Columbia, Mo. So far, Missouri quarterback Brad Smith is having a tough time finding a go-to receiver.
Last year, Smith had Justin Gage. But since Gage graduated, no one has stepped forward to fill the void as the Tigers (4-1, 0-1 Big 12 Conference) play host to No. 10 Nebraska (5-0, 0-0) Saturday at Faurot Field.
Improving the passing game won't be easy for Missouri -- the Cornhuskers are ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense.
Missouri ranks 11th in passing offense in the Big 12 -- only run-oriented Nebraska is worse. The Tigers have averaged just 163 yards per game passing, hardly what coach Gary Pinkel expected.
"I think our passing game, in general, whether it's throwing the football, protection, catching, all those things, we're struggling," Pinkel said.
The weakness of the passing game was exploited by Kansas University when the Jayhawks beat Missouri, 35-14, Sept. 27. The Jayhawks held Smith to 62 yards passing. Missouri's leading receiver, tight end Victor Sesay, managed just 25 yards.
Pinkel and some players believe the offensive play-calling has been too conservative.
"I think we need to go deep more," senior tight end J.D. McCoy said. "We have the athletes to do it and Brad's got the arm. I think that's something we can definitely do, and will help everything on offense if we can stretch the defense out."
Darius Outlaw, expected by many to have a breakout season at wide receiver, has 21 catches but for just 128 yards, though he has caught four touchdown passes.
Thomson Omboga leads the Tigers with 21 catches for 216 yards. He said the receivers need to start producing.
"We're not playing up to our capabilities," Omboga said. "We all have to get better at the receiving core. We're not bad, but we're not where we need to be."
The other wide receiver, 6-foot-5 Sean Coffey, has just seven catches for 73 yards. He has been shut out in two of the five games.