LINCOLN — Missouri discovered Saturday that hiding its offense behind closed doors for a week to try to get ready for Nebraska was a pointless task.
In a 57-0 loss to the second-ranked Huskers, the Tigers became NU's first shutout victim in 19 games, snapped the ball in NU territory only three times until the final six minutes and finished with 122 total yards. That's the second-fewest yards Nebraska has allowed in a game in the past 5 1/2 seasons.
"We've been looking for a shutout all season, and we finally accomplished it," said Husker roverback Mike Minter, who caused a fumble that led to a touchdown. "We wanted to prove to the nation that we've got a tough defense.
"We dominated them. That's all you can say."
Nebraska's defensive performance before 75,552 fans at Memorial Stadium wasn't a surprise, considering the struggles Missouri (2-4 overall, 0-2 Big Eight) has had offensively.
The Tigers now have gone 10 quarters without a touchdown. They closed practice last week, put all quarterbacks off limits to reporters and pulled true freshman quarterback Corby Jones out of a redshirt year to try to shake things up.
But the installation of some option plays and the use of three quarterbacks by halftime couldn't help Missouri's Larry Smith avoid his worst loss in 19 years as a head coach.
The shakeup also didn't shake Nebraska up. At least not for long.
"We were kind of antsy early because they had their practices closed all week," NU rush end Jared Tomich said. "We were wondering what they were going to come out with.
"But it wasn't that much different. They tried a little option. But we practice against the best option offense every day. I don't know what they were thinking."
While the defense sparkled, Nebraska's No. 1-ranked offense sputtered midway into the second quarter before smoothing out to produce 41 points in a 19 1/2-minute stretch.
Quarterback Tommie Frazier ran for three touchdowns (29, 1 and 1 yards) and passed for two more (29 and 6 yards) to break Steve Taylor's school record for touchdowns accounted for in a career.
Taylor had 62 (32 rushing, 30 passing). After his career-high five touchdowns Saturday, Frazier has 64 (33 passing, 31 rushing) with six games to play.
The season-low 475 total yards was 181 fewer than the Huskers' average. But NU Coach Tom Osborne said turnovers were a factor as Nebraska started drives in Missouri territory three times after fumbles or interceptions.
"That's part of the reason why the offensive yardage wasn't what it has been," he said. "We had such good field position that we didn't have to go very far.
"We sputtered a little offensively at times. But you've got to take into account what you're going against. Missouri has a decent defensive football team. They're probably not the best in the Big Eight, but they probably are one of the top three or four."
For the second straight game, Nebraska (6-0, 2-0) struggled offensively in the first quarter.
The Huskers chose to kick off with the 25-mph north wind to start the game, and the strategy paid off as they held Missouri on three downs and took over at the MU 46.
But Nebraska didn't convert immediately. A seven-play drive ended at the Missouri 3 when true freshman I-back Ahman Green, who gained 90 yards in 15 carries in his first start, was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1.
Frazier said that failure was an eye-opener.
"It made us come back and think twice," he said. "I pulled the offense off to the side and said we've got to get it in gear."
After the Blackshirts held on three plays again, a 29-yard punt into the wind help set up NU at the Missouri 31. On the second play, Frazier scored on a 29-yard run option run. Kris Brown's extra point put NU up 7-0 with 7:08 left in the first quarter.
Missouri got its best field position two series later when Nebraska's Jesse Kosch shanked a 19-yard punt out of bounds at the NU 35.
But the Husker defense forced a third-and-22 situation, then free safety Tony Veland intercepted a bomb and returned it 43 yards to the MU 49.
Nebraska's offense stalled again after six plays and was forced to punt. But the Blackshirts took the ball back when Tomich recovered tailback Brock Olivo's fumble at the Missouri 27. Olivo, averaging 102 yards a game rushing, finished with 10 yards on 11 carries.
It took Nebraska six plays from there—including two tries from the 1—before Frazier sneaked in on fourth-and-goal to give NU a 14-0 lead with 5:24 left in the second quarter.
"We were up and down," Frazier said. "I don't know if it was a lack of concentration or whether they were doing something different. They did have a couple of different schemes."
The Husker offense finally showed some spark on its next drive. Fullback Jeff Makovicka ran for 11 and 17 yards, and tight end Mark Gilman caught a 33-yard pass from Frazier to the MU 3. Frazier scored two plays later from the 1 for a 21-0 lead with 3:00 to go.
The half looked as if it would end uneventfully after a Nebraska punt with 30 seconds left. But Missouri tight end Miguel Gonzalez, after a 10-yard catch, fumbled the ball when hit by Minter. Middle linebacker Doug Colman recovered at the MU 38.
Nebraska gained 9 yards in three plays, leaving only seven seconds left on the clock. So Frazier threw deep to wingback Jon Vedral near the goal line. As Vedral and Missouri defensive back Clayton Baker battled for the ball, it deflected into the end zone and into the hands of NU split end Brendan Holbein for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
"That's not the way we practice it," Frazier said, grinning, "but we'll take it."
If that play wasn't a backbreaker, Holbein said, it produced a momentum swing that Missouri couldn't stop.
"We got a real big boost from scoring on the last play of the half, " he said. "We came out and pretty much got it going after that."
In the third quarter, Nebraska went three plays and out on its first series, then exploded after weakside linebacker Terrell Farley blocked a punt for a safety that put NU up 30-0.
After the ensuing free kick, Nebraska romped 60 yards in five plays with Green scoring from the 9 for a 37-0 lead.
On the Huskers' next possession, Frazier's 36-yard pass to Vedral sparked a five-play, 58-yard drive capped by Frazier's 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sheldon Jackson. Brown missed the extra point-his first after 31 straight successful kicks—to keep the score 43-0.
Then with Matt Turman at quarterback, the Huskers rolled 68 yards in five plays to score. Wingback Riley Washington's 40-yard run on a reverse set up Turman's 1-yard plunge that put NU up 50-0 with 1:01 left in the third quarter.
I-back Damon Benning's 16-yard touchdown run with 11:26 left in the game ended the scoring.
After pounding six straight opponents by an average of 41 points a game, Nebraska now faces four teams in the next five games that are or have been ranked in the Top 10.
"From here on, it's different," Osborne said. "We're going to get Kansas State, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma. Those are all pretty solid teams. And Iowa State is a decent team, too.
"So there's nothing easy left that I can see. But that's good. I enjoy that challenge. The players do, too. They're looking forward to some tough games, and we're going to get them."
|Yards per carry||1.0||6.7|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 31|
|Michigan State||Sept. 9|
|Arizona State||Sept. 16|
|Washington State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 4|
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