As Nebraska went half pads today inside Memorial Stadium, the questions were probably numerous in the minds of reporters, as to just what Nebraska had to do to hang with the potent Tiger offense. One issue with Head Coach Bill Callahan addressed, was one which the Missouri offense really hadn't seen that much this year.
A pass rush.
Only five times in 188 passing attempts by Missouri , has the defense actually gotten to the QB. That puts the line in rare company, giving up a tackle of the QB behind the line of scrimmage once out of every 37 pass attempts.
To give you an example of just how good that is, USC's dominating 2004 squad gave up a sack once every 33 pass attempts. "Their line has done a great job (and) they do a great job at keeping you off-balance with screens." Coach Callahan said. "Whether it's a tunnel screen, a bubble screen, jailbreak screen, bootleg movements – things of that nature, it's pretty well thought out conceptually.
"So, he's (Chase Daniel) is not going to take a lot of pass rush, because they do spread the field out. I haven't seen it (a consistent pass rush on Missouri ) yet, but we are hoping we can potentially get some pressure. We are going to have to at some point."
The emphasis has been and will continue to be on how to slow down an offense which ranks as one of the best in the country. And it's pretty obvious that the defense is having to work a variety of schemes, specific to just what Missouri does well. It's not that easy, even when you figure that out, because as Cornerback Coach Phil Elmassian said, seeing it is one thing, stopping it is quite another. "This week is going to be really challenging. I mean, REALLY challenging," Elmassian said of stopping the Missouri offense. "I'm just hoping we can be in position to make some plays, but it's going to be tough."
The toughness comes from the players Missouri has, of course, sporting a savvy and proficient quarterback, along with the best tight end tandem in the country. But even with that, and the addition of fine receivers like William Franklin and stellar newcomer Jeremy Maclin, Elmassian says is the system which amplifies the difficulty in being able to slow that offense down. "They spread you so far out. They spread you from sideline-to-sideline," he said. "You can't fill all those passing lanes and they are going to put people in spots.
With that said, you can't think of Missouri like you would a Texas Tech, because, according to Elmassian , Missouri doesn't shy away from the ground game. "They are different than Texas Tech, because they want to run the ball," he said. "They are spreading you out so they can run it, but it's also to open up those lanes. Where they are rare, though, is the "empty," Elmassian said of one of Missouri 's oft-used formations on offense. "You are going to see at least 30 snaps of empty and that's the difference. Most people empty out four or five times a game, use it as a quick game (or) a disrupter.
"With these people, if they are going to throw it, he's going to be in empty. That's what they will do when they want to throw the ball. It's hard to pressure and blitz them, because he'll just stand back there, see it coming and get it out.
"They've got it all. They really have it all."
The good news on the Nebraska side is that senior cornerback Zack Bowman is finally back to being 100 percent. And the depth at that position is as good as it has been during Elmassian's tenure with the big red. That's the icing, but according to the ultra-experienced position coach, the cake comes from all that talent making things happen on the field. "Hell, we may end up making the Guiness Book of Records with all the plays we'll have to make to stop that team, but that's what you have to do," he said. "You've got to make plays. We made some last week, but we're going to have to make more this time around. Guys are just going to have to make plays."
Notes: Junior defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler didn't practice again today, but Head Coach Bill Callahan said that he was "fine." His status for this weekend's game is still uncertain.
Senior wide receiver Maurice Purify continues to practice, but Coach Callahan said that while he figures Purify to play, he wasn't ready to say that he will definitely be in Columbia on Saturday. "We're handling the situation delicately, and we have great respect for Maurice and his wishes. So, we communicate daily on that, and I think when he's ready to make a statement or say something, I'll leave it to him to do that," he said.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Seth Jensen suffered what appeared to be a knee injury toward the end of practice, though, there is no official word yet as to just what happened and what his status is right now.
Nebraska will wrap up padded-practice tomorrow, working a lot of their own hurry-up offense and two-minute drill. The Huskers will then have their walkthrough on Friday and then more than likely travel out of Lincoln Friday night as they get ready to play the Saturday night game.