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October 28, 2010

Magic tricks



After beating Oklahoma on Saturday night, Gary Pinkel couldn't sleep. It wasn't because of excitement -- believe it or not, Pinkel wasn't at Harpo's getting his piece of the goalpost.

No, Pinkel's insomnia was because of what lay next on his docket.

"It was because I was worried about Nebraska, after the game," the Missouri frontman said.

Nebraska poses numerous problems for Missouri on both sides of the ball. However, the Cornhuskers have regressed from their out-of-this-world defensive stats in nearly every category. They've more than made up for that, though, on offense. Through seven games, Nebraska's offense has totalled 3,214 yards. In 2010, in 14 games, that total was 4,519 yards.

The Huskers have the nation's No. 5-ranked rushing offense, No. 10-ranked scoring offense, and No. 17-ranked total offense. Their magical improvement begins and ends with redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who's been the cause of many sleepless nights across the Big 12 this season.

Gary, you're not alone.

"I gotta say, Ricky Dobbs was a great quarterback. I'd say they're similar," defensive end Aldon Smith said. Dobbs' gashed Missouri for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the 2009 Texas Bowl. "They're both good with their legs. I'd say that's probably who he's similar to."

According to safety Jarrell Harrison, Nebraska's option rushing attack is different than anything Missouri's seen so far.

"When you're facing a running quarterback, you gotta be wary of him doing both," Harrison said. "He's fast, so we gotta go out there with a different mindset. We gotta hit him early and get that running ability down."

Missouri opened the season against an athletic, redshirt-freshman quarterback in Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase ran for 76 yards, with the majority coming in the first half. Once Missouri clamped down on his running ability, however, Scheelhaase couldn't complete a pass to keep the Illini' offense moving.

Scheelhaase, however, is no Taylor Martinez. Martinez has totalled 1,916 yards and 20 touchdowns through Nebraska's first seven games.

"(Stopping Martinez) is really on everyone," Harrison said. "Especially, a lot on the secondary, because if we're covering man-to-man, you've got your back turned to him and then he takes off. It's real difficult. We're probably going to have to put a spy on him."

According to linebacker Andrew Gachkar, no one player will have the game-long responsibility of going wherever Martinez goes.

"We don't really have set plays where we say this guy is a spy," Gachkar said. "But we have plays where we have these guys maybe in man, these guys playing zone and then we have an extra, an extra guy. And then we tell that guy, for this week, that extra guy is doing this. So I'm guessing this week, maybe he'll be watching the quarterback, maybe he'll be watching the coach on the sideline. I don't know. I can't tell you what it's going to be."

Of course, while Martinez is a big part of the Huskers' offense, there's more to worry about.

"It's definitely an assignment game," Gachkar said. "With the zone-read especially, you've gotta have one guy here, one guy on the pitch, one guy maybe on the double pitch or the run. They've got all kinds of plays."

A by-product of defenses' concern for Martinez is open receivers downfield. Against Oklahoma State, Nebraska exploited that, as Martinez threw 35 times for 323 yards and five touchdowns -- by far career highs in each category. On Saturday, Missouri's secondary will find themselves charged with the task of stopping the Huskers' receivers all by their lonesome.

"Coach Stec has a lot of confidence in all those guys going man-to-man," Harrison said. "I think, of course, we're gonna probably blitz him and play a little zone, too. We're gonna mix it up."

By Saturday night, it's inevitable that Pinkel will once again have insomnia. Whether he'll lay in bed with a smile or scowl depends on Missouri's defense.

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