COLUMBIA, Mo. — Nebraska center Dave Rimington looked at Turner Gill’s jersey at halftime and knew the Cornhusker quarterback had been operating under considerable duress.
“He had more grass stains than I did,” said Rimington. “That’s not a good sign.”
Gill’s white jersey was green from spending so much time on Faurof Field as the target of a Missouri defense that was using relentless blitzing as its strategy.
For 59 minutes and 37 seconds the Tiger defensive efforts had paid off. For that same length of time the 72,001 spectators and a regional television audience watched and waited for the breakthrough that would decide an epic defensive struggle.
The watching and waiting finally ended with high drama that is typical of the Missouri-Nebraska series. It ended with Gill handing off to fullback Phil Bates, and Bates, following a little advice from Rimington, scored on a 3-yard trap play to give Nebraska a 6-0 victory.
Bates crossed the goal line with just 23 seconds remaining in the game, producing perhaps the most important points the Huskers have or will score this season and the most costly scored on the Tigers.
The win kept Nebraska’s Big Eight Conference record perfect at 3-0. The Huskers, 5-2 overall, thus continued their status as the only team with an unblemished league record.
The setback most likely eliminated Missouri from the conference race with the Tigers’ league mark dropping to 1-2. Missouri is 5-2 overall.
Todd Brown, who caught passes of 24 and 21 yards from Gill on the winning drive, said the manner in which the Huskers won was also important.
“It built a lot of character,” said Brown.
“It’s something we haven’t done for a long time is come back right at the end and win. I never felt we would lose the whole game. That’s something hard to build in players, but we’ve got a bunch of players who feel that way.”
Nebraska was seemingly in position for a winning field goal when they reached the Tiger 3 after starting its last-chance drive at cracking the Missouri defense from the Husker 36 with just 2:36 left in the game.
But the Husker kicker Kevin Seibel had missed three previous attempts. A field goal from the 3 is just the same as an extra point, and Seibel had made a school-record 56 straight conversions entering this game.
Ironically, Seibel’s streak ended when he missed his kick following the touchdown.
“We thought we could kick a field goal from there,” said Coach Tom Osborne. “We just wanted to run a trap up the middle. The quarterback was prepared to audible a pass if he saw it. It wasn’t there. We were fortunate. We thought it might be 3-0. It turned out to be six.”
Osborne said Seibel “Didn’t have a very good day. But even the pros have that happen.”
Missouri took a timeout before the touchdown play. Bates, describing the Husker huddle during the timeout, said, “Everybody was enthusiastic. We wanted to get it in.”
It was during the timeout that Rimington offered Bates the advice that he followed into the end zone.
“Dave told me to stay to the right because they were trying to take the trap away. They were putting guys in the hole. I went off to the right after I got the handoff.”
Tackle Dan Hurley and guard Tom Carlstrom threw the key blocks.
“Hurley and Carlstrom caved it down. It was a pretty easy touchdown,” said Bates.
Rimington said the blocking plan on the 34 trap, the touchdown play, is to split the two defensive players in the hole.
“I talked to Phil because we were having trouble splitting it,” Rimington said. “We were having trouble with it the whole day because they were playing so tight.”
Rimington said he made a check call that changed the line’s blocking.
“I was hoping it would work enough for 3 yards,” he said. “It worked pretty good. I didn’t know that he was going to follow that advice because of the pressure. I was happy it worked out.”
Nebraska’s coaches saluted the defensive efforts of both teams afterward. If Missouri had managed to preserve its shutout the 0-0 tie would have been the first involving a Nebraska team since 1938 when the Huskers and Indiana played to a scoreless tie. Missouri and Minnesota played a 0-0 game in 1962.
Missouri was the fourth Husker opponent in a row that hasn’t scored a touchdown.
“These guys played better defense today than any team I’ve ever been around,” said Charlie McBride, Nebraska defensive line coach.
Nebraska held Missouri to 85 yards rushing, the fourth opponent Nebraska has limited to under 100 yards this season. Missouri passed for 108 yards and finished with total production of 193.
McBride said the Huskers recent stinginess in allowing touchdowns “doesn’t mean a thing to me but it does to the players. It says something for the way they played.”
Missouri had only three serious scoring possibilities while initiating only 10 plays from the scrimmage on Nebraska’s half of the field. Nebraska, getting plenty of breaks that it couldn’t capitalize on, ran 48 of its plays in Missouri territory.
Missouri could have scored early if George Shorthose had held on to a Mike Hyde pass on the Tigers’ first possession. Shorthose was wide open deep in the Husker secondary when he dropped the pass.
In the second quarter Missouri’s Bob Luchessi missed a 40-yard field goal attempt. Seibel’s misses were a 26-yarder in the second quarter, a 42-yarder in the third quarter and a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Missouri’s only trip into Nebraska territory in the second half came when Bob Meyer broke a 37-yard run from the Tiger 29 to the Husker 34.
“After that is when we really played,” said McBride. “That’s when it counts. You have to suck it up and decide what you want to do — either give it to them or play twice as hard. That’s what we did.”
Two big plays at that point were Tony Felici sacking Hyde for a 4-yard loss on second down and pressuring Hyde into an incompletion on fourth down.
Felici was the defensive ringleader in a Husker effort that produced 18 tackles for losses totaling 63 yards.
Felici had five of those tackles for 23 yards in losses.
“I told (Husker tackle) Scott Raridon before the game I was keyed up because it was on TV and I was going to try to get the quarterback every play. I was really motivated.”
The blitz was the weapon most disruptive to the Husker offense, which finished with 222 yards rushing and 99 passing for a total of 321.
The blitzing was a big reason why the Huskers missed on all nine of their passing attempts in the first half.
“Their defensive coaches did a great job,” said Osborne. “They used a lot of blitzes and timed them very well. Their people did a good job of man-to-man coverage and their defensive coordinator did an awfully good job of timing them (the blitzes) right.”
The tone of defensive dominance was established early as the Tigers turned back two excellent Nebraska opportunities.
The Huskers’ first possession started at the 32 after a 26-yard Eric Schmidt punt into the wind. It ended with Gill losing a fumble at the Tiger 19.
Next, the Huskers weren’t able to take advantage when Felici picked off a Tiger fumble. Andy Gibler made his only reception, but bobbled the ball and Felici got it on the Missouri 39.
Gill was sacked for an 8-yard loss by safety Kevin Potter, the main blitzer to thwart that opportunity.
Nebraska’s Jeff Krejci intercepted a Hyde pass to give the Huskers another break in the second quarter. Krejci returned the ball to the Missouri 22. The Huskers came up with nothing again when a fake field goal didn’t work.
The play was a pass from Mark Mauer, the holder, intended for Bates, who had tried to deceive the Tiger defense by acting like he was trying to get off the field. He was actually just in motion and turned up field alone for the pass that was thrown short.
Osborne said the play was copied from one Creighton Prep used in a high school game this season.
“It’s a good play,” he said. “Tell them that they just executed better than we did. We take a lot of plays from high school teams.”
Osborne said the reason the last Husker drive succeeded where the others had failed was “because we got a little more time to throw the ball. A couple of times they didn’t blitz and we hit a pass or two.”
Gill said that on the final drive “they didn’t blitz. They gave me time to throw. Maybe that was a mistake for them.”
Nebraska returns home next week to put its four-game winning streak on the line against Kansas. Missouri will try to bounce back from two straight losses in a home game against Oklahoma State.
|Yards per carry||2.3||4.0|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
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