COLUMBIA, Mo. — The secret is out. Tommie Frazier can play.
Frazier, believed to be Nebraska's first-ever true freshman to start at quarterback, scored three touchdowns Saturday to help seventh- and eighth-ranked Nebraska outlast Missouri 34-24.
"He's going to be a great franchise," NU I-back Derek Brown said after watching Frazier complete 9 of 20 passes for 157 yards and run 14 times for 77 yards and touchdowns of 3, 5 and 7 yards.
"I think he passed the test," center Jim Scott said. "He was a little nervous at times. And he messed up a couple of plays in the huddle. But overall he really played well."
Frazier, who NU coach Tom Osborne said earned his start on merit over senior Mike Grant, piled up 224 total yards, played without a turnover and was the key figure on all four Nebraska touchdown drives.
Frazier's final touchdown came after a Husker defense — scorched for a school-record 424 passing yards by MU quarterback Jeff Handy — pitched in with a goal-line stand and an interception in the fourth quarter.
The estimated 12,000 fans dressed in red among the 53,337 at Faurot Field didn't relax until the final two minutes.
That's when Nebraska, leading 27-24, gambled on fourth and goal at the Missouri 5.
And Osborne put the ball in Frazier's hands.
The 6-foot- 1, 200-pounder rolled right, tucked the ball away at the 3 and vaulted over three defenders into the end zone. That capped a 12-play, 49-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes.
"If we had kicked the field goal," Osborne said, "we would've been up by six. That's nice, but the way they had moved the ball on us at times, we weren't sure we wouldn't get beat by a point.
"So we went for it. We just put it in his hands to make a play. And he made a tremendous play."
Frazier, whose only first-half action before Saturday was one second-quarter series against Oklahoma State, was matter of fact in answering questions about his history-making start.
"It's just my first career start at Nebraska," said last year's USA Today All-America quarterback from Bradenton, Fla. "There are going to be many more like this.
"So I'm just going to remember this as my first start."
Osborne said he will remember it as much for Frazier's cool in the heat of an upset bid by 1-6 Missouri than for any specific plays.
"He was very stable," the coach said. "I'm sure there will be a mistake or two. But I couldn't see much from where I stood.
"We thought he played a good solid game and made the right decisions. And with one or two exceptions, he threw the ball well."
Will Frazier start Saturday for 5-1 Nebraska in a nationally televised showdown against 6-0-1 Colorado? NU is 2-0 in the Big Eight and CU 2-0-1. Kansas leads at 3-0.
"I would say it would be surprising if he didn't," Osborne said. "We'll look at it Monday and decide early in the week."
The secrecy surrounding Frazier's first start heightened interest in his performance.
Osborne said he decided Thursday to start Frazier, but made no announcement. Word began to leak out Friday, but Osborne still played coy Friday night.
"The thought was not to make a big deal about him starting just because of what we knew would happen with the media," Osborne said. "I know that's your business, and I'm sorry we didn't announce it earlier.
"I just didn't want to have him go through the hype and publicity that would surround it."
Grant, whose only action was one series in the second quarter, has been bothered by the flu and a muscle strain in his back first suffered at Washington.
"Mike didn't practice on Monday and was subpar Tuesday," Osborne said. "But by game time he was in good enough shape to play."
Did Grant's health lead Osborne to start Frazier?
"It certainly gave us a nudge in that direction," he said. "But Tommie deserved to start."
While focus on the quarterback situation has been intense, Osborne's main concern this week could be his defense.
Missouri's Handy, who threw for 480 yards a week ago, completed 29 of 44 against NU for 424 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers gained 236 yards in the second quarter alone while rallying from two touchdowns behind to tie the game at 14.
"We tried to pressure them early and play a lot of tight man-to-man, " Osborne said. "We couldn't do it.
"The playing surface wasn't that bad. I can't blame it on that. We had people run by us on four or five occasions."
Missouri has single-play pass gains of 20, 28, 31, 33, 34, 39 and 41 yards. Many of those came on "fade" routes — long, high-arcing passes to receivers getting single coverage.
"Normally if people throw 10 or 12 fades, they hit one or two, " Osborne said. "They're not a high-percentage ball.
"But today they hit 50 percent. We can't do that. We can't give up 30- to 40-yard passes."
Nebraska, up 24-14 at halftime, gave up a 39-yard touchdown pass from Handy to flanker Victor Bailey in the third quarter. That brought MU back to 24-21.
After NU's Byron Bennett kicked a 26-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 27-21 lead, Missouri stormed down the field again.
A 28-yard pass, a 15-yard pass interference call against Husker split end Tyrone Hughes — moonlighting at cornerback — and a 15-yard personal foul against strong safety Ernie Beler for a late hit helped get the Tigers to the 9.
But on a second-and-goal at the 6, NU outside linebacker Trev Alberts nailed tailback Mark Jackson for an 8-yard loss.
That forced Missouri's Jeff Jacke to kick a 25-yard field goal with 10:13 left, keeping Nebraska ahead 27-24.
"There wasn't a lot of talk in the huddle when they got that close," Alberts said. "Everybody knew what we needed.
"We had to have a big play, and we couldn't wait around for somebody to do it. Anybody could have done it. The only reason it was me was because they ran my way. The key was we did it."
Missouri forced Nebraska to punt and got the ball back with 7:54 to play at its 16.
But on the second play, Handy's pass for split end Mike Jadlot deflected off strong safety Steve Carmer and into the hands of Husker cornerback John Reece at the MU 49.
"Coming up big is something you hope you do as a team," Carmer said. "I think that says something about our defense.
"I know the offense was a little shaky about how we were playing. I'm just glad we could help."
After that interception, Frazier led the clinching TD drive.
In the first quarter, after a punt on the opening series, Frazier led touchdown drives of 75 and 81 yards to stake Nebraska to a 14-0 lead.
The first march took 12 plays. Frazier hit Brown with a screen pass for 22 yards, and both broke runs of 9 yards. Brown finished with 148 yards on 25 carries.
On a second-and-goal from the 3, Frazier optioned right, ran into a crowd of blockers and defenders, then cut hard left into the end zone.
After a Missouri punt five plays later, Frazier had a hand in the three biggest plays of the next NU scoring drive.
He hooked up with I-back Calvin Jones on an 18-yard screen pass. He pump faked away a pass rusher and drilled a 43-yard strike to wingback Vincent Hawkins, who made a diving catch at the MU 11. That was NU's longest pass play of the season.
Two plays later, Frazier optioned left and scored from the 7 to put Nebraska up 14-0 with 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
Missouri took only 56 seconds to strike back.
Handy fired passes of 34 yards to Jadlot and 31 yards to Bailey to get to the Nebraska 1. Jackson flew in for the touchdown from there to make it 14-7.
Grant replaced Frazier on Nebraska's next possession. On a third-and-one from the NU 36, the Huskers were penalized for illegal procedure and failed to make a first down when Jones slipped after a 2-yard gain.
Handy hit tight end A.J. Ofodile with a 13-yard TD pass on MU's next possession. Jacke's extra point tied the game at 14 with 11:19 left in the half.
Nebraska's defense gave up a 33-yard pass on MU's next possession before biting back.
Cornerback Kenny Wilhite intercepted Handy's deep crossing pass and returned it 49 yards to the Missouri 20.
Frazier again made the key plays to turn that possession into a touchdown.
His 8-yard run started the drive. Then on a third-and-goal from the 9, Frazier bobbled the snap, snatched it out of a pile, scrambled past three rushers and dived to the 1.
Jones leaped in on fourth and goal to put Nebraska up 21-14 with 4:49 to go.
Missouri got to the NU 46 on its next drive, but had to punt.
Nebraska was 84 yards away with 1:21 to go until half, but still managed a field goal.
Jones had runs of 12 and 9 yards and Frazier hit Hawkins for 9, Jones for 24 and Brown for 20 to the Tiger 9.
Brown's catch came with 16 seconds left near the east sideline. Nebraska huddled, thinking the play had been ruled out of bounds. But the officials started the clock after moving the chains.
Frazier tried to start a play, but used NU's final timeout with 2 seconds left. Bennett came on to kick a 26-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead at halftime.
Osborne said he was concerned about how Nebraska would perform after two open dates in the past three weeks.
"I think we were a little rusty," he said. "But at least it didn't show up in a lot of sloppy play."
Colorado's new passing attack — similar to Missouri's — is next.
"We're going to have to do better than we did today," Osborne said. "We tried the press - getting up in their face and pressuring.
"If we can't do it with Missouri, it will be a little tough with Colorado."
|Yards per carry||1.0||5.2|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Middle Tennessee State||Sept. 12|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
|Kansas State||Dec. 5|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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