LINCOLN — Nebraska drew a Big Red circle around Nov. 22 on its calendar Saturday after kissing off Missouri in the first of two heavy Big Eight dates.
On the scoreboard, which finally read Nebraska 38, Missouri 16, the Cornhuskers won handily. On the field, they did not.
For the Huskers and their backers in a Memorial Stadium turnout of 76,155 it was a fitful afternoon. “The game was much closer than the score indicates,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said.
Nevertheless, the outcome also indicated that Nebraska and Oklahoma, the only remaining unbeaten teams in the Big Eight, took huge strides toward their traditional championship date come Nov. 22 in Lincoln. The Sooners whipped sixth-ranked North Carolina 41-7 Saturday.
Nebraska won with offense the first half, with defense the second half, and, on the whole, broke a nasty habit of losing to the spoil-sport Tigers while entertaining title thoughts on Husker turf.
In the raucous locker room celebration afterward, Husker backs Jarvis Redwine and Andra Franklin were saluted for 129 and 122 yards rushing, respectively. The senior hoofers were instrumental in building 14-0 and 28-3 leads in the first half.
But seldom are Nebraska-Missouri games won easily. The Huskers were ever mindful that this was Missouri, a team that had brought rain on Nebraska championship parades on three successive visits to Lincoln. A Missouri with a stellar quarterback named Phil Bradley, who was destined Saturday to become the Big Eight’s all-time total offense champion with two school passing records before the issue was settled.
This also was a Missouri team with similar championship aspirations, going in with a matching 6-1 record and also 3-0 in the Big Eight.
There were other disturbing elements for the Huskers before they could relax after a 34-yard field goal by Kevin Seibel produced a 31-16 lead halfway through the fourth quarter, and Roger Craig dived into the end zone as time ran out. Nebraska turnovers (six) and Missouri field goals (three) were reminiscent of the deadly combination that resulted in the lone blot in a 7-1 season. Nebraska was saddled with six turnovers and Florida State collected four field goals in an 18-14 upset.
“If they could have taken advantage of the turnovers, we’d have lost the game,” Osborne said. Acknowledging four lost second-half fumbles, Osborne said, “The defense played great the second half. It’s amazing that we beat them that bad. If you lead 6-2 in turnovers, you normally don’t win. We tried to hand it to them all day."
Nebraska, however, had a whispering crusade among the players in its favor. They had vowed to knock the Warren Powers monkey off Osborne’s back. Powers had directed upsets in Lincoln with his Washington State team in 1976 and Missouri in 1978.
Afterward, guard Randy Schleusener, the offensive captain, climbed on a table and asked for quiet. Then he shouted: “Powers has been a pain in the ass the last five years to that man right there!” pointing at Osborne. “I’ll tell you who won the coaching battle this time!” Then he presented the game ball to his coach.
Osborne’s coaching expertise was aided immeasurably by the running of I-back Redwine and fullback Franklin, who each was called on 18 times. Redwine scored the first two touchdowns — the opener coming after a lost fumble on Mizzou’s second play — with option pitches from the 15 and 18. On both, Franklin cleared the way with crunching blocks on the corner.
“That was the best game of my career,” Franklin said. “And it was the toughest game all year. We can’t let up now. We can’t think about Oklahoma yet.”
A home game with Kansas State Saturday and a trip to Iowa State come first.
But, said quarterback Jeff Quinn, “It’s a big victory and one big step toward the Big Eight championship.”
Franklin, who pulled his team out of holes with first down runs of 32 and 14 yards in the third quarter, drew extra duty Saturday because Redwine was playing on a sore leg, backup I-back Craig was playing with an ailing shoulder and Craig Johnson was held out with a shoulder injury. Wide spacing in the Missouri defensive front opened up the middle, Osborne said, creating great opportunities for Franklin to carry the ball.
Part of the second-half fumbling was due to “lack of concentration because guys were hurt,” Osborne said. “Jarvis played because he had to. I don’t think he felt 100 percent.”
The same could be said for Missouri’s backfield stalwarts, Osborne said. Bradley’s passing show, which netted 229 yards, came despite a sore shoulder, and James Wilder, who had dented Husker defenses for 268 yards in two previous games, was limited to 57 yards on 14 carries while playing on a gimpy ankle. “Wilder wasn’t Wilder today,” Osborne said.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to Bradley. He and Jarvis were in the same boat. It took a lot of courage to play. I’m glad I don’t have to play Phil Bradley again,” Osborne said.
After Nebraska’s two quick touchdowns, Mizzou was forced to abandon its ground assault plans and rely more heavily on Bradley’s arm. Four completions led to a 28-yard field goal, the first of three by Ron Verrilli, just before the end of the first quarter.
At the half, with Nebraska holding a 28-13 lead, Bradley had completed 15 of 27 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown.
But the Huskers neutralized Bradley’s artistry with a 77-yard interception touchdown by linebacker Kim Baker and a 63-yard kickoff return by Anthony Steels that led to another touchdown in the second quarter. Secondary adjustments in the second half limited Bradley to 8-for-18 and 52 yards.
“Bradley did a real fine job of going to the right receiver all afternoon,” Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt said. Nebraska changed its coverage to eliminate a two-on-one advantage on hook passes on one side of the field, “and that really helped us,” Van Zandt said.
Bradley set Missouri records with 23 completions and 45 attempts. His 256 yards in total offense raised his career total to 5,925, breaking the Big Eight record of 5,779 by Lynn Dickey of Kansas State in 1968-70.
Besides the loss, Bradley was miffed that the game was not stopped so he could be presented the ball when he broke the record on an 11-yard completions to Andy Gibler in the second quarter. “Four years ago, some people were saying I wouldn’t make it in this league. I think I proved I can play,” Bradley said.
Nebraska cornerback Andy Means admitted that Bradley “gave us fits the first half, but it was just a matter of adjusting our coverages. They read our blitzes extremely well. He would audible a quick out or a post. He’s one of the best all-purpose quarterbacks we’ve played. But there’s a better one — Jeff Quinn."
Quinn completed 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Finn in the second quarter.
Quinn was undaunted by two first-half interceptions and a high pitch to Redwine that spoiled the ancient Swinging Gate play in the first quarter. Quinn under-handed the ball to Redwine after the rest of the team quickly lined up left of center. The resulting loss was wiped out by a penalty against Mizzou.
The Tigers had rallied to 14-6 with Verrilli’s 49-yard field goal when Steels accepted the kickoff at the 1 and broke down the left sideline 63 yards preceding the touchdown pass to Finn. Last year in Columbia, Steels fumbled another kickoff while the Tigers were threatening and Orlando Pope caught the ball in the air and scored the tying touchdown.
“I was thinking about that. I really was,” Steels said. “You can’t help but have that in the back of your mind. We needed that at that moment. Last year is all forgotten now.”
Missouri was driving again, with the score at 21-6, when Nebraska monster back Sammy Sims tipped a pass on a blitz, and Baker intercepted at the Husker 23. Two magnificent blocks by Derrie Nelson and Jimmy Williams escorted Baker to the end zone.
It was the first touchdown for Baker since he was a fullback at York High. “Missouri had some momentum, and then they had to play a little more catchup again,” Baker said.
The game deteriorated into a series of turnovers in the scoreless third quarter, and Verrilli and Seibel swapped field goals in the fourth. The final Nebraska touchdown came after Missouri was held on downs at its 38, and Quinn passed 33 yards to Todd Brown at the 7 on third-and-12. Craig beat the clock from the 2.
Missouri’s offensive frustration was heightened in the fourth quarter when a Bradley touchdown pass to Tim Hornoff was nullified by an illegal motion penalty following a fumble. The Tigers were held to Verrilli’s 41-yard field goal.
On the next series, Quinn, looking for an absent pitch man on an option, lost another fumble at the NU 32. That threat died when Bradley was stopped for a six-yard loss by Jimmy Williams on fourth down.
“Our backs were beat up, and they lost their concentration. That’s the first time I can remember that we had backs run the wrong way about four times on options,” Osborne said.
The final total had Nebraska leading in rushing yards, 351-135, and total yards, 482-347. Missouri led in passing, 229-151.
Afterward, Osborne, who has answered similar questions after games with Kansas and Colorado, was asked why he did not run out the clock on the final play.
“I was just trying to further my image for running up the score,” he said with a smile. Seriously, he answered: “I’m not going to tell my players not to score. I couldn’t ask them to not come out of the huddle. I hope Missouri doesn’t take that last touchdown personally. It would have been different if we had called time out. We called the pass to control the football.
Powers did not question the final touchdown when a Missouri writer suggested the Huskers tried to rub the Tigers’ noses in the turf. “I don’t know about that; all I know is we’re still 3-1 in the conference.”
|Yards per carry||3.8||5.1|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Penn State||Sept. 27|
|Florida State||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Mississippi State||Dec. 27|
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