LINCOLN — Chris Kelsay, Nebraska's best defensive player, was on the sidelines.
Brad Smith, one of the Big 12's best offensive players, was on the field.
Still, the Huskers' defensive players had the courage to call their shot. Then the Blackshirts went out and made good on their promise.
Saturday's 24-13 victory over Missouri, in the collective mind of the defense, came down to three things-the goals that were set during a players-only meeting Friday afternoon.
Defensive Coordinator Craig Bohl instructed his players to decide for themselves what kind of statistical achievements they should shoot for in order to keep the Tigers at bay. Then he and the rest of the defensive coaches left the room.
Here's what the players came up with:
>>No more than 13 points. Check. The Tigers scored just that many.
>>No more than 100 yards rushing. Check. The Tigers were held to 97.
>>No more than 250 total yards. Check. The Tigers got 220.
"Without question, a great deal needs to be given to those football players because they took ownership and took possession of that football game," Bohl said.
The win was sorely needed. Not only did the Huskers' 24th straight victory over Missouri extend the Huskers' nation-leading home winning streak to 26 games, it gave the Huskers some momentum going into back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
A crowd of 78,014, the 252nd consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium, saw NU improve to 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12.
The Huskers' most stout defensive performance of the season saw Smith, Missouri's precocious quarterback, held to 157 yards of total offense. That's a far cry from the career-high 391 yards he had last week against Oklahoma.
"There have been expectations for what this defense is capable of doing the whole year," NU linebacker Scott Shanle said. "Today we did what we were capable of."
And they did it without Kelsay, the Huskers' All-America candidate at rush end who watched in sweatclothes because of a pulled hamstring.
Rush end Demoine Adams started in Kelsay's place and had two sacks. Rover Lannie Hopkins and rush end Trevor Johnson had one each. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was credited with a team-leading seven tackles. Johnson and strongside linebacker Shanle had five apiece.
"We didn't have Chris Kelsay, and Demoine Adams really stepped up to the plate," Bohl said. "He and Trevor Johnson did a great job. Their quarterback is very elusive, and we were able to press the pocket and get some sacks."
The Blackshirts made a confidence-building stand late in the first quarter after Missouri (3-3, 0-2) had driven to the Nebraska 2-yard line.
On first down, Ruud came up to stop tailback Zack Abron after a 1-yard gain.
On second down, Smith led Ben Fredrickson too much with his pass to the right side of the end zone, and the ball fell incomplete.
On third, DeJuan Groce and Fabian Washington combined to throw Abron for a 4-yard loss.
The Tigers had to settle for Michael Matheny's 22-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Later, on a fourth-and-2 from the Nebraska 34, Smith's pass to Justin Gage dropped incomplete after Washington hit Gage from behind.
"Those were very big plays," NU Coach Frank Solich said. "It was a key to us having momentum and having the lead at halftime."
The NU defensive scheme, naturally, centered on containing Smith. For the most part, they dumped the zone coverages they had used the first six games. That allowed an extra linebacker to focus on the inside run and left three cornerbacks — Groce, Washington and Pat Ricketts — to play mostly man-to-man.
Take away Abron's 48-yard gain on a trap play in the first half, and the Huskers held the Tigers to 49 yards on 29 rushing attempts.
Smith, who ran for 213 yards against Oklahoma last week, picked up just 34 on 17 carries Saturday.
"Once we were able to get them out of their running game," Bohl said,"we were able to control the game."
The Huskers' pass rush confounded Smith the second half. After completing 9 of 16 passes for 99 yards in the first two quarters, Smith was 5 of 13 for 24 yards the rest of the way. All four of Nebraska's sacks came in the second half as the Huskers alternated zone and man blitzes.
Bohl said he didn't blink when he saw that his players set ambitious goals for the game.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge," Bohl said. "They're a good offensive team with a good scheme, and any time the quarterback gets hot, you're going to have problems. We didn't think that was unrealistic, but we knew we'd have to play extremely well to do that."
Will the coaches let the players set the goals the rest of the season?
Said free safety Philip Bland: "I would hope so."
|Yards per carry||3.2||5.2|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Arizona State||Aug. 24|
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Aug. 31|
|Utah State||Sept. 7|
|Penn State||Sept. 14|
|Iowa State||Sept. 28|
|McNeese State||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 19|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 26|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 12. See them all »
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