosive. When the ball's in his hands, he's pretty dangerous."

Junior safety Matt O'Hanlon said the Huskers plan to show the Tigers multiple looks defensively to try to confuse and get pressure Daniel. O'Hanlon said that for the most part NU will use the same type of defense on first and second downs, and then show a blitz package on third down to keep MU's offense off-balance.

By doing so, the Huskers are hoping not only to simply contain the Tigers' offense, but flat out shut it down.

"That's obviously our goal for any game," O'Hanlon said. "We're not in it to hold them under 30 points or something like that. It's our goal to stop them. It's possible. If we do what we're supposed to do and we do it right, it's definitely possible."

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