Thursday night college primer

In week six of our Thursday night primer, the National Football Post highlights some of the keys to tonight’s Nebraska-Missouri game, including top players and matchups that NFL scouts will be watching.

Prospects to keep an eye on:

Nebraska

Ndamukong Suh: No. 93, DT, 6-4, 302

Has been absolutely dominant at times this season and looks like an impact interior lineman at the next level.

Mike McNeill: No. 44, TE, 6-4, 240

A nice-sized target who has the ability to get down the seam, find soft spots in coverage and pluck the football away from his frame.

Larry Asante: No. 4, SS, 6-0, 215

A well-built athlete who failed to impress when I watched tape on him this summer. He’s had a knack for the big play so far this year, and it will be interesting to see how much his play improved in the offseason.

Jacob Hickman: No. 67, C, 6-4, 292

Isn’t a real gifted athlete and lacks ideal fluidity in pass protection, but he can create an initial push in the run game.

Zac Lee: No. 5, QB, 6-2, 215

A good athlete for the postion who knows how to manage the offense and buy time in the pocket.

Others worth watching:

Eric Hagg: No. 28, FS, 6-2, 205
Roy Helu Jr.: No. 10, RB, 6-0, 215


Missouri

Sean Weatherspoon: No. 12, OLB, 6-1, 245

One of the nation’s premier senior prospects who simply flies around the field and makes plays on the football.

Danario Alexander: No. 81, WR, 6-4, 215

Alexander is the one guy I’m really excited to watch. He possesses an intriguing frame and has been very productive throughout the early part of the season. The question is: Can he consistency create separation vs. man coverage?

Kurtis Gregory: No. 78, OG, 6-4, 308

Displays some decent athletic ability in pass protection but struggles to keep his base down and anchor on contact. Expect Nebraska’s Suh to try to overpower him with the bull-rush every chance he gets.

Tim Barnes: No. 62, C, 6-4, 310

A good athlete who looks natural in space and has the ability to cleanly mirror defenders in pass protection. His ability to effectively double down on Suh tonight will be key for the Missouri offense.

Derrick Washington: No. 24, RB, 5-11, 225

I love the guy’s frame and overall size, but evaluating his instincts and vision in tight areas will be crucial to determining his success at the next level.

Others worth watching:
Jared Perry: No. 4, WR, 6-1, 182
Carl Gettis: No. 19, CB, 5-11, 195
Kevin Rutland: No. 20, CB, 6-0, 195
Jaron Baston: No. 96, DT, 6-0, 305

Keys to the game:

Can Missouri block Suh up front?

It’s no secret that Suh is the key to the Cornhuskers’ defense. He leads the team again this year in total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and pass breakups, and that’s with every opposing offense game planning around him. His combination of explosion and overall power off the snap makes him nearly impossible for any interior lineman to block 1v1 as he uses his long arms and hands very well to shed at the point of attack.

Expect the Missouri offensive line to consistently devote two blockers to Suh at all times tonight, and the key will be the play of center Tim Barnes. Barnes is a good athlete who looks natural in space and displays the fluidly to quickly slide across the pocket and clean up any kind of penetration that takes place inside. So look for Barnes to consistently slide over to help either OG Kurtis Gregory or OG Austin Wuebbels when matched up with Suh.

The Missouri spread offense puts a lot of pressure on its offensive linemen in the pass game due to the wide splits it uses up front. And when watching tape of the Missouri offensive line from last year, I wouldn’t say either Gregory or Barnes is overly stout at the point of attack. So the quicker the Tigers are able to double down on Suh inside, the better off they’ll be.

The Missouri pass game

Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert has been as hot any quarterback in the nation over his first four games of the year, completing just over 66 percent of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. Gabbert is a former five-star recruit, and at 6-5, 240 pounds, he not only showcases the arm strength to make all the throws, he’s surprisingly athletic and mobile for his size. And because of his arm strength, Gabbert is now forcing opposing defenses to defend the entire field (something they didn’t have to do when Chase Daniel was quarterback). As a result, it will be interesting to see how aggressive Nebraska coach Bo Pelini will be with his pressure packages, knowing that Gabbert has the athleticism and arm strength to consistently break containment and create big plays down the field.

Get used to hearing his name tonight

Missouri OLB Sean Weatherspoon is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete who has a nose for the ball and simply makes play after play in pursuit. The guy has recorded 285 total tackles over the past two seasons and is currently on pace for another 111. At 6-1, he isn’t a real tall athlete, but at 245 pounds and with consistent leverage, he does a much better job taking on blocks than given credit for. He’s one of my favorite senior prospects and looks like a guy who can come in and start on the weak side for an NFL defense from day one.

Can the Nebraska offense keep pace?

Sure, Nebraska has averaged nearly 40 points a game, but does it have the playmakers on the outside to keep up with the high-powered Missouri offense? The Cornhuskers really struggled vs. the pressure and overall team speed of Virginia Tech in week three and lack the type of big-play threats at wide receiver to consistently create separation and make plays down the field. Tight end Mike McNeill and RB Roy Helu Jr. currently lead the Cornhuskers in receptions with 11, and generating consistent plays in the pass game vs. a savvy Missouri secondary could prove to be a difficult task for the Nebraska wideouts in this one.

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