COLUMBIA, Mo. — When all the brutal and bizarre developments were added up Saturday, Nebraska had rediscovered a couple of early-season stalwarts, a ninth straight bowl invitation seemed imminent, and the bottom line read: Nebraska 21, Missouri 10.
In the final quarter, Nebraska was awarded a touchdown that the Tigers claimed should not have been allowed because of a fumble by Rick Berns in the end zone. Later, Mizzou was denied an apparent touchdown when an official ruled receiver Kellen Winslow did not hold the ball long enough.
Both decisions prompted loud protests from the majority of the 67,261 attending at Faurot Field, and reversals would have put the final count at 17-15, Missouri, assuming the extra point.
It was that close.
But in the final analysis, it was the clutch play of quarterback Randy Garcia, the yeoman service of I-back Berns — two erstwhile regulars who had been relegated to the bench — and a grand second-half performance by the defense that made the difference.
As Husker Coach Tom Osborne put it, “If there was any indication that we have reasonably good depth, it showed today.
Add to the list of pluses for N.U. three field goals by Billy Todd, a great pass catch by Kenny Brown to keep a scoring drive alive in the third quarter, a fourth-quarter interception by Jim Pillen and a flimsy Missouri punting game that left the Tigers with a 27-yard average on seven punts.
Add to the minuses for Mizzou the loss of quarterback Pete Woods for the remainder of the season. It wasn’t until the stadium had cleared of fans and reporters that it was learned Woods had suffered a broken finger on his right hand in the third quarter.
It was an injury that went unmentioned in the locker room interviews, but made the senior’s 6-for-11 fourth-quarter passing performance seem brilliant in retrospect.
Among the glad-handers in the victorious locker room were representatives of the Gator, Liberty, Hall of Fame and Tangerine Bowls. But the 7-2 Cornhuskers were casting covetous eyes on the Big One — the Orange Bowl berth that goes to the Big Eight champion.
With their third straight victory and second in a row on the road, Cornhuskers could be forgiven a forward glance toward Nov. 25 and their meeting with Oklahoma, with the Orange Bowl the ultimate plum.
After his team moved into sole possession of second place behind the Sooners with a 4-1 record in the Big Eight, Osborne immediately tried to head off premature thinking.
“We’re in real good shape now to make a run for things,” Osborne said, “but the first thing I told the players afterward was that next week will probably be our first game all year where there is a danger of complacency. I want them to come out Monday with the same type of practice we’ve had the last three weeks.”
Nebraska will return home Saturday to play Kansas before moving on to Oklahoma.
But there were few thoughts of Oklahoma, or Kansas, until the final minutes Saturday. Missouri was much, much better than its current 3-6 record would indicate. But the Huskers knew that beforehand.
With artful passer Woods back in the fold after an early-season knee injury, the Tigers had won their previous two games and were even believing the four bowl scouts were on hand to see them. The Huskers also were mindful that Mizzou had undermined them with upsets in three of the previous four meetings.
More of the same was a grim possibility after the Tigers erased an early 9-0 deficit and led, 10-9, into the final minute of the third quarter. It took a magnificent defensive effort to thwart the Tigers a yard from the N.U. goal in the last four minutes to put a lock on it.
But the Huskers paid a heavy price for their win. Regular quarterback Tom Sorley went out with a painful rib injury in the second quarter after completing only four of 14, but two of them were for 37 and 23 yards on the drive to Todd’s go-ahead field goal in the third quarter.
Also watching most of the afternoon was sophomore I-back I.M. Hipp, the biggest gun in the Husker arsenal. He did not return after the second quarter and carried only 11 times for 39 yards.
Berns, formerly the top gun, filled in admirably with 81 yards on 21 carries, two 1-yard touchdowns and, later, was rewarded with five stitches in his chin and another in a swollen hand.
Hipp pulled a muscle while lifting weights Thursday, Osborne said. “He had a hard time picking up his leg, so we couldn’t play him,” Osborne said.
“It felt good to be back. This just hasn’t been my year,” said Berns, who obviously wasn’t feeling very good afterward. He gave away to sophomore Tim Wurth in the fourth quarter.
Missouri’s defense held Nebraska’s rushers to a sub-par 204 yards, but Sorley and Garcia had their most productive passing day since early in the season with 152 yards. Nebraska, therefore, outyarded the Tigers, 356-308.
Nebraska’s offense was aided immeasurably by three field goals by Todd, who strangely missed two extra points.
Todd’s foot provided the margin that would have been enough even if Winslow’s touchdown in the final minutes counted.
Nebraska had taken a 21-10 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter on Berns’ second touchdown and had survived the controversy when the officials ruled that he had crossed the goal line before losing a fumble.
The locals were still grumbling over that one when Woods launched a dandy of a passing drive that carried from his 20 to the Husker goal. It included five completions to five different receivers — the last going 20 yards to Joe Stewart, Mizzou’s all-time leading receiver, to the Husker 4.
But it was the one that got away that left the Tigers boiling.
From the 2, Woods threw a high bullet over the middle to the 6-6 Winslow, who looked 7-6 when he went up to snare it. When he came down, cornerback Rene Anderson’s helmet was in his back, and the ball was on the ground. The Tigers claimed he had held on long enough.
“I just had a head of steam and put my helmet right in his numbers and hoped for the best,” Anderson said.
Nebraska got the best of the ruling, and the Tigers never got another chance after Oudious Lee stopped Woods at the 1 on a fourth-down option.
But the Berns-Winslow decisions were only two of a continuing series of whacky developments.
— Nebraska had an excellent opportunity early following an interception in the opening series by linebacker Lee Kunz. Hipp gained 10 yards to the Tiger 4 on fourth and one, but he lost a fumble.
— Mizzou’s kicking game broke down to give the Huskers their first nine points. Ted Harvey’s 42-yard punt return set up Todd’s first field goal, and a 6-yard punt by Tiger Monte Montgomery carried only to the 17 to help Berns to his first touchdown.
— After Jeff Brockhaus kicked a 35-yard field goal for Missouri’s first points in the second quarter, Husker Tim Smith punted to the Mizzou goal line, with the ball biting and backspinning like a good chip shot to the green. But John Havekost, trying to down it, slid into the end zone for a touchback. Missouri then drove 80 yards to score on Annise Davis’ 7-yard run and took a 10-9 lead.
— Nebraska had two chances to score just before the half, but came up empty. A holding penalty pushed the Huskers back from the 12, and Todd missed a field goal. But Nebraska got the ball back on the 37 with 26 seconds left when Tom Vering blocked a punt. With nine seconds left, on third down at the 11, Osborne called for one more pass play and a possible touchdown before kicking a field goal. Time ran out when Ron Suda and Gene Twellman sacked Garcia.
— Curtis Craig nearly broke for a touchdown on a kickoff return, but he fumbled the ball away at the Husker 46. But Brockhaus missed on a field goal attempt.
— Husker freshman fullback Andra Franklin broke free for a 5-yard touchdown on a draw play in the third quarter, but the officials called Nebraska for delay of game before the play started. Todd followed with a field goal.
— The combatants traded fumbles inside the Mizzou 21 on successive series in the third quarter.
— Nebraska was apparently stopped and facing fourth and 2 on the Missouri 34 but were given first down on a personal foul penalty late in the third period. Later, Mizzou had a choice of fourth and 11 on the 20 or third and 31 on the 40 when Nebraska was caught holding. The Tigers took the penalty and forced a punt. But, alas, the ball rolled dead, and the Tigers were flagged for clipping. Since Mizzou did not touch the ball, Nebraska faced fourth and 16 from the 25. And Todd kicked a 42-yard field goal into the 9 mph wind.
“It seemed like there were a tremendous number of calls that had a great impact on the game,” Osborne said. “When you look at our field position, our offense really didn’t do that good a job of scoring. Our defense did a good job of getting us the ball and getting good field position.”
“We played like a team that didn’t want to get beat. It’s really good when you can beat Missouri down here,” he said.
On his decision to try one more pass just before the half, Osborne said, “We were going to throw one time. If there wasn’t a guy open or if there was pressure, I just wanted him to unload it. But Randy evidently didn’t get the word.
“I just wanted one more pop for the touchdown. We probably got greedy there.”
“I was trying to go to Tim Smith,” Garcia said. “I gave my receiver too much time — just like in the Washington State game (he was sacked in the end zone). But I wanted to give him as much of a chance as I could. I’ll be kicking myself all the way home for it.”
Garcia made amends later when he threw 37 yards to Brown on a double handoff to and from Berns and hit Smith with a 23-yard pass in the go-ahead drive in the third quarter. “We tried that same trick play against Colorado and it didn’t work. It did this time because Kenny made a tremendous catch,” Garcia said.
Another key play for the Huskers was Jim Pillen’s interception and return to the Tiger 18 to set up five straight carries and the final touchdown by Berns.
“Tony (Samuel) got inside and made a heck of a play by tipping the ball. We were able to breathe a little easier then,” Pillen said.
“We told them at the half that we couldn’t let Missouri score the second half, and they didn’t. The goal-line stand was a big, big play,” Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt said.
“We played today like we’ve been practicing, very well,” he said.
“It seemed like we had to overcome an awful lot of things, but I’m sure Missouri could say the same thing,” Osborne said. “I’d like to congratulate Missouri. That was a typical Missouri team. They played hard and didn’t give up.”
The Huskers left town with a message on the locker room blackboard reading: “Good luck the rest of the year, Missouri.”
|Yards per carry||3.1||3.3|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Washington State||Sept. 10|
|Kansas State||Oct. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 15|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 29|
|North Carolina||Dec. 19|
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