Michael Harden knows what is coming. Harden, a senior cornerback on the Missouri football team, has seen Nebraska’s option offense for three straight years.
“I know it’s going to be a physical game,” Harden said. “I mean, I’m trying to eat a little more to get ready.”
Harden and the rest of the Tigers (4-1, 0-1 Big 12 Conference) expect to defend against a run-heavy offense when they play the No. 10 Huskers (5-0, 1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers have a new offensive coordinator, Barney Cotton, but in their first five games the scheme has been similar to what it has been for the past 20 years. This season, Nebraska has rushed the ball 68 percent of the time, most of the yards coming from I-back Josh Davis, fullback Judd Davies and quarterback Jammal Lord.
Lord, a two-year starter, is second for the Huskers with 68 yards rushing per game. He is a more accurate passer than last season, though. Lord has completed 55 percent of his passes after connecting on 46 percent a year ago.
A 77-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Herian against Troy State on Saturday is his longest completion this season.
MU coach Gary Pinkel has noticed the improvement in Lord’s play.
“They’re very efficient with Lord,” Pinkel said. “He’s doing a good job running the offense.”
In past seasons, the Tigers haven’t played against many option teams other than Nebraska, sophomore cornerback Calvin Washington said. This season, though, the Tigers have faced two teams who have run the option — Middle Tennessee State and Kansas.
The goal of the option is to confuse the defense with several formations and count on a defensive player to forget their assignments, Washington said.
He said the defense is more prepared for this game.
“It’s just a matter of reps and seeing it, and knowing how to fit,” Washington said. “I’m pretty sure we’re confident now that we know what we need to do.”
MU beat Middle Tennessee State 41-40 in overtime, but the Blue Raiders gained 483 yards of offense. Pinkel said though the Tigers lost to Kansas, they defended the option better against the Jayhawks.
“I think against Kansas we defended it very well, and against Middle Tennessee State we didn’t defend it very well at all,” Pinkel said.
Nebraska is No. 6 in the nation in rushing (241 yards per game), but No. 114 in passing (110.8). Harden said though less plays might come his way, those that do will count more.
“I have to read my keys more because they run it so much, with that one or two times they do pass it, it could be big,” Harden said.
Against Nebraska last season, senior defensive tackle Russ Bell had a career-best eight tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Bell said if one player breaks down in any play it could be costly.
“You have to have your gaps and your responsibilities in order,” Bell said. “If one person takes the wrong gap or misses the responsibility they are gonna hit you and hit you big.”