COLUMBIA, Mo. — Now it's OK for Nebraska's football players to start thinking about Colorado.
In workmanlike fashion, the second-and third-ranked Huskers took care of one last piece of business Saturday before their long-awaited showdown with the Buffaloes, beating Missouri 42-7 in front of 50,537 at Faurot Field.
The victory sends the Huskers into this Saturday's 11 a.m. nationally televised game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with an 8-0 record and a nation-leading 21-game regular-season winning streak.
It appeared in the first quarter against 2-5 Missouri, though, that the Huskers' minds had fast-forwarded one week. They netted just 16 yards and no first downs on eight offensive plays.
"I wasn't sure we were ever going to get untracked," NU Coach Tom Osborne said.
But by the end of the game, the Huskers had rolled up 482 yards, I-back Lawrence Phillips had rushed for more than 100 yards for the eighth straight game and quarterback Brook Berringer had thrown for a career-high 152 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense, which has allowed a total of 16 points the past three games, carried the Huskers while the offense worked out its kinks.
The Blackshirts limited the Tigers to 198 total yards, their second-lowest output of the season, and cornerback Barron Miles helped account for two turnovers that all but killed Missouri's hopes of beating Nebraska for the first time in 16 tries.
After the game, senior offensive tackle Zach Wiegert declared the beginning of Colorado week. He emphasized, however, that it didn't officially start until after the clock ran out.
"I watched CNN this morning, and some guy said we were practicing Colorado last Monday," Wiegert said. "I just had to laugh. We haven't run one play for Colorado yet. If we had lost today, we would have dropped a lot further in the polls than if we would lose to Colorado.
"We had to win this game or next week wouldn't mean much."
As it is, this week's game will give the winner the inside track to the Big Eight championship, which NU has won or shared for three straight years, and keep alive its national title hopes.
Weakside linebacker Ed Stewart said the Huskers have prepped well.
"I personally feel Lawrence Phillips is one of the best running backs in the country, and we go against him in practice," Stewart said. "We also go against our offensive line, and if we can do that, we can play against anyone.
"Nobody scares me."
The Huskers didn't establish control over Missouri until the third quarter.
Holding a 14-0 halftime lead, the Huskers gave the Tigers an opening early in the third quarter when Berringer, running his only option play of the game, pitched wildly to Phillips deep in Nebraska territory. Phillips jumped for the ball but couldn't pull it in, and Missouri's Clayton Baker was there to scoop it up at the 10-yard line.
After tailback Brock Olivio ran to the 1-yard line on first down, Miles knocked the ball out of tailback Joe Freeman's hands and Stewart smothered it in the end zone for a touchback.
"I put my face on the ball," Miles said, "and it just came out."
The Huskers ended up punting, and on Missouri's next series, quarterback Jeff Handy moved his team from its 20 to the 48. But NU outside linebacker Dwayne Harris' sack put Missouri in a second-and-17 situation.
Miles then stepped in front of a Handy pass intended for Rahsetnu Jenkins for his fourth interception of the season and returned it 27 yards along the left sideline to the Missouri 23.
Six plays later, Berringer flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Gilman for a 21-0 lead.
For Miles, it was his second straight outstanding performance. Against Kansas State, he broke up a school-record six passes to earn defensive player of the week honors in the Big Eight and nationally by Athlon Sports Communications.
"I don't know if it's luck," Miles said, "but if it is, it's on my side right now."
Phillips, playing with a sprained left thumb, finished with 110 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries to raise his season total to 1,233. The sophomore from West Covina, Calif., and Bobby Reynolds (1950) are the only backs in NU history to open with eight straight 100-yard games.
Berringer, a junior from Goodland, Kan., completed 9 of 13 passes in passing for 152 yards. His previous best passing day was a 7-for-7 performance for 124 yards and one touchdown against North Texas last season.
Berringer, in addition to his scoring pass to Gilman, threw touchdown strikes of 30 yards to split end Brendan Holbein and 43 yards to split end Reggie Baul.
Damon Benning's second touchdown of the game, on a 2-yard run, closed NU's scoring 1:23 left in the game.
Missouri's only score came with 7:36 left on Handy's 34-yard pass to Jenkins.
Berringer had come into the game expecting to use Nebraska's entire offense, but he ended up running just one option, and that resulted in the turnover.
Osborne said the medical staff told him before the game that Berringer's contact should be limited, if possible. Berringer had suffered a partially collapsed left lung in the Wyoming and Oklahoma State games, and in the previous game at K-State he was limited while playing only the second half.
"Next week, the doctors feel, he should be 100 percent," Osborne said. "So we're a little bit out of the woods there."
But the quarterback situation received another in a series of blows when walk-on sophomore Matt Turman suffered a sprain to his right shoulder on a late hit by Jerome Madison. Turman gained 21 yards on the run with about three minutes left in the game.
The injury, which could sideline Turman for several weeks, forced Osborne to take true freshman Monte Christo out of his redshirt. Christo had returned to practice Monday after sitting out six weeks with a torn thumb ligament.
"He was prepared to be our No. 3 quarterback," Osborne said, "but we didn't want him to play, if we could help it. We went ahead and put him in there, but we didn't want to do it very badly. But I didn't want to play Berringer anymore, either."
Osborne said he's been pleased with Berringer's performance in his three starts since replacing Tommie Frazier, who is out for the season to undergo therapy for blood clots.
"Brook has had a chance to play in some tough games and get his feet under him," Osborne said. "Brook can do it all. Probably next week he'll have to. We can't sit on anything now."
After netting a total of 10 yards on their first two offensive series, the Huskers chugged 92 yards for their first touchdown.
"Missouri played us tough to start," Wiegert said. "They ran some stunts that we ran right into. And Lawrence slipped a couple of times. That turf was really slick. But once Brook got us going, we were in good shape."
Berringer kept for 13 and 9 yards and fullback Cory Schlesinger broke a 22-yard trap to highlight the initial, 14-play scoring drive. Phillips took a pitch and ran to the right corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 11:15 to play in the second quarter.
The Huskers went up 14-0 after the defense stuffed Mizzou for 3 yards in losses on its ensuing possession. Baul then returned Kyle Pooler's punt 10 yards to the MU 45, and a 15-yard personal foul on the Tigers at the end of the play set up the Huskers at the 30.
Fullback Jeff Makovicka broke free for 12 yards, and Berringer teamed with Gilman on a 6-yard pass before Benning, his path cleared by a Clester Johnson block on MU strong safety Andre White, raced untouched into the end zone from 9 yards out.
Missouri, which hasn't recorded a first down on its initial possession in any of its seven games, was successful in playing a ball-control offense on its second and third series. The Tigers went 34 yards in seven plays and 33 yards in 11, but the Huskers ultimately forced punts.
The Blackshirts' first big stop came after Missouri had mixed the run and short passing game to get to the NU 48. But defensive tackle Jason Pesterfield, making his first start because Terry Connealy was out with the flu, sacked Handy for a 13-yard loss on third down.
The Blackshirt defense held again after Handy had moved Mizzou to the Husker 38. But a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty followed by a 2-yard run and two incompletions brought out Pooler.
"Sometimes there's a temptation when you get a lead to let up a little bit," Osborne said, "but I don't think we did today."
|Yards per carry||1.7||5.7|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|West Virginia||Aug. 28|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 8|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 15|
|Iowa State||Nov. 12|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
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