LINCOLN — In order, Nebraska’s “sputtering” offense blew out the cobwebs and Missouri.
The Huskers, ranked No. 2 and 7 last week in the major polls, rang up five touchdowns Saturday in the first 19 1/2 minutes and scored on 11 of their first 13 possessions to rout the Tigers 69-21 before 76,317 fans at Memorial Stadium. NU moved to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big Eight. Missouri, which came within a disputed last-play touchdown of upsetting defending league champion Colorado last week, dropped to 2-4 and 0-2.
Quarterback Mickey Joseph, the starter in Husker victories of 60-14 over Northern Illinois and 56-0 over Minnesota, made his third start of the season his best with touchdown runs of 15, 5, 2 and 3 yards and a 10-yard TD pass.
In those three starts, Joseph has had a hand in 12 touchdowns — seven rushing and five passing — and Nebraska has piled up offensive yardage totals of 549, 564 and 622 while averaging nearly 62 points a game.
Which leads to the inevitable question. Has the junior from Marrero, La., secured the No. 1 quarterback job?
“I don’t think so,” Joseph said.
Neither does Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne.
Referring to the offensive totals, Osborne said: “Mickey didn’t average that. The whole team did. We played well, and Mickey played well.
“But the wheels came off there a little.”
Osborne was referring to the first series of the third quarter when Joseph livened up a 45-14 game.
“I got a little out of hand,” Joseph said.
On second down at the NU 33, he rolled right on the option, reversed his field, cut back right again, ran into guard Jim Wanek, then bolted up the field for 39 yards — the longest run of his career.
At the end of that drive, Joseph rolled out into the open from the MU 17, but chose to throw to tight end Johnny Mitchell at the goal line. Missouri strong safety Harry Colon intercepted, which earned Joseph a seat on the bench the next time NU got the ball.
“One of the things that makes Mickey good is he is confident and has a little flamboyance,” Osborne said. “But that’s also one of the things that can cause Mickey problems. He still needs to play within the system.
“But we can settle that. I don’t think he’ll do that again.”
Joseph said Osborne drove that point home on the bench, chiding him for high school-style free-lancing.NU’s Team Meeting
“He was kind of upset,” Joseph said. “But after awhile, he calmed down and told me to get back in the game.”
Joseph returned to polish statistics that show he:
>> Ran nine times for 95 yards and four touchdowns.
>> Hit 4 of 8 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions.
>> Led touchdown drives of 76, 21, 80, 56, 61, 40, 69 and 59 yards as Nebraska sprinted to leads of 28-7 after the first quarter, 45-14 at halftime and 69-14 early in the fourth quarter.
“The offense came out and played,” NU strong safety Reggie Cooper said. “They were good, and Mickey played darn good.”
Despite ranking fourth nationally in scoring offense and 11th in total offense, the Huskers had caught some grief the past two weeks for trailing Oregon State 7-3 at halftime and leading Kansas State by only 10-2 at half.
“That shouldn’t happen to Nebraska’s offense,” said co-captain Wanek, who helped call a team meeting Monday before practice.
“It wasn’t a thing where we pointed fingers at each other,” he said. “It was just a matter of everyone, especially on offense, having to pick it up and get a little more focused because we weren’t playing near to our capabilities.”
Does 69 points and 622 yards against the No. 84 defense in the country prove anything?
“I hope this answered any questions,” Joseph said. “But we’re not worried about our critics. You’re always going to have critics. We can’t base our offense on critics.”
Osborne said NU’s first-in-the-country defense probably will face criticism now after allowing three touchdowns — one more than in the first five games combined — and 382 total yards, 211 above average.
But none will come from the coaches.
“The defense played well,” Osborne said. “They gave up a few more yards than they have before, but the main thing is the final score.”
Missouri was seventh nationally in passing entering the game, and the Tigers threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
“Nebraska doesn’t always lose when they play passing teams,” Osborne said. “If we play a passing team that has a better defense than we do or if the turnovers are different, we’re going to lose.
“But there is nothing magical about running the ball or throwing the ball. There is no one way to win. So I’d like to have people think about this.”
But most are likely to remember a nearly flawless first half in which NU scored six TDs and a field goal in eight drives.
The Huskers took the opening kickoff and marched 76 yards in nine plays.
I-back Leodis Flowers carried the first five plays for 55 yards, including a 33-yard sweep. He finished with his fourth straight 100-yard game — 111 yards in 16 carries — before leaving just before halftime with a bruised knee.
Joseph added a 20-yard bootleg to the 1. Flowers scored three plays later and Gregg Barrios kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 10:59 left.
It was the third time this season Nebraska has scored on its first possession. All three were in Joseph’s starts.
“Anytime we open the game with a score,” Wanek said,”that breeds a lot of confidence. Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.”
NU got the ball back five plays later when middle guard Pat Engelbert recovered Missouri quarterback Kent Kiefer’s center-snap fumble at the Tigers’ 21.
Flowers ran for 10 yards, then Joseph rolled right, eluded a rush and found split end Jon Bostick with a 10-yard TD pass and a 14-0 lead with 9:23 left in the first quarter.
After passes of 15 yards to split end Linzy Collins and 26 yards to fullback Michael Jones, Kiefer threw a hitch pass to Skip Leach. The flanker lateraled to a trailing Jones for 22 yards to the NU 13.
Kiefer found Jones with a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays later. Jeff Jacke’s PAT kick cut the gap to 14-7 with 6:47 to go in the first quarter.
I-back Derek Brown’s 44-yard kickoff return helped Nebraska toward its next score. Joseph finished it with a juking 15-yard option run for a touchdown. That put NU up 21-7 less than 12 minutes into the game.
Nebraska jammed in another touchdown before the quarter ended.
I-back Scott Baldwin, who left in the second quarter with bruised ribs, carried four times for 57 yards on the drive, including a 33-yard burst. Joseph danced in around left end from the 5 as time expired for a 28-7 lead.
Another three-downs-and-out possession for Missouri and wingback Nate Turner’s 12-yard punt return set the Huskers up again at the MU 40. Fullback Lance Lewis ran for 13 yards and Baldwin for 11 before Joseph capped the seven-play drive with a 2-yard run, putting NU up 35-7 with 10:37 left in the half.
“I was kind of surprised at the way the thing went,” Osborne said.
Especially with some key players missing — alternate No. 1 tight ends William Washington (sprained ankle) and Chris Garrett (broken ankle), No. 1 offensive left tackle Tom Punt (flu) and alternate No. 1 right guard Erik Wiegert (jammed neck).
“It was kind of like we were without three or four starters, and we still functioned pretty well,” Osborne said. “Missouri has some big strong kids, and I thought we’d have a little trouble moving the ball.”
Kiefer restarted Missouri’s offense with seven straight passes. His 37-yard toss to split end Damon Mays got the Tigers into NU territory at the 17. After a loss, Kiefer hit Collins in the end zone, but a holding penalty nullified the play.
Nebraska continued to push Missouri back, forcing a third and 31 at the NU 38. But Kiefer fired consecutive passes of 25, 9 and 4 yards to Jones to close the gap to 35-14 with 7:53 to play in the half.
Kiefer finished 16 of 31 for 202 yards and two touchdowns before resting in the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to give that guy some credit,” NU’s Engelbert said. “He took some shots. But he held the ball until the last second he could.”
Mike Grant replaced Joseph at quarterback and took Nebraska to a field goal. His 23-yard pass to Brown was the big play before Barrios’ 31-yard field goal put NU ahead 38-14 with 5:41 to go.
Nebraska cornerback Tahaun Lewis intercepted Kiefer on the first play after the field goal. Missouri free safety Niu Sale intercepted Joseph on Nebraska’s next play. Then NU free safety Tyrone Byrd intercepted Kiefer six plays later to set up the final TD of the half.
Joseph’s 36-yard pass to Mitchell, his first career catch, moved NU to the Missouri 9. Joseph scored from the 3 two plays later for a 45-14 lead with 1:17 to go.
In the second half, Nebraska broke to a 69-14 lead on Barrios’ 38-yard field goal, Brown’s 23-yard run, Mitchell’s 15-yard pass from Grant and quarterback Tom Haase’s 6-yard run. Missouri got an 11-yard TD from No. 3 quarterback Phil Johnson to flanker Victor Bailey to end the scoring with 6:36 to play.
Osborne said he doesn’t feel the NU offense was on a mission Saturday.
“They practiced well and just did what they had to do,” he said. “We’ve played a couple of teams that have played hard against us and changed up on us. But it doesn’t mean we have a bad offense.”
|Yards per carry||2.1||7.2|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 8|
|Oregon State||Sept. 29|
|Kansas State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Iowa State||Oct. 27|
|Georgia Tech||Jan. 1|
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