LINCOLN — Nebraska's Blackshirts wore red faces following Saturday's night performance against Missouri.
The Huskers were able to extend their mastery of Missouri as a 42-24 victory before 77,744 at Memorial Stadium stretched Nebraska's winning streak in the series to 22 straight games. But that was hardly cause for celebration among the Blackshirts, who gave up 492 yards to a Missouri offense that came into the game ranked as one of the worst in the country.
"We did not play consistently on defense," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "We gave up way too many big plays. We were not able to get them into situations where it was three downs and out.
"We had some individuals who played hard, and we had some individuals who made some big plays. But as a unit, we need to improve on the defensive end of it."
The Huskers were able to counter its defensive shortcomings with another solid performance by quarterback Eric Crouch and the offense and a record-setting punt return by Bobby Newcombe. Crouch passed for 173 yards and two scores and ran for 110 yards and another touchdown in directing Nebraska to 484 total yards.
Newcombe provided an electrifying moment for the 236th straight sellout crowd when he returned a second-quarter punt 94 yards for Nebraska's third touchdown. The return broke the school record of 92 yards which was set by Johnny Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman Trophy whose pending induction in the College Football Hall of Fame was recognized in a pregame ceremony.
"Bobby's punt return was huge," Solich said. "It was very fitting that he did it with Johnny in the stands. Everyone knows what a great player Johnny was."
The Huskers, who improved to 4-0 with their 10th straight win overall, also got a big return from backup middle linebacker Jamie Burrow. He scooped up a fumble in the third quarter and rambled 28 yards for the touchdown that gave Nebraska a 35-21 lead.
That was one of the brightest moments for a Nebraska defense that allowed 1-3 Missouri, which was 90th nationally in total offense coming into the game, to average 7 yards a snap on its 70 plays. The Tigers gained 201 yards more than they had averaged (291.7 yards) in their first three games.
Sophomore quarterback Kirk Farmer had a career night against the Blackshirts before a broken clavicle forced him from the game with 61/2 minutes to play in the third quarter. Farmer rushed for 83 yards and completed 13 of 25 passes for 214 yards. His 48-yard scoring pass to Justin Gage in the second quarter also was a career best.
"You have to give plenty of credit to Missouri," Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Craig Bohl said. "I thought Farmer played well, and it's certainly disappointing to see him get injured like he did."
In addressing reporters after the game, Bohl repeatedly stressed that the Blackshirts had recorded some positive moments and made some improvements from a week ago. Still, he admitted the effort wasn't up to expectations.
"Certainly, we're disappointed with the yardage," Bohl said. "At times, they moved the ball way too much against us."
How Saturday's outcome will be weighed by those who vote in the national rankings will be determined today when the ratings are released. If Nebraska does drop out of the top spot, it will mark the second time in four seasons that the Tigers did the damage to the Huskers' standing in the poll.
Nebraska fell from the top spot in 1997 following its 45-38 overtime win over the Tigers. Whether history repeats itself today is of no matter to the Huskers, rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
"It's early, and we can't focus on the polls," he said. "We just have to go out and do what we have to do. Wherever people vote us, they're going to vote us. We can't do anything about that.
"What we can do is try to iron out our mistakes and come out and play the kind of dominating game that I know we can play."
While not specifically addressing Nebraska's standings in the polls, Solich said the Huskers are happy to be where they're at after four games.
"We have probably not put together a complete football game," Solich said. "We're still searching for that. Make no mistake about it, we feel very good about being 4 - 0 and we feel very good about getting this win.
"I think our players did an excellent job of battling through some moments in the game where it could have gone against them. They hung in there."
So did the Tigers, who were beaten by 53 points in their previous road game at Clemson.
"I'm very, very proud of our football team," Missouri Coach Larry Smith said. "In all of my 38 years of coaching, I have never had a team that played as hard and fought so hard to win a game. I think the big difference in that game was basically two plays that Nebraska made.
"The punt return definitely was a big play, and I think the fumble that they took in for a touchdown was the difference."
Newcombe's record-setting punt return and a four-play, 86-yard drive in the closing seconds of the half allowed Nebraska to emerge from the first 30 minutes with a 28-14 lead.
Newcombe put the Huskers ahead 21-7 with his 94-yard return, 2 yards longer than Johnny Rodgers' school record. The touchdown also was Newcombe's fourth of his career on a punt return.
Missouri needed just one minute and 34 seconds to get back within seven points as Farmer directed a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive. He hooked up on a career-high 48-yard touchdown pass to Justin Gage after completions of 12 and 6 yards to Dwayne Blakley and of 9 yards to Eric Spencer.
The Huskers stormed right back, needing just 55 seconds to cover 86 yards. Buckhalter opened the drive with a 58-yard run that was set up by Wilson Thomas' brutal downfield block. Buckhalter's run gave Nebraska a first down at the Missouri 28-yard line, and Crouch followed with a 15-yard completion to Judd Davies.
After Crouch was stopped for no gain on an option, he delivered his second scoring pass of the half, a 13-yard completion to Jon Bowling. The scoring pass capped a 6-of-10, 99-yard, second-quarter effort by Crouch.
He had given Nebraska a 14-7 lead four minutes into the second quarter when he hooked up with Buckhalter on a 34-yard screen pass. The receiving touchdown was Buckhalter's first as a Husker, and it capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive that also included a 10-yard completion to Matt Davison.
The Huskers, who fell behind early for the second consecutive week, had tied the game 7-7 on Dan Alexander's 2-yard touchdown run with 2:06 left in the first quarter. Crouch completed a pair of 18-yard, third-down passes to keep the 64-yard drive alive.
The first, to Newcombe, came on the third play of the possession and gave Nebraska a first down at its 47-yard line. Five plays later, the Huskers were facing third-down-and-18 from the Missouri 26 when Crouch teamed with Davison. The 18-yard gain gave Nebraska first-and-goal on the Tigers' 8-yard line, and Alexander scored two plays later to tie the game.
Missouri took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on Farmer's 1-yard run. The Tigers had taken possession at the Nebraska 40-yard line after a Husker punt from the end zone. A 25-yard completion from Farmer to Gage on third and nine kept the drive alive and put the Tigers on the Nebraska 1-yard line.
Farmer got the score two plays later to put Missouri ahead 7-0.
Farmer, who had averaged 170 total yards in Missouri's first three games, had 220 at halftime. He was the Tigers' leading rusher with 50 yards on eight carries. He also completed 11 of 20 passes for 170 yards in the first 30 minutes.
Farmer showed his triple - threat talents in helping Missouri to the touchdown that pulled the Tigers with 28-21 with 9:29 left in the third quarter. Nebraska had opened the second half by driving to the Missouri 25-yard line before Josh Brown missed his first field-goal attempt of the season, a 42-yarder that hooked wide to the left.
Farmer then moved the Tigers 75 yards in five plays, contributing the big play of the drive with a 35-yard reception of a pass from Gage. The play came after Farmer had converted a third-down pass of 12 yards that gave Missouri a first down at its 39-yard line.
He then pitched the ball to Gage, who rolled to the left, stopped and threw the ball back across the field to Farmer. The quarterback caught the ball near midfield and made his way upfield. He was run out of bounds at the 26, and Nebraska was penalized for a personal foul when cornerback Keyuo Craver hit Farmer when he was out of bounds.
Zack Abron scored on the next play, ripping outside of Nebraska's left end for a 13-yard touchdown that cut Nebraska's lead to seven points.
It grew back to 14 when Burrow picked up Abron's fumble at the Missouri 27-yard line and rumbled into the end zone.
|Yards per carry||6.7||5.9|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
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