COLUMBIA — Jason Simpson and David Overstreet teamed up on the biggest play of Missouri’s 41-24 victory over Nebraska, even if Overstreet did say so himself.
Nebraska’s Terrence Nunn had just hauled in his only pass reception of the day, and had carried it 25 yards up the middle of the field to the MU 8-yard line.
That’s when Simpson ripped the ball out of Nunn’s grasp, and Overstreet fell on it at the MU 3, helping preserve what at that point was a 24-24 tie.
“If he had scored that touchdown, or they’d have gotten real close, maybe kicked a field goal or something, the game could have gone a different way,” Overstreet said. “But when (Simpson) can-openered that ball and put it out there like that, I thought that was the best play of the game right there.”
Missouri’s offense, slumbering for much of the third period after a fiery first half, caught fire again for 17 second-half points and the victory.
Overstreet was also involved in another turnaround play. With an MU’s Stryker Sulak in the process of hitting Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, Overstreet camped under Taylor’s desperation heave and picked it off at the MU 48.
“It was just sitting up,” Overstreet said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to catch this.’”
And the MU safety did, just as he picked off a similar pass that helped preserve Missouri’s 38-31 victory at Oklahoma State, in what was the first of what is now a three-game Missouri winning streak.
Certainly, those two key turnovers were deflating for a Nebraska team that had trailed 21-3 late in the first quarter, but had rallied for a 24-24 tie before halftime.
“It appeared we were going to take the lead,” Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. “But the turnover was very costly.”
Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said: “We just didn’t do our job. We normally always do right. We just didn’t do right today. The most disappointing thing is that we got back in it and let it go.”
In truth, this was a day in which the Missouri defense was nearly as brilliant as Tigers quarterback Brad Smith.
Smith scored three touchdowns and threw for another on the way to an MU record 480 yards total offense. The MU defense held Nebraska to only 279 yards total offense and saddled the Cornhuskers with a total of minus-2 yards rushing in 19 carries.
That last time a Nebraska team gained fewer yards rushing in a football game was 1951, when the Cornhuskers lost 17 yards.
Nebraska I-back Cory Ross netted only 39 yards in just 10 carries.
“He had nowhere to go, so why would they give him the ball?” MU defensive end Xzavie Jackson said.
Yes, the MU defense, so often skewered early in the season, was feeling proud. So was MU head coach Gary Pinkel, who had passed around an article — or was it an Internet blog — that made fun of the MU defensive line.
“People like you write articles and people like us use ’em,” Pinkel said after what was the 100th victory of Pinkel’s college coaching career.
Missouri had seven tackles for 51 yards in losses for Nebraska. Linebackers Dedrick Harrington and Derrick Ming were staunch all day. Overstreet had the fumble recovery, the interception and two pass break ups. Defensive end Brian Smith had one of MU’s four sacks, moving Smith’s career total to 21.5 sacks, one behind the MU record total of Justin Smith.
But although he was credited with just 2.5 tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup added to the intrigue of how MU defensive lineman Lorenzo Williams was able to be on the field at all on Saturday.
On Wednesday an ambulance was called to the MU practice field after Williams lost sensation in his limbs following a blow to the head.
“I couldn’t move my arms or my legs,” Williams said. “That kind of calmed down once I got in the ambulance.”
The numbness lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, Williams said. And he was still sore even up to game time on Saturday.
“They weren’t sure I was going to play today until the pregame,” said Williams, who had received clearance from medical personnel to play but made the decision to do so on his own.
“I gave the clearance,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to sit out.”
None of the Tiger defenders did. And nearly all of them stepped up big on Saturday.
But Pinkel did kind of agree with Overstreet about that one play turned in by Simpson and Overstreet.
“That was probably the most critical part of the game,” Pinkel said. “Then the offense gets the ball … and went the length of the field.”
Yep, MU’s offense covered 97 yards in 10 plays, the last one being Brad Smith’s 45-yard TD run that put MU on top again 31-24.
“That,” Pinkel said, “was huge.”