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October 8, 2009

Callahan's take: The 'real season' begins


COLUMBIA, Mo. - Big 12 play is finally here for Nebraska, and there's no better way to find out where this football is at than the challenge they'll face tonight at Missouri.

The Tigers are a surprising 4-0, led by former NU quarterback commit Blaine Gabbert. As things get closer to kickoff, here are the five keys to victory for the Huskers tonight against the Tigers.

Ball security

The national weather service is predicting a 70 to 80 percent chance of rain for tonight's game at Missouri. If weather conditions are a factor, ball security is no doubt going to be important for both teams.

It's been a while since the Huskers have played in a wet football game, and NU never practices outside when it's raining. It will be interesting to see how players like quarterback Zac Lee and running back Roy Helu respond to these potential conditions.

On the flip side, for Missouri they rely on a lot of down field passing. If the weather conditions are poor, it may make things difficult for the Tigers to throw deep and force them to change their style of play.

Control the ground game

Any time you play on the road, it's important to establish the ground game so both your offense and defense gets into a rhythm.

By establishing the ground game, it will take pressure off of Lee and it will also keep Nebraska's defense fresh and help NU dictate the tempo of the game.

That's will it will be interesting to see if Helu is at all affected by the sickness that sidelined him on Tuesday. The Huskers need Helu to be at full strength for this game.

Sound fundamentals on defense

Missouri will spread Nebraska out and force their defense to make plays in space. In past years, this has been a problem for the Huskers against Mizzou.

After last year's poor defensive game plan, you almost get the idea that the Huskers have simplified things for today's game and they are going to attack the Tigers with a dime base package for most of the night.

Confuse Gabbert

Watching Gabbert over the first four games, it's clear he has talent. Outside of Arkansas's Ryan Mallett, Gabbert probably has the strongest arm in college football.

What's maybe the most impressive stat about Gabbert thus far is the fact he hasn't thrown a single interception on 131 passing attempts.

I don't think Gabbert has seen a defense like Nebraska's yet and I really feel like head coach Bo Pelini is going to do his best to confuse him with different blitz packages and coverage schemes. In a way, it will be very similar to what Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster did to Lee.

Crowd control

In 2007, the atmosphere was absolutely electric in Columbia when the Tigers thumped Nebraska 41-6. When Ferout field is packed and it's a night game atmosphere, I think it's as tough of a place to play in the Big 12 Conference as there is.

It will be important for the Huskers to enter this game with the same mentality they had on the road a few weeks ago at Virginia Tech. The crowd noise and the atmosphere didn't affect NU one bit. I think a lot of that has to do with the mindset Pelini has instilled in his football team over the last year and a half.

With that said, I expect the Huskers to start fast and control the early tempo in tonight's game. I'm taking Nebraska to win and gain that all important tie breaker over the Tigers in the North Division.


Callahan's Prediction:Nebraska 31 Missouri 21
Season Record: 4-0 overall; 2-2 vs. points



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