LINCOLN — Missouri usually plays Nebraska close in football, and the Tigers did so again Saturday — for about a half.
But by the time the No. 3-ranked Huskers finished, Missouri, not 1-5, needed two late touchdowns to avoid its second-worst loss to NU in 64 years.
A touchdown just before halftime and three more in the third quarter allowed Nebraska, now 6-0, to break away to a 48-17 win before 76,005 at Memorial Stadium, the 147th straight home sellout.
“I was generally pleased with the way things went today,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said.
One of the most pleasing things was the work of I-back Keith Jones and his new partner at the position, Tyreese Knox.
Jones, a junior from Omaha, carried 15 times for 73 yards and scored touchdowns of 1 and 10 yards. Knox, the sophomore from Daly City, Calif., who switched from fullback to I-back last Monday, rambled for 127 yards in eight carries and also scored two touchdowns.
One run by the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Knox was a 92-yarder for a touchdown, the longest ever against Missouri and the Huskers’ longest since Mike Rozier bolted 93 yards for a TD against Kansas State in 1981.
“He gives us a little punch at I-back that we maybe have been lacking,” Osborne said. “With Keith and Tyreese, we’ve got a couple of pretty good players there who can make some things happen.”
The offense needed a little punch after last week’s season-low yardage total of 333 against Oklahoma State.
The Huskers responded with 524 total yards-414 rushing and 110 passing-though things started slowly against a team ranked 79th in the country in total defense.
After Nebraska fell behind 3-0 when Missouri took the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards for a field goal, the Huskers sputtered to two Dale Klein field goals despite starting with good field position.
The three-pointers, the 23rd and 24th of Klein’s career, broke Billy Todd’s school record of 22 in 1977-78.
When it was 6-3 early in the second quarter, the game began to look like last year’s. In that one, Nebraska needed an NCAA-record seven-for-seven field-goal performance from Klein to beat Missouri 28-20.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” NU linebacker Keven Parsons said. “When the defense came over to the sideline, we were saying, “We can’t have another game like last year. We’ve got to make something happen.”
“Pretty soon, we got some turnovers and some field position, and the dam began to break.’
The first hole punched in the dam might have been the most damaging.
With about a minute left in the first half, Nebraska-leading 13-3-forced Missouri to punt from its 25.
Tom Whelihan booted it 44 yards, but NU wingback Dana Brinson weaved his way back 23 yards to the Missouri 46.
Taylor immediately got 18 yards with a pass to split end Robb Schnitzler. Then, spying a blitz while calling signals on the next play, Taylor audibled to a fullback trap that Ken Kaelin took 28 yards to a touchdown for a 20-3 lead with 36 seconds left in the half.
“We just don’t have enough depth and skilled players right now to compete with Nebraska,” Missouri Coach Woody Widenhofer said.
In the second half, the broken Missouri dam produced waves of big Nebraska plays.
The Huskers took the second-half kickoff and then romped 79 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown.
Jones’ 10-yard run grew by 15 when Missouri safety Stan Long hit him late for a personal foul. Jones raced for 16 more and Taylor hit split end Rod Smith for 26 yards to set up Jones’ 1-yard TD run on fourth and goal. Klein’s third extra point of the day made it 27-3 with 9:59 left in the third quarter.
After forcing a Missouri punt in three plays, Nebraska scored in one.
Brinson motored toward the east sideline on a counter sweep, cut back behind a wall of blocks-the last by Jones-and ran 63 yards for his second touchdown of the season. Klein’s kick made it 34-3 with 8:06 left in the period.
After three more plays and a punt, Smith’s 16-yard punt return got Nebraska to the 50.
Backup quarterback Clete Blakeman led the drive from there, as his 20-yard rollout and Brinson’s 14-yard run set up Knox’s 2-yard TD run.
That made it 41-3 Nebraska, capping a 28-point burst in an 11:44 span.
“Coach Osborne stressed before the game that it was time for a big day from the offense,” said Smith, who caught two passes fo 40 yards and returned three punts for 40 yards.
“I think the reason things didn’t go so well early is that Missouri played some good football. It was a matter of us continuing to pound at them because they had to have such high emotion to stay with us, and I didn’t think they could maintain it.”
Knox brought Missouri’s emotions to their lowest point with 9:36 remaining in the game when he roared 92 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Gregg Barrios’ conversion kick made it 48-3.
Missouri rallied with two touchdown passes in the final 5:28 against the third and fourth NU defenses.
Tiger quarterback Jeff Henningsen, a junior who played at Omaha Burke High, hit Brent Peterson with a 4-yarder and Robert Delphino with a 50-yarder to bring Missouri back to 48-17. Henningsen finished 9 of 20 for 122 yards and two interceptions.
“A lot of the guys playing in the fourth quarter were on the scout team, so they were at a disadvantage,” Osborne said. “They weren’t always lined up right, so we gave Missouri some chances.
Naturally, it doesn’t help our stats or scoring defense. But when the first unit was in, they played well after the first seven or eight minutes.
In those first seven or eight minutes, the Tigers took the ball and looked like they would never give it back.
Missouri, using a new look on offense, ran 16 plays and churned out 68 yards before settling for a field goal. The changes included a power-I formation, wider spacing between offensive lineman and more emphasis on straight-ahead running plays.
“Those are things they hadn’t shown much,” Osborne said.
“Certainly, that’s to their credit.”
A 17-yard pass from Henningsen to Herbert “Junebug’ Johnson and a 10-yard Darrell Wallace run helped move the Tigers to the NU 30.
After an illegal-procedure penalty, Henningsen hit Ed Esson for 9 yards and scrambled for 8 to give Missouri a first down at the Nebraska 18.
The Huskers finally stiffened at the 12, and Whelihan kicked a 29-yard field goal that gave Missouri a 3-0 lead with 8:38 left in the period. That marked the first time since the season-opener against Florida State that the Huskers haven’t scored first.
But that was the last time Missouri made it into Nebraska territory until the 10:24 mark of the fourth quarter.
“It just took us awhile to adjust and get a feel for what they were going to run,” Parsons said. “After that, we did what we had to stop them.”
Missouri did become the first team to gain 100 yards rushing against Nebraska this season. The Tigers got 171, but 91 of that came in the fourth quarter.
Following an exchange of punts after Missouri’s first score, Taylor gave the Huskers their first down of the game. It came on a 6-yard run with 3:29 left in the first quarter.
He followed that two plays later with a 13-yard completion to tight end Todd Milikan. On third and 12 from the Missouri 44, Taylor hit Jason Gamble for 21 yards, and 5 more were added when safety Erik McMillan grabbed Gamble’s face mask. But the drive stalled when Missouri blitzed on third and 10 at the 18 and linebacker Darren McDonald sacked Taylor for a loss of 9. Klein kicked a 44-yard field to tie the game at 3 with 14:13 left in the half.
On the first play after the field goal, Wallace fumbled and cornerback John Custard recovered-his first as a Husker-at the Tigers’ 31.
Jones raced 14 yards and fullback Micah Heibel 11 to get to the Missouri 6. But three plays from there produced just 2 yards, so Klein kicked a 21-yard field goal to make it 6-3 Nebraska with 11:17 left in the second quarter.
Smith’s 11-yard punt return put Nebraska in Missouri territory again at the 42. Taylor’s 14-yard pass to Smith and 9-yarder to Brinson moved the Huskers to the 19.
Three plays later, Jones bolted 10 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Klein kicked the extra point with 7:19 left to give Nebraska a 13-3 lead.
The Huskers, fifth in the nation in punt returns last week with a 13.6-yard average, returned seven punts Saturday for an 11.6-yard average.
“The punt-return team has been pretty effective the past couple of weeks in setting up the offense,” Smith said. “Like Coach Osborne says, field position is such a crucial part of the game.”
Missouri survived a Charles Fryar interception and appeared ready to get to halftime down by 10 points. But Nebraska’s last-minute score by Kaelin opened the door for the blowout.
“Offensively, I think we played a reasonably good football game,” Osborne said. “We played them much better this year than last year against mostly the same people.”
|Yards per carry||3.9||7.0|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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