The travel difficulties that forced the Tigers into flying to Lincoln on Saturday morning day did not mean they left the offense at home. They might as well have, though; in Missouri’s most important game of the season, the offense could not make a big play when it needed one, resulting in a 24-3 Nebraska win. The Tigers have not won in Lincoln since 1978 and have now gone more than six quarters without a touchdown. The Tigers slipped to 2-3 in Big 12 play and 4-4 overall, while Nebraska improved to 3-2 and 5-3.
The Nebraska offense was just as bad as the Tigers’, but two Missouri special teams miscues led to 14 Nebraska points. After Missouri blocked a punt that led to the Tigers only points of the day -- a 40-yard field goal by junior K Joe Tantarelli that tied the game at 3 early in the second quarter -- the Cornhuskers returned the favor five minutes later. A blocking breakdown allowed Nebraska S Andrew Shanle a free shot at P Matt Hoenes; Shanle deflected the punt backwards, which was recovered by Adam Ickes and returned 16 yards to the end zone to give Nebraska a 10-3 lead.
Another special teams gaffe gave Nebraska a cushion. Hoenes, punting from the Missouri 23-yard line, had a snap go through his hands and hit him in the chest. He managed to corral the loose ball, but whiffed on a running punt attempt. Nebraska fell on the ball at the 15 and scored on a sweep by IBack Cory Ross on the next play to make it 17-3 with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
Ross added a score from 86 yards out late in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
The Missouri offense was dreadful, converting just 7-of-22 third downs. The Tigers had five three-and-outs in the first half, including four in a row at one point. A 48-yard screen pass to freshman TB Marcus Woods in the first quarter and a 24-yard run by junior QB Brad Smith in the final minute of the second quarter were the only big plays the Tigers managed in the first half.
The only notable offense in the second half came with the Huskers already up by 14. Missouri’s best drive of the day came late in the fourth quarter, in which the Tigers moved the ball, with a little help from the officials, from their own 4 to the Nebraska 4. That drive ended when Smith overthrew freshman TE Martin Rucker in the end zone and turned the ball over on downs.
The Tigers had no running game without the suspended Damien Nash, and Smith could not reach his receivers at the most important times. Freshman TB Tony Temple’s debut was a quiet one, as he managed just 12 yards on 6 carries. Temple and Woods combined for just 32 yards on 14 carries. Smith managed 279 yards on 24-of-57 passing, but continually overthrew his receivers. He was intercepted in the fourth quarter by S Josh Bullocks.
The struggles of the Tiger offense overshadowed a fantastic performance from the Missouri defense. Besides Ross’ second score, which came when the outcome was already decided, the defense dominated play throughout the contest. Nebraska QB Joe Dailey did nothing through the air, managing just 25 yards on 4-of-18 passing. Ross was quiet most of the game, but finished with 193 yards on 19 carries, the majority of which came on his two scores. The Tigers were unbelievable on third downs, stopping the Cornhuskers on all 14 of their attempts.
With the win, Nebraska grabs control of the Big 12 North. The Tigers, meanwhile, will find it increasingly difficult to reach the conference championship game, since they now trail the Cornhuskers by two games, thanks to the tiebreaker. Missouri will have to rely on other teams to knock off Nebraska to make it to Kansas City in December.
Missouri returns home to host Kansas State next Saturday. The Wildcats face Texas Tech at home tonight.