Perhaps no team in America has generated as much buzz as the Missouri Tigers over the last 48 hours. With a 36-27 win over previously top-ranked Oklahoma, the Tigers stayed unbeaten, took the temporary throne as the top team in the Big XII and vaulted all the way to No. 6 in the BCS Standings. Gary Pinkel didn't sleep after beating the Sooners.
"I didn't sleep all night," Pinkel said. "But it wasn't because of the game. I was worried about Nebraska."
The Huskers come off a 51-41 win over Oklahoma State last weekend and were in a similar position to Missouri just a couple of weeks ago before a loss to Texas. Fresh off what some are calling the biggest win in school history, Missouri gets no breather. The Tigers are seven-point underdogs in Lincoln and must win to remain in first place in the North.
"We've got a lot out there. Ever game's a big game," Pinkel said. "Certainly to have a chance against Nebraska, we've got to play our best."
"That's really for the fans and the media to worry about," receiver Wes Kemp said. "We just really try to say, 'Hey, it's just another game. Let's just try to get another W.'"
All the rankings are better left to worry about down the road. But the North standings are another matter. Win on Saturday and Mizzou takes a two-game lead over Nebraska, in addition to holding the tiebreaker. In other words, the Tigers would have to drop three of their final four games to slip out of the Big 12 title game. But a loss means Missouri loses the tiebreaker and would need a Nebraska loss later in the season to have any chance to win the division. It sets up similarly to 2007, when Missouri lost to Oklahoma and found itself having to win each and every week just to make the regular season finale against Kansas be meaningful.
"I don't think I've ever, except when I was at Toledo, won seven in a row," Pinkel said of where his team stands already. "It's just all about focus. That's all it is…Can you lock in and do your best? I know I say it a lot. It's easy to say and it's difficult to do."
The Magic Man
Speaking of difficult to do, the Tiger defense will have to do something few have this season: slow down Taylor Martinez. The Husker quarterback lived up to his nickname last week with his most magical performance of the season. Martinez ran for more than 100 yards, but did most of his damage against Oklahoma State through the air, throwing for 323 yards and five touchdowns. While the aerial attack has Missouri's respect, it is certainly Martinez's legs that jump off the film.
"He looks fast, I'm not gonna lie," Andrew Gachkar said. "Robert Griffin, he was fast too. There's a lot of fast quarterbacks out there, but Taylor Martinez, he has one of a kind speed. I feel like we have a lot of speed on defense too, so I think it will be a good matchup."
"Ricky Dobbs (of Navy) is a good quarterback. I think they're similar," Aldon Smith said. "They're both good with their legs and I'd say that's probably who he's similar to."
Dobbs ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers in the Texas Bowl last year. He also threw for 130 yards and had just five incompletions.
The Tigers know they'll have to be sound in their assignments against Nebraska, which ranks fifth in the nation with 290 yards per game. And they'll have to slow down that ground attack without the services of starting defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton. Hamilton led the Missouri interior linemen with 20 tackles before going down with a broken ankle against Oklahoma.
"That's a lot of production that is going to be lost," Terrell Resonno said. "It's gonna be my responsibility to add that production to my production. I have faith in Jimmy, he's very good, and the same with Donaldson and Marvin, but I have to keep that middle intact and basically just play my heart out."
In Hamilton's absence, Jimmy Burge moves into the starting lineup and Brendan Donaldson and Marvin Foster inherit bigger roles.
"We haven't really played somebody with this much ability to run the ball," Burge said. "That's gonna provide a challenge to us and we're just going to have to keep our responsibilities."
Tigers can run it too
Missouri doesn't rack up the numbers like Nebraska does on the ground, but the Tigers did put up 178 rushing yards against the Sooners on Saturday. Missouri once again employed four tailbacks to split up 39 carries in the ground game.
"You'd like to be able to run and throw the football. Sometimes that doesn't happen. The defense, a lot of times, dictates how much we run," Pinkel said. "I think all the running backs are doing well. We trade off series, rotate different players in and sometimes one player will get a few more reps than the others."
Henry Josey and De'Vion Moore have 50 carries apiece, while Kendial Lawrence has gotten 39. But no matter who has the ball, it's the guys up front that made the difference on Saturday against Oklahoma.
"We played pretty well," said right tackle Dan Hoch. "We still have improvements to go and play against Nebraska. We played pretty well, but we still know we can focus and get better."
Nebraska ranks 79th in the country stopping the run. The Huskers give up an average of 165 yards a game and 4.13 yards per carry.
On the Television
The Tigers will play their second straight game on ABC. Kickoff is set for 2:30 in Lincoln and the game will be broadcast regionally. The next game, at Texas Tech on November 6th, has also been picked up by ABC and will kick off in prime-time at 7 p.m.
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