LINCOLN — It wasn't Devine inspiration that dictated the 98-yard pass play that was most responsible for jolting Nebraska out of the national championship picture Saturday afternoon.
It was all quite logical, Missouri coach Al Onofrio explained afterward, as if logic really outweighs mysticism when it comes time for Missouri to add another one to its list of illogical upsets.
The call came from Asst. Coach Dick Jamieson in a press box coaching booth, which is a long way from heaven, even with the low ceiling on a chill, gray afternoon in Memorial Stadium.
Pete Woods threw it, and Joe Stewart caught it. And Nebraska, which was trying to pad a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter, was suddenly and dramatically on its way to a 34-24 defeat.
So a turnout of 76,051 and a national television audience saw the third-ranked Cornhuskers join the 1972 Notre Dame, 1974 Nebraska, 1975 Alabama and 1976 Southern Cal and Ohio State teams as victims of this curious Mizzou mystique.
Missouri did it with ace pitcher Steve Pisarkiewicz on the bench and after redoubtable tailback Curtis Brown — the leading rusher in the Big Eight Conference — left the game after one carry, never to return.
Nebraska, experiencing defeat for the first time in a 5-1-1 season, had turned loose a devastating offense in the second half while overcoming a 23-18 deficit. But the first three possessions had resulted only in an Al Eveland field goal, a lost fumble at the Missouri 20 and another Eveland field goal.
But the Huskers had finally gone on top by 24-23, and the Blackshirt defense had finally choked the potent Tiger offense by limiting it to a scant eight yards on three second-half possessions.
Defensive end Ray Phillips had just dumped sub tailback Dean Leibson for a four-yard loss back to the Missouri four-yard line. And the officials pushed it back two more yards when Mizzou took too much time sending in a play.
It was THAT play.
The penalty allowed the Woods-Stewart tandem to claim the Big Eight record for long-distance passing, surpassing the 97-yarder by Bill Fenton-Willie Ray Smith of Kansas against Texas Tech in 1965.
But the Huskers helped our with confusion in the secondary. Cornerback Dave Butterfield thought the coverage called for a three-deep secondary. Larry Valasek, Ted Harvey and Kent Smith thought it was a four-man umbrella.
Whatever, Stewart, the Tiger slotback, found himself without any company after Woods faked a back into the line and threw long down the left side of the field. Stewart easily eluded Valasek's desperate dive near the Nebraska 30.
"It was a very logical call," Onofrio insisted of the third-and-14 play," We couldn't get field position. If we connect, it's a touchdown. If it's intercepted, it's as good as a punt.
"I was thinking about taking an intentional safety if we hadn't completed it, so we could get the free kick. Two points wouldn't have hurt us. I think they were trying to force us into a safety, and they weren't expecting the long pass."
Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said he "felt we had things pretty well under control. We felt we'd at least get the ball on their 35 or 40 (following a punt). But the thing that deflated us as much as that pass was the turnovers."
Nebraska lost four of five fumbles and had two passes intercepted.
A Rob Fitzgerald interception led to Missouri's first touchdown, on a Wood's keeper. A fumble by Husker I-Back Rick Berns at the Mizzou 20 set up a Woods sneak to make it 20-12 in the second quarter, and fumbles by Berns and fullback Dodie Donnell halted drives at the Tiger 17 and 20.
Even after the Woods-to-Stewart stunner and ensuing two-point conversion pass involving the same talent, Osborne said, "We still had a chance to win or tie."
Missouri led, 31-24, but 12:53 remained , and the Huskers were chewing out huge chunks of yardage on Vince Ferragamo's passing and the running of Monte Anthony and Donnell.
Two possessions later, the Huskers pulled out a new trick Ferragamo passed out to wingback Dave Shamblin on an apparent quick screen, which is part of the normal arsenal. But Shamblin pulled up and looked downfield for tight end Ken Spaeth on a pass.
Spaeth was covered, and Shamblin took off, made it to the first-down marker and fumbled away to Bruce Carter on the Husker 32.
The Huskers escaped from there when Tim Gibbons missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 3:12 left.
But Gibbons came through from 34 yards in the last 1:19 after a Mark Kirkpatrick interception to make it a moot question whether Osborne would have gone for one or two points on the conversion if the Huskers had scored.
"The turnovers made it awfully tough to win," Osborne said. "But they had some, too. It was two good teams going at it.
"They (Tigers) thought they had to play a perfect game to win. They tried to pull some things on us (like an onside kickoff after the first touchdown), and so did we.
"We threw a little more the second half, but we didn't have the ball much the first half. They were stunting around — something they hadn't done much, and that gave us some problems.
"I think we had a little more determination the second half and just played more aggressively.
Nebraska had only 24 yards passing on three Ferragamo completions the first half but finished with 191 yards on 13 of 22. The Huskers had a total offense edge of 414 yards to 398.
The Tigers didn't have a corner on good fortune.
Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, they faced a 10-man Husker punt rush. Valasek, lining up on the right end of the line, swept in to block Monte Montgomery's kick, and monster back Smith outfought half his teammates for the touchdown recovery.
But Tom Hodge blocked Eveland's PAT attempt, and Osborne said, "We had trouble catching up after that." Twice, the Huskers failed on two-point conversions.
Nebraska received another major break en route to an Anthony touchdown that gave Nebraska a 12-7 lead in the second quarter.
Anthony was credited with a 36 yard gain to the Missouri four-yard line, but the last 22 yards came with the Huskers following the bouncing ball.
Donnell had the first shot at Anthony's fumble, but he kicked it farther downfield. So did Shamblin. Chuck Malito finally recovered at the four.
A pressbook wag called the play the "Fumbleroosky," a reference to Nebraska's fake punt touchdown against Mizzou last year on a play called the "Bummeroosky."
The Huskers cut into ta 20-12 Missouri lead in the second quarter after Mike Newman muffed a fair catch of a Husker punt and Curtis Craig recovered at the Tiger 16.
But when the luck ran out, the Huskers had to console themselves with the fact that they are still tied for the ead in the Big Eight Conference since previously unbeaten Oklahoma also lost Saturday to Oklahoma State.
That left the conference in a five-way jumble, with Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma State all one-game losers.
That was the theme Osborne dwelled on during the post-mortem.
"The players are down, and we'd have liked to have been named national champs. but we still have a shot at the Big Eight championship. That's our goal now, to go to the Orange. We're not done by a long shot. I just hope we play a great game next week."
The Huskers will play at Kansas next Saturday.
Said Anthony: "Everyone is even , thank goodness. The race is on."
Malito added: "We're not going to let a loss like this hurt us. The guys are down a little now, but come Monday, this game will be out of our minds."
|Yards per carry||4.1||4.5|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Texas Tech||Dec. 30|
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