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Nebraska Punches, Grabs and Holds On

Knocked down but not out by Nebraska’s early outburst, it helped that Missouri found itself in familiar waters. The Tigers trailed Oklahoma entering the fourth quarter the previous Saturday, if you recall, but stormed past the Sooners with 16 unanswered points to open the final 15 minutes. So the Tigers scratched their way back into this game, even pulling within 10 points midway through the third quarter, before coming to the realization that no, this isn’t our day. It takes a tough team to take an opponent’s best punch — be knocked down, but get back up; it takes a tougher team to return the favor.

Through the first quarter, the Cornhuskers turned back the clock: for a time, Nebraska was Nebraska, Missouri was Missouri — think 1979-2002. The Tigers opened the game with a three-and-out; Nebraska took over, with Roy Helu taking the first play from scrimmage 66 yards for a touchdown. That would be a theme.

An Alex Henery field goal and a 40-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez were sandwiched by yet another long scoring run from Helu: to end the barrage, the senior scored from 73 yards out — 24-0 Nebraska, end of the first quarter. For a running back, happiness is a seven-yard gain that knocks your yards per carry average down from roughly 43 yards to merely 25. That’s when you know things are going well.

It was a knockout punch, an overhand right, though Missouri was merely dazed, not out cold. The Tigers scrambled back to their feet in the second quarter, slowly beginning to turn the tide of momentum heading into halftime. Missouri scored on a neat fourth down conversion midway through the second frame, surprising Nebraska by eschewing the familiar quarterback sneak with inches to go: instead, Blaine Gabbert tossed left to his running back, De’Vion Moore, who scored nearly untouched from 33 yards out.

If the Tigers had scored again before the half, they might have had a chance. There’s a big difference — a mental difference — between 17 points and 10 points; there’s the confidence boost for Missouri, not to mention a slight twinge of fear for the Cornhuskers. Even a field goal would have loomed large, particularly after Gabbert found T.J. Moe for a touchdown later in the third quarter.

At that point, at 24-14, it was decision time for Nebraska. Martinez was out: he suffered what looked like a thigh bruise late in the second quarter, which limited his running ability. If Martinez can’t run, well, it’s time for Zac Lee. The senior delivered: if not on the stat sheet, at least in terms of supplying a steady hand for an offense looking to hold on, not run Missouri ragged.

It was Helu, yet again, that supplied the final push. His final touchdown run — his third of the game — came right after Gabbert’s touchdown pass, pushing the lead back to 17 and, thanks to the Nebraska secondary, effectively ending the day. Helu didn’t just break his own personal record for rushing yards in a game — he had never cracked the 200-yard mark, let alone the 300-yard mark; he broke the Nebraska school record, which surely means something.

Now, the game ball surely goes to Helu. Overshadowed by the precocious redshirt freshman quarterback, Helu has delivered on a weekly basis as the secondary option in the Nebraska ground game. Let’s also give credit to Bo Pelini, who orchestrated a defensive scheme that made every yard a battle for Gabbert and the Missouri offense.

Prince Amukamara bounced back in a big way: one week after Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon had his way with the potential all-American, Amukamara showed why many tout him as the nation’s best cornerback. Along with Alfonzo Dennard, Amukamara forms one-half of the nation’s finest cornerback tandem; when Dennard was lost to a concussion in the first half, freshman Ciante Evans stepped up in a very difficult situation: the future looks bright for the rookie.

Finally, despite the loss, I was impressed with how Gary Pinkel maintained his composure after the ugly start — his team could have very easily folded up shop. Gabbert, despite the poor statistical performance, showed the poise befitting his development into one of the Big 12′s best quarterbacks; he’ll be a Heisman contender in 2011.

Despite the loss, the Big 12 North title remains very much in play for Missouri. Though Nebraska holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, the two teams are currently tied at 3-1 in conference play; Missouri simply needs to win out — not too difficult a scenario to picture — and have Nebraska lose one its last four in order to play for the conference championship. I can see that happening.

When push came to shove, however, Nebraska’s best punch was too much for Missouri to handle. In that sense, even as the old rivals bid farewell after decades of competition, little has changed: Nebraska’s best was always better than Missouri’s, particularly in Lincoln.

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  1. DMK says:

    It’s rare to see such an apologia of a team that was just flat out crushed by a superior squad (“Despite the loss” shows up twice!). Nebraska was better all over the field. Maybe Missouri *is* a lot closer to that pre-season #33 ranking than they are to #1.

    The big winner this weekend? Bama. That clash with Open Date turned out just perfect.

    Paul: I don’t think it’s an apologia of any kind. You have to admit that Missouri has a good chance at winning the Big 12 North. Just win out, Nebraska lose one. And bye week and open date are dominating this season. Haven’t beat a B.C.S. conference team, but they’re undefeated against Boise State, T.C.U. and Utah.

  2. Ryan says:

    crushed by the superior squad? beaten by a superior squad, but 31-17 is not ‘crushed’.

  3. DMK says:

    When it’s 24-0 in the first quarter and Neb. plays most of the game without its fringe-Heisman QB, it leaves behind at least a whiff of l’eau de crushed. When a guy runs for 300 on you, it’s not good.

  4. Ryan says:

    It was a catastrophic breakdown of the run defense, obviously. But the dropoff of Nebraska’s offensive production came while Martinez was still in the game. It was Helu having a monster game and NU’s defense being as good as it usually is. Either way, 14 points is not crushed, no matter how you want to spin it.

  5. Ace says:

    I like how nub fans liek to use injuries sustained during the game as rational as why the score wasn’t larger. Yet in the same sentence they can’t admit that Mizzou played with out their starting NT and mlb. Don’t you think that would have a lot to do with why Helu ran for 300 yards? Common sense. Oh well it is getting late in the year and nub fans realize its back to the cornfields till next college football season. Since the state is a giant crop field besides Nub football.

  6. Devon says:

    Corn fields? That’s brilliant. You fans have such an inferiority complex, your comments are as juvinile as it gets, Missouri is a second maybe third tier football team, Missouri wishes they could have produced, does produce or will produce what Nebraska does between the lines, but Missouri never has and never will, that’s why your pathetic response has to do with our agriculture landscape, as if the drive between kc and stl is Chattanooga tenn. It’s EXTREMELY pathetic that Missouri with it’s metropolis population can’t bring home the bacon, and it irks you like no other when Nebraska drops 24 in one quarter then cruises to a victory, overmatched, outplayed, out schemed, and embarrassed, in front of 85,000. What’s missouris stadium hold? The state that is SO much better then corn field filled Nebraska? A mere 50,000? Your bleachers can’t even compete with the big boys, let alone the football team! Congradulations on the recent success, pinky and the brain was 2-2 against nebraskas WORST coach EVER and 1-2 against mr Pelini! Is that success? Success is beating the best at their best, which Missouri has NEVER done! How does that feel?us corn field fellas up here in the sticks enjoy it quite a bit! If living in Missouri means being gridiron losers, and living in a cornfield means beating the show mes, gimme corn 7 days a week and 31 to 17 times on Saturdays.

    Last but not least about the game Saturday, exactly when did Missouri threaten to win the game Saturday? Was it before, after or during blaines scrambles to stay alive, was it when our freshman db was knocking down td passes in the north end zone? Was it one of the 6 times Blaine was picking himself up off the turf? Was it one of the times Roy Helu jr was running up the field UNTOUCHED to pay dirt while the pathetically labeled mizzou defense was containing our star qb. Someone forgot to tell the defense we had an 1100 yard rusher in the backfield with him.

    Silly tigers, winnings for corn!

  7. Dan says:

    Nice one Ace. Your team gets beat so you get all butt-hurt and have to start with the insults.
    People, and I use the term people with regards to you losely, like you are the reason Husker fans are happy to move on to the Big-10…without you guys tagging along.

    We love good football, even when played by Missouri. Gabbert is a stud, and isn’t the first elite QB to have a bad day against the Blackshirts. He gets nothing but respect.

    Jerks like you? Not so much.

  8. Scott says:

    First off, I haven’t seen a team play as well of a quarter as Nebraska played the first quarter- they just came out on fire.

    It was just a bad game for Mizzou. The fact that we wouldn’t commit to the run game was our fatal flaw- Nebraska pulled out a new scheme for the Mizzou game and we just didn’t make the proper adjustments quick enough. Pinkel even stated this week that the coaches wish they wouldn’t have given up on the running game so early.

    The defense letdowns were a lot more troubling. Steckel has come out to take responsibility for the calls. Besides the big plays, the defense played good. But the killer was in the third quarter when Helu housed it when Nebraska had the ball around midfield. Mizzou’s defense is better than what they showed last weekend- without a doubt.

    As for the program, there is no ‘moral victory’ here. Competing no matter what is a value that Pinkel has driven into this program (thankfully). Mizzou went through much tougher times last year (remember Baylor?) and Pinkel is taking this program in the right direction- up. Mizzou is not going anywhere- expect a Big 12 championship in the near future.


  9. Trey says:

    the game was tight and i think we will go to the SEC chanponchip and go all the way

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