COLUMBIA, Mo. — Nebraska needed no miracles or last-play dramatics Saturday to extend its mastery of Missouri.
Instead, the fifth- and sixth-ranked Huskers relied on an offense that showed rejuvenation and a defense that showed no mercy to roll to a 40-10 victory before a sold-out Faurot Field crowd of 68,174 and a Fox Sports Net national cable broadcast.
The final outcome, in stark contrast to the past two meetings that went down to the wire, allowed the Huskers to win their Big 12 Conference opener, improve to 4-0 and claim their 21st straight victory over the Tigers.
Most important to Husker rover back Mike Brown, it came in a fashion that should quiet Missouri’s players and fans.
“Since I’ve been here, Missouri has always talked a lot and said what they’re going to do,” Brown said. “I said today that they were going to see the real Nebraska-the past two years they really haven’t gotten our best game. Today, we really wanted to come out and play well against them.”
The Huskers proved their point emphatically, dismantling Missouri’s previously productive offense with a defensive effort that limited the Tigers to 174 total yards. Missouri, which brought the country’s No. 4 rushing offense into the game, finished with 25 yards rushing-285 below its average of 310. The Tigers didn’t score a touchdown against Nebraska’s top defensive unit.
Offensively, Nebraska shook off sluggish performances in its past two games to pile up 476 yards, including 333 on the ground. Quarterback Eric Crouch ran for 92 yards and passed for 143, while backup I-back Correll Buckhalter gave the Huskers their first 100-yard rusher of the season with a 132-yard night.
“We’re not quite where we want to be, but we’re definitely getting there,” said Crouch, assessing the progress the offense made in one week. “We need to focus on eliminating penalties — we had too many today — but when we clean that up and we execute, we’re going to have good days like this.”
Nebraska’s offensive performance contrasted with the 185-yard output it achieved a week ago in a 20-13 win over Southern Mississippi. The Huskers’ offense recorded just eight first downs in that game and scored just one touchdown.
Nebraska exceeded those meager achievements in the first half against Missouri, which contributed to its demise with two turnovers and two bad snaps on punts that allowed Nebraska to score 23 of its points. Nebraska had 196 yards and 11 first downs in building a 19-3 halftime lead.
The Huskers erased Missouri’s comeback hopes by scoring on their opening possession of the third quarter, with Crouch passing 53 yards to wingback Bobby Newcombe for the touchdown. Nebraska then poured it on to finish off its 100th win of the decade. In hitting the century mark, the Huskers became the first Division I school to win 100 games in consecutive decades.
Ten of those wins have come against Missouri, and most were as lopsided as Saturday’s decision. But the Tigers thought they had closed the gap on the Huskers by coming within a touchdown of Nebraska in the previous two meetings — 45-38 in overtime here two years ago and 20-13 last season in Lincoln.
Missouri did little to help its cause as the Tigers lost for the 36th straight time to a Top 10-ranked team. Missouri had two turnovers and two bad snaps on punts that Nebraska converted into points. The offense averaged just 2.9 yards per snap and converted 2 of 13 (15.4 percent) of its third downs. Defensively, Missouri surrendered an average of 6.3 yards per play.
“We stunk,” Missouri Coach Larry Smith said. “It was embarrassing and we’re all responsible for it. Offense, defense and special teams all stunk. You can’t play Nebraska like that.”
But even at its best, Missouri might have been hard-pressed to play with the Huskers, especially with the offense producing a breakout performance.
“I wasn’t surprised by the score,” said split end Matt Davison, who caught five passes. “We thought they were a good team, but I think we can do this to any team. We know our defense is going to play well. If we execute offensively, we know that we can do this.
“If we hadn’t hurt ourselves, we could have scored 60.”
Penalties — Nebraska had seven for 70 yards — and turnovers — the Huskers lost two — were high on Nebraska Coach Frank Solich’s list of things his team did wrong.
“We still have quite a few things we need to work on,” Solich said. “With the turnovers and the penalties, we’ve been our own worst enemies. But all in all, I thought we gave a great effort and played very well, at times, on both sides of the ball and in the specialty game.”
Two Missouri punt-team breakdowns helped Nebraska score its first nine points. The Huskers got on the scoreboard a minute and 43 seconds into the contest when center Ben Davidson snapped the ball over punter Jared Gilpin’s head. Gilpin finally caught up to the football in the end zone, and batted it past the end line for a safety.
On Missouri’s next punt, Davidson again launched a snap over Gilpin. The punter managed to come up with the ball at the Tigers’ 8-yard line, but his desperation pass fell incomplete, giving Nebraska possession at the Missouri 35.
Five plays later, Nebraska got its first touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Crouch to Davison. The Husker split end had come up with the miracle catch on the final play of regulation in 1997 to send that game into overtime. Compared to that, Saturday’s catch seemed anything but special.
“I didn’t even run a good route, but Eric threw a perfect pass and Coach called a perfect play,” said Davison, whose two career touchdown receptions have come against Missouri. “Getting this touchdown takes a great load off my back.”
Linebacker Julius Jackson set up Nebraska’s next touchdown, a 31-yard run by Crouch, with an interception of Tigers’ quarterback Kirk Farmer at the Missouri 35. Jackson returned the interception four yards, and Crouch scored on the next play to close out the first quarter with Nebraska holding a 16-0 lead.
Jackson also came up with a third-quarter fumble recovery, his fourth turnover in two weeks. He had two against Southern Mississippi, both of which he returned for touchdowns.
“About the only thing that’s different,” Jackson said, “is that I didn’t score this week.”
The teams traded field goals in the second period before Nebraska scored on three of its first five possessions of the second half to cement its decision. Crouch, who completed 10 of 17 passes, drove the Huskers 76 yards in seven plays on Nebraska’s first possession of the third quarter.
He hooked up with Newcombe for a 53-yard scoring play to make it 26-3 with 12:26 left in the third period.
“There’s no question that Eric played very well today,” Solich said. “I thought he threw the ball extremely well and ran the option to perfection. He had a lot to do with us moving the football both on the ground and in the air.
“Up front, we came off the ball well. Our backs were running well. Things seemed to mesh better today than they have throughout the first part of the season.”
Jackson’s fumble recovery set up Nebraska’s next score, a five-play, 30-yard drive that was capped by Buckhalter’s 10-yard run. The junior I-back, who had carried just four times in the first three games, had 14 against the Tigers and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt.
“He played an excellent football game,” Solich said. “He showed tough running inside. He was able to get the yardage when we needed it. He also showed great movement and the ability to make the big play.”
Starting I-back Dan Alexander, whose second-period fumble set up Missouri’s field goal, finished off Nebraska’s scoring with a 4-yard scoring run with 9:51 to play. The Tigers tacked on a meaningless touchdown against Nebraska’s second-unit defense, but by then, many of their fans had already left the premises.
The Nebraska fans, however, stuck around. As the Huskers left the field, Brown and several of his teammates saluted the red-clad legion for its support in helping Nebraska restore “order” to the series.
“I don’t like Missouri,” Brown said. “I wanted to come out and prove to them that we’re a great team. I think we did that today, and they can’t say anything about it now.”
|Yards per carry||0.8||5.7|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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