LINCOLN — Welcome back to a normal October football Saturday at Nebraska.
The student section at Memorial Stadium broke out the beach balls in the second quarter. The opponent trailed by 36 points at halftime. Some of the 76,244 fans departed midway through the third quarter. Those who stayed cheered lustily as the Huskers threatened to score a 10th touchdown as time expired.
None of that last-minute magic from the week before was needed as seventh- and ninth-ranked Nebraska bombed Missouri 63-6, sticking the Tigers with their fifth-worst loss in history.
“I thought it might turn into somewhat of a scoring contest,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said.
But it was no contest after the 6-1 Huskers scored touchdowns on eight straight possessions from the first through the third quarters, while the nation’s No. 81 defense held a 25-point-a-game offense without a touchdown.
Quarterback Keithen McCant led a turnover-free Husker attack by accounting for 268 yards of total offense and four touchdowns before a shoulder bruise sidelined him with 10:23 left in the third quarter.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll be ready.”
I-back Derek Brown, slowed by the flu Tuesday and Wednesday, added 118 yards rushing on 18 carries and two touchdowns.
The sophomore’s string of seven straight 100-yard games trails only Bobby Reynolds’ eight in 1950 and Mike Rozier’s 11 in 1983. He is just 63 yards short of becoming the school’s 12th 1,000-yard rusher.
On defense, Nebraska gave up 261 yards (77 rushing and 184 passing) — matching its season-low — and forced three turnovers, all of which led to touchdowns.
“Overall, it was a good job,” Osborne said. “At times, we didn’t do a great job on our returns.
“But other than that, it was hard to find a lot of fault.
NU’s victory in combination with Colorado’s 10-0 struggle over Kansas State creates this week’s battle for first place in the Big Eight between the Huskers and Buffaloes, co-leaders at 3-0.
Few have given Nebraska much chance to win at Boulder in light of CU’s 34-17 road romp over Oklahoma.
NU tight end Johnny Mitchell said he doesn’t care.
“As long as the top 60 players and the coaching staff believes,” he said, “we don’t care what anybody else thinks.
“We don’t care about all the hype and the media. We’re the ones who are playing.”
Husker strong safety Steve Carmer said the blowout of Missouri will brighten the Huskers’ outlook.
“This was great,” he said. “It helps to have a game like this before Colorado. At least we know we’re capable of this.”
The worry entering Saturday was how to stop Missouri’s passing attack, rated higher than the one Kansas State used the previous week to scare the Huskers before falling 38-31.
But whatever problems Nebraska has had stopping the pass, quadruple it and that’s the difficulty Missouri has had against the run.
The Huskers exploited that weakness early and often, burying the third-to-last rushing defense in the country with 511 yards while adding 170 passing.
Osborne shrugged off questions about Nebraska’s readiness to play, saying he noticed little difference in the way the Huskers prepared for Missouri in comparison to Kansas State.
But nearly all the players interviewed said they did.
“When we practiced for Kansas State, we weren’t as intense,” said outside linebacker Travis Hill, whose second-quarter fumble recovery set up a touchdown. “The coaches were after us all week this week.
“So we practiced well all week and it showed on the field.”
Missouri caused some early squirming by stopping Nebraska on its first possession and then moving deep into Husker territory.
Quarterback Phil Johnson hit passes of 23 yards to flanker Skip Leach and 36 yards to split end Kenneth Dunn out of a no-huddle offense to reach the NU 22.
But two incompletions and a fumbled snap stalled the drive. So Jeff Jacke kicked a 42-yard field goal for a 3-0 Missouri lead with 11:36 left in the first quarter.
“The Missouri offense said in the papers that they were going to come in and pass at will,” Carmer said. “But when the game first started, even when they hit a couple, they didn’t seem to have much emotion.
“Fortunately, we stopped them early and kept their emotion level down.”
Nebraska came right back after the field goal to drive 81 yards for a touchdown in seven plays.
McCant completed a 9-yard pass to Brown, ran for 20 yards and eventually fired a 27-yard touchdown pass to split end Jon Bostick for a 7-3 lead with 8:57 left in the first quarter.
The Husker defense, which failed to force a turnover against Kansas State, got one on the next series.
Cornerback Kenny Wilhite swiped a Johnson pass and returned it 17 yards to the Tiger 44.
Three plays later, McCant optioned left and zipped 36 yards for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
“The option was pretty much there whenever we wanted it,” McCant said.
A 16-yard holding penalty forced Missouri to punt again. Nebraska scored this time in five plays. McCant’s 35-yard pass to split end Tyrone Hughes and Brown’s 30-yard run were the big plays before Brown danced in from the 5 for a 21-3 lead with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
Missouri used two 11-yard completions to reach the NU 25 before stalling. Jacke kicked a 47-yard field goal into a 15-mph north wind to close the gap to 21-6 with 11:31 left in the half.
But the Tiger defense offered little resistance as Nebraska churned out another a 74-yard touchdown drive. McCant capped it with a 7-yard pass to Mitchell and a 28-3 lead with 5:51 left in the second quarter.
Hill’s recovery of Johnson’s fumbled snap at the Missouri 17 set up a 5-yard touchdown run for I-back Calvin Jones.
After one Missouri first down, Nebraska got the ball back 86 yards away with 1:37 to go. And the Huskers didn’t sit on it.
McCant slipped five tackles on an option play and galloped 49 yards to the Tiger 26. Two plays later, he drilled a 21-yard TD pass to Hughes for a 42-6 lead with 12 seconds left in the half.
Osborne said the key to the offensive explosion was no turnovers and few penalties.
“If you don’t turn it over and don’t have many penalties,” he said, “we’re going to move the ball against most people.”
The Huskers scored on their first two possessions of the second half.
After McCant was injured on a 15-yard run to the Missouri 16, Mickey Joseph came on for the final six plays of the drive, which Brown ended with a 5-yard touchdown run.
I-back Scott Baldwin, making his first appearance since suffering ankle and knee injuries in the first quarter of the season-opener, gained 28 yards in five carries on the next drive.
He scored the touchdown on a 1-yard run. But Baldwin also was reinjured. A dislocated shoulder likely will keep him out three to four weeks.
I-back George Achola finished the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run with 9:04 left in the game.
The loss dropped Missouri’s road record in three years under Coach Bob Stull to 2-11. Against teams with winning records in that time, the Tigers have lost by an average score of 50-9.
|Yards per carry||2.4||7.5|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Utah State||Sept. 7|
|Colorado State||Sept. 14|
|Arizona State||Sept. 28|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Oct. 19|
|Iowa State||Nov. 16|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
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