Nash takes a seat: The news of the day was the absence of junior TB Damien Nash from the latest two-deep depth chart.
"Damien Nash has been indefinitely suspended for disciplinary reasons," coach Gary Pinkel said. "Consistent with how I handle all those issues, I have no further comment."
As he said, Pinkel declined to comment on the specifics of the situation, including whether Nash will travel to Nebraska this weekend. Freshman Marcus Woods takes his place, backed up by freshman Tony Temple.
Temple almost earned some playing time a few weeks ago, spurring Internet speculation that his redshirt would be removed. Pinkel said the decision to play ultimately fell to Temple.
"I gave Tony the option of what he wanted to do," Pinkel said. "Tony hasn't been really ready -- he's physically ready to run the football and catch -- but as far as all the blocking and all the details, because he missed two-a-days, it takes time to get ready. I asked Tony and his quote to me was ‘I want to do it for the team and I'm dying to play.' So, we will play Tony Temple."
Replacing over 100 yards of offense will not be easy, especially against a down, but still strong, Blackshirt defense this weekend. Pinkel said the caliber of the Tigers' opponent, not to mention the importance of this weekend's game to the standings, does not affect his personnel decision.
"We just run our offense and move the next guy up," Pinkel said. "That's what we do. I do what I feel is the right thing to do. I don't base it on the effect on the team as far as win/loss. I don't do that. I do it purely on what I think is the right thing for the individual and the right thing for the program."
Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said the offensive game plan will not change, even though Woods and Nash are different kinds of runners.
"It won't change it at all," Christensen said. "We run the same offense."
Senior WR Thomson Omboga said he thinks there could be an adjustment period as the players get used to Woods and Temple being the top backs, but the older players have plenty of confidence in the youngsters.
"It's gonna take a little bit, but one person doesn't make a whole team," Omboga said. "We have a lot of playmakers on our team...
"It doesn't matter if they're a redshirt freshman or a true freshman, as long as they can get the job done, I'll feel comfortable with anybody back there."
There is also the matter of making your collegiate debut in front of 74,000 red-clad Husker fans. There are easier places for a Tiger to make his debut (against Arkansas State in the comforts of Faurot Field, perhaps?), but Pinkel did not seem too concerned about Temple.
"He'll probably be a little nervous, I would suggest," he said. "He's dying to play. He has worked very hard. A couple games ago, we were thinking about playing him and we just didn't feel the detail down of playing the position. We're working so hard at it...
"He'll do fine."
Bragging rights on the line: As Pinkel would say, every game is "critically important" from here on out, but Saturday's matchup is a little more meaningful for freshman TE Martin Rucker.
Rucker's older brother, Mike, was a standout defensive end for the Cornhuskers. He has made the move from All-American Blackshirt to pass-rushing Carolina Panther in the NFL, a route Rucker hopes to follow one day.
Ever since his brother committed to Nebraska, Martin Rucker wanted to play there. Things didn't work out in Lincoln, as Rucker thought his style of play would be better suited to a more open passing attack. Now, after watching his teammates dismantle the Cornhuskers for their first win against them in 25 years last season, Rucker gets a chance to show his former favorite team what he can do.
"I can't wait to get up to Nebraska and play," Rucker said. "Ever since I signed here, that's the game I've been looking forward to."
It's not that Rucker feels as if he needs to prove his worth to the Nebraska program or its fans; he just wants to show them what he can do.
"It's just something that I want to prove," Rucker said. "Lots of fans up there also knew that they were recruiting me and they were disappointed when I didn't go up there. I'm just ready to get up there and show them that they missed something."
According to Rucker, older brother Mike is one of the top smack-talkers in the NFL. Soft-spoken, younger brother Martin tries to emulate that at times. With last year's Tiger win still hanging between them, another Missouri victory could have dire consequences on the brothers' relationship.
"Just between me and him, I like to talk a lot, try to be a funny guy," Martin Rucker said. "We just say funny little stuff to get on each other's nerves. There will be a lot of that going back and forth this week, text messages and voice mails."
And it turns out Martin has a little extra motivation to win this week. He and Mike have an agreement that younger brother gets some monetary incentives if he performs well every game. This week, Martin will rachet up those incentives significantly.
"I'll probably just raise the stakes a little bit in this game," Rucker said, "so it'll cost his pocket a lot more."
If you can't beat ‘em...: Although there have been mobile quarterbacks in the Big 8/12 before, few have had the game-changing ability of Missouri's Brad Smith. The junior has shown the ability to take over games when he needs to, leading to big wins and record-setting performances.
Teams will only take that kind of abuse for so long before dishing it out themselves. Several teams in the league now rely on moving the quarterback around the pocket, including Texas and Oklahoma State, Missouri's past two opponents.
The Cowboys even stole a play from the Smith repertoire, Pinkel said.
"We've seen people play us and put in a play that they saw Brad (execute) the week before," Pinkel said. "Oklahoma State didn't run that counter play; they never ran it until they did last week. I would suggest they got it from us, the way Brad runs it. But that's smart."
There are several plays the Tigers run religiously that are sprouting up around the country, Pinkel said.
"A lot of people do what we do now," he said. "We see that in some of the belly plays, the belly option plays, the nakeds and all that stuff."