COLUMBIA, Mo.—Nebraska's football players and coaches sat there in the steamy locker room, exhausted, frustrated and disappeared after losing to Missouri, 13-12, in the dramatic confrontation between the Big Eight Conference unbeaten teams.
It was apparent Nebraska's football program does not breed good losers. The Huskers found losing hard to swallow. Some sat with head in hands and tears in eyes.
Others slowly got up, unwrapped the tape from arms and ankles and wasted long minutes in the hot showers.
A few undertook the painful task of explaining the first loss in five games — and first in the head coaching career of Tom Osborne — to sports writers and broadcasters. Their words came with difficulty.
But they did it dutifully, displaying resolution.
None had better reason to hide in the shower than Randy Borg, the defensive corner back and punt returner. His two pass interceptions that had blunted Missouri drives earlier were almost forgotten.
The record Faurot Field turnout of 68,170 will remember Borg as the miscreant who muffed a punt at the Cornhusker 10-yard line with 2:35 left in the game and watched prone on the field as Missourian Scott Anderson recovered at the four to set up the winning touchdown.
Borg, who had earlier handled seven punts under heavy defensive pressure, explained in a quiet, halting voice: "I tried to run before I caught it."
He was in a hurry to make the return, he said, because the Missouri defense was so fast getting downfield on its coverage. He lost 11 and three yards on two of the previous returns.
"They (coaches) told me to lose a little ground to get to the wall (of blockers). They said the wall was set up. I just gave too much ground a couple of times."
The coaches insisted that they and the players shared responsibility for the loss, which nearly turned into a miracle reversal with an attempted two-point conversion in the last minute.
"We're a family," said Rick Duval, linebacker coach. "Stick with us, don't get down on us now," he pleaded with a writer in the locker room.
"When you lose a football game, you all lose together," commented Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. "It was no one person's fault. Missouri played a great game. I don't like to say they deserved to win. We deserved to win, too.
"But we don't lose very often, and we take it awfully hard at Nebraska. If it doesn't hurt to lose, we'd better get out."
A subdued Osborne said Borg "did a great job for us today with his two interceptions, and he's really a great player. He's fielded lots of punts for us before, and I guess he's just bound to miss one sometime."
Nebraska, which had proved its mettle in comebacks against North Carolina State and Wisconsin, couldn't really have been expected to come back again after Tom Mulkey's one-yard touchdown run and Greg Hill's extra point gave the Tigers a 13-6 lead with 2:01 left.
The Huskers had been unable to penetrate the Mizzou goal line in 58 minutes, but Nebraskans had this mystique about winning, somehow. They nearly pulled it off.
After substitute tight end Larry Mushinskie fielded a high Hill kickoff at the Husker 28, Dave Humm directed his team toward a sign just beyond the north end zone that read: "Big Red is Dead."
As if anxious to rip up that banner, it took just four plays—31 yards on a Humm pass to Ritch Bahe, 20 yards more overhead to Mushinskie, a yard on the ground for Tony Davis and 24-yards on the touchdown pass over the middle to Bahe.
That took just 55 seconds. With a minute left, Nebraska had put itself in position to do in the Tigers a fourth straight year.
But Missouri, a victim by 62-0 the year before, was destined to win this one, keep its unbeaten string intact at five games and steal the attention of the Orange and Liberty Bowl scouts who had earlier been more interested in the No. 2 ranked Huskers.
Nebraska could surely have tied on an extra point kick by Rich Sanger, who had earlier finished in a dead heat with Mizzou ace kicker Hill with two field goals apiece. But Osborne didn't think long on his decision to try to win with a two-point conversion.
The crucial call was a pass to I-back Davis, who was in the slot to the left in Nebraska's spread formation. He made a quick turnout move and was open momentarily. But Humm's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Bob McRoberts and intercepted by cornerback Tony Gillick, who was a quarterback at this time last year.
"We tried that play before and nobody covered Tony," Humm said. The Huskers had driven to the Tiger two-yard line and eventually failed to score when middle guard Harris Butler blocked a Sanger field goal attempt.
The play before Nebraska had nearly broken the 6-6 deadlock when split end Dave Shamblin dived for Humm's pass and lost the ball when he hit the ground in the end zone. Davis was waving his arms in the end zone without a defender near on the play.
"They (Tigers) were in the same defensive alignment when we came out (of the huddle)," said Humm, referring to the two-point conversion attempt." If I'd have thrown the ball better, it would have got there. I saw Tony open and thought we had it.”
Despite the loss, the junior quarterback said he was “really proud of these guys (his teammates). On the touchdown pass to Bahe, I had more time to throw than I had all day. The line gave me about five minutes to throw.”
Nebraska had an overwhelming edge in statistics, with 444 total yards to 170, but, as the saying goes: statistics are for losers.
The statistics do not reveal how much Missouri dominated the kicking game, which includes kicking, returning and coverage.
The disparity showed up immediately when Mizzou’s chief inspiration, 160-pound John Moseley, returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to the Mizzou 49. He improved on that effort by carrying the next one 51 yards to the Nebraska 43.
Borg’s interception at the Husker five stopped the first drive, but the kicking game kept Missouri in good field positions throughout the first half. Sanger’s field goals of 42 and 29 yards came on drives that started on the N.U. 38 and 22.
Nebraska’s Blackshirt defense kept the Missouri ground game in check most of the day except for an 11-play sequence in the second quarter that moved the Tigers from their 31 to the Husker 17, from where Hill connected from 35 yards.
His second one was easier, coming from 31 yards with the same number of seconds left in the half. Humm and Bahe ran together on a counter play, and Butler recovered the fumble at the Husker 24.
The significance of the kicking game can be seen in comparing the performances of passers Humm (20 for 29, 292 yards and one touchdown) and John Cherry (2 for 9, seven yards) and leading rushers Davis (27 for 109) and Tiger Cherry (20 for 70).
The Huskers easily won the unimportant things, but they had to start drives from their own 5, 22, 16, 7, 20, 18, 5 and 14.
In the second half, Nebraska tightened up its kicking game, and field position improved to the point that one threat carried to the Tiger 17 before Davis fumbled away the ball to Moseley. Sanger was given another field goal opportunity but was wide to the left from 33 yards, and Moseley stopped another drive with an interception at the Mizzou 34.
Still, the difference in the kicking phase was evident to the end. Sophomore Mike Coyle, who earlier failed to kick the ball 10 yards when Husker coaches wanted him to boot a flat kickoff to avoid the long runbacks, came up short again when the Huskers tried to get the ball one last time.
The attempted onside kick with a minute left after Nebraska’s last touchdown traveled only eight yards, nullifying the Huskers’ chance of recovering. Assistant Coach John Melton threw the field phones in disgust. The players cursed their luck. It was that kind of day. Everything came up short.
A nasty omen surfaced in the second series when Frosty Anderson, the leading pass receiver in the Big Eight was sent to the sideline for three or four weeks with a shoulder separation.
“I think that really affected us, losing Frost,” said Humm. “Shamblin (sophomore Dave) had to play the whole game, and he was getting double coverage. They were really beating on his head. He was getting tired.”
Asked if his team could have won with one more possession, Humm replied: “It was a long game as it was. They only give you so much time.”
Borg, looking for a bright spot, said, “I don’t know if you gain anything from a defeat, but I definitely don’t think we’re dead. We must rededicate ourselves in practice. I know I haven’t always given my all. I’m sure I will now.”
After two weeks on the road, Nebraska will return to the friendly Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Saturday against Kansas. Big Eight leader Missouri will remain at home against Oklahoma State.
|Yards per carry||3.1||3.2|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|North Carolina State||Sept. 22|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 10|
|Kansas State||Nov. 17|
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