Nebraska begins conference play with a stern test on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium as fourth-ranked Missouri (Associated Press poll) comes into Lincoln for the Huskers’ Homecoming contest. The Tigers are a perfect 4-0 and will come to Lincoln following a bye week. Missouri ranks second in the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense entering this weekend’s contest. Nebraska comes into the contest with a 3-1 record, following a 35-30 loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday in Lincoln. Nebraska trailed 28-10 midway through the third quarter before twice rallying within five points
The meeting between Nebraska and Missouri will be the 102nd all-time between the two schools, marking Nebraska’s third-most played rivalry. Missouri defeated Nebraska 41-6 last season in Columbia and the home team has won each of the past six meetings. The Tigers have not won in Lincoln since 1978, a streak of 15 straight Husker victories.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State ‘90) is in his first season with the Huskers. Pelini owns a 4-1 career record. In addition to three 2008 wins, Pelini led Nebraska to a victory as interim head coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Pelini has served as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Oklahoma and most recently LSU over the past five seasons. Previously, he had stints as an NFL assistant with San Francisco, New England and Green Bay.
Missouri: Gary Pinkel (Kent ‘73) is in his eighth year as the head coach at Missouri. Pinkel has led the Tigers to a 53-37 record during his tenure in Columbia and has coached Mizzou to four bowl trips. Pinkel is 126-74-3 overall in his 18th season as a head coach after previously serving as the head man at Toledo. He is 3-4 against Nebraska, 0-3 in Lincoln.
Huskers Facing Seventh Top-10 Foe in Past Three Seasons
Nebraska's matchup against No. 4 Missouri represents the seventh time in the past 29 games dating back to 2006 that the Huskers have squared off against a top-10 ranked team. Nebraska faced four top-10 foes in 2006 and matched up with No. 1 USC and No. 8 Kansas in 2007. In addition, Nebraska played at Missouri last season when the Tigers were ranked No. 17, before Mizzou went on to finish ranked No. 4 in the AP poll.
The last time Nebraska faced as many as seven top-10 teams in a shorter period of time was from the 1994 Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 1994) through the 1994 and 1995 seasons, when NU faced seven top-10 teams in 26 games. Nebraska was 6-1 in those games.
Overall, Nebraska has faced 11 ranked teams since the start of the 2006 season.
Husker Offense Looking to Pile up Big Numbers
Nebraska had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses in the second half of the 2007 season. NU finished last year ranked ninth nationally in total offense at 468.3 yards per game, and seventh in passing at 323.8 yards per game. The passing average was a school record, while the total offensive average was Nebraska’s best in a decade.
Many of the key players in that effort returned to the 2008 offense, and early in the season, the unit has shown the ability to again rank among the nation’s best. The Huskers are averaging 421.0 yards per game (33rd nationally) and 37.5 points per contest (17th nationally) through four games.
Nebraska boasts impressive numbers over the past several games dating back to last season.
Nebraska has gained 400 total yards or more in seven of the past nine games.
The Huskers have passed for at least 200 yards in the past nine games, with five 300-yard games in that stretch.
The Huskers are averaging 497.1 yards per game over their past seven games, including 352.8 yards per game through the air. Nebraska is averaging 44.7 points over its past seven games.
Among Nebraska’s offensive explosion to finish last year was a 702-yard day against Kansas State, the 10th-best output in school history and the best since 1995.
Huskers Continuing to Light up the Scoreboard
Nebraska has scored at least 30 points in each of its last seven games dating back to last season, the longest streak of 30-plus point games since NU hit that mark in 13 straight games, including the entire 1995 season and the first game of the 1996 campaign.
Against Virginia Tech, Nebraska scored four touchdowns, ending a streak of six straight games with five or more touchdowns. That streak was the longest with at least five touchdowns since the first eight games of the 1989 season.
During the past seven games, Nebraska has scored 41 touchdowns, averaging nearly six touchdowns per game. That marks the Huskers’ best production since NU scored 45 touchdowns in the first seven games of 2007
The scoring production allowed Nebraska to win each of its first three games by more than three touchdowns for the first time since 1995.
Ganz Making Rapid Ascension in NU Record Books
Senior quarterback Joe Ganz has been the man directing the high-octance Husker offense over the past seven games. Ganz started the final three games of the 2007 season and is firmly entrenched as NU’s starter this fall. The Palos Heights, Ill., native has been outstanding since taking over the quarterback role.
Ganz has thrown for at least 345 yards in four of his seven career starts. He is the only quarterback in school history with four 300-yard passing games. He also produced three of the five 400-yard passing days in school history in his three starts last season and the top two passing games in NU history – 510 yards against Kansas State and 484 yards at Colorado. He also posted the top two total offense games in NU history with 528 yards against KSU and 521 vs. Colorado.
Against San Jose State, Ganz became the 16th player in school history with 2,000 career passing yards. Ganz could move well into the top 10 during his senior season. He enters the Missouri game with 2,554 career passing yards to rank 11th on the career list, just 123 yards from the top 10.
After shredding defenses and the passing record book in the final three games of 2007, Ganz got his 2008 season off to a strong start against Western Michigan.
The 345 yards passing against the Broncos were the most ever in a Nebraska season opener and ranked No. 9 on the Husker single-game passing list.
Ganz connected with seven different receivers and completed six passes of 20 yards or more. He added four 20-yard passes against San Jose State, two against New Mexico State and seven against Virginia Tech.
Ganz had at least four touchdown passes in each of his first four starts with 19 total in the four-game period. His 19 TD passes were the most ever by a Nebraska quarterback in a four-game stretch. Ganz has thrown for four touchdowns in the past three games and has 22 touchown passes in seven career starts. For perspective, the NU season record for passing touchdowns is 26 by Zac Taylor in 2006.
Ganz’s 27 career touchdown passes is ninth on the Nebraska career list.
Henery Among Nation’s Most Accurate Kickers
Sophomore place-kicker Alex Henery tied a Memorial Stadium record against Western Michigan, as he booted four field goals in the Huskers’ win. The four field goals, each of which came from 44 yards, not only tied the Memorial Stadium record, but ranked second all-time at Nebraska for most field goals in a game. It also marked just the second time in school history that a kicker has connected on four field goals of 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 5).
The strong performance to open 2008 came on the heels of Henery’s perfect kicking season in 2007. A year ago, he made all eight of his field-goal attempts, while connecting on 45-of-45 PATs. Henery suffered his first career missed kick against New Mexico State, but hit on all five PATs against the Aggies and added a 19-yard field goal late in the contest.
Henery nailed a career-long 48-yard field goal against Virginia Tech, bettering his 44-yarders in the opener. He also hit three PAT attempts against the Hokies.
Henery is now 14-of-15 on field goals in his career. His 12 straight made field goals was the most ever to start a Nebraska career and fell just five shy of the NU school record for consecutive field goals made.
Henery is 18-of-18 on extra points this season and a perfect 63-of-63 in his career.
Special Teams Makes Statement Early in Season
In addition to Alex Henery’s strong kicking effort to open the season, Nebraska has had several other outstanding efforts on special teams.
Fellow sophomore place-kicker Adi Kunalic has booted 12 of 28 kickoffs for touchbacks in 2008. The 12 touchbacks are the eighth-most of any school in the country. Last year, Kunalic delivered 28 touchbacks in 66 attempts and his 42.4 percent touchback rate was the best of any kicker in the country. In his two-year career, Kunalic has produced touchbacks on 40 of 94 kickoffs (43 percent).
Entering the Missouri game, Nebraska kickers have made 97 of their last 98 kick attempts dating back to 2006. Henery’s missed field goal against NMSU ended a streak of 87 consecutive made kicks by NU kickers.
Sophomore Niles Paul provided a spark in Nebraska’s 35-12 win over San Jose State with an 85-yard kickoff return for a TD to give NU a 21-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. Paul’s kickoff return for a touchdown marked the second kickoff return for a score by Nebraska in its last four games (also Cortney Grixby vs. Kansas State in 2007). Before the two recent kickoff returns for touchdowns, Nebraska had not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1998. Paul ranks 28th nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 25.8 yards per return. Paul’s performance against San Jose State earned him Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors.
Senior Nate Swift returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech, slicing the lead to 28-23. Swift’s return was the fourth-longest in school history and the first punt return for a touchdown by Nebraska since 2002.
Senior Zach Potter blocked a field goal attempt against New Mexico State, the Huskers’ first blocked kick of the season and Potter’s third career kick block.