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Slow start dooms Husker defense


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OMAHA WORLD-HERALD
LINCOLN -- at the University of Nebraska football game against the University of Missouri Tigers in Lincoln, Neb., on October 4, 2008. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
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The Grand Island Independent
Posted Oct 05, 2008 @ 01:12 AM

LINCOLN —

A fast start.

It's a given with Missouri's offense. The Nebraska defense cannot say the same.

The Tigers scored on their opening four drives to seize control during an easy 52-17 Big 12 Conference opening victory Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Missouri sliced and diced the Huskers for 268 yards on 35 first-half snaps.

The well-balanced Tigers finished with 462 yards (261 passing and 201 rushing) and 24 first downs. Missouri converted 7 of 9 third-down plays to post its most points ever against Nebraska. The previous high was 35 during the Tigers last win in Lincoln 30 years ago.

"It's a tough moment," Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "You know what, there are a lot of tough moments in life. Nobody said it was going to be easy. We need to keep moving in the right direction and fight. That's all."

No. 4-ranked Missouri (5-0) fought to the lead with a touchdown on its opening drive for the fifth straight game. Sophomore Jeremy Maclin broke two tackles en route to a 58-yard reception on a slant pass 59 seconds into the contest.

The Huskers have allowed the first score in three of their last four games. Pelini didn't blame the slow start on Nebraska being in awe of a Missouri offense that ranks second in three categories (passing, scoring and total).

"That would say they were invincible," Pelini said. "I don't see it that way. They executed better than we did.

"We have to point the thumbs at ourselves as a coaching staff," he said. "They were better prepared to play a football game than we were."

Once again, big plays victimized Nebraska's defense. The unit still formerly known as the Blackshirts allowed nine plays of 10 yards or more in the first half.

Tailback Derrick Washington had a pair of 17-yard runs for first downs before halftime. The sophomore had 33 of Missouri's 80 yards on its second series, which Washington capped with a 3-yard run to put the Tigers ahead for good 14-7 with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

"There were several times we were out of position," Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said. "It sounds like a broken record. We got to fix ourselves."

Missouri, which has no three-and-outs among 48 first-team offensive possessions this season, used 12- and 10-play drives to push its lead to 24-7 after Jimmy Jackson's 1-yard run with 4:08 left in the second quarter.

Daniel completed 18-of-23 passes for 253 yards and three TDs. Another important number is zero, as in Nebraska's sack total against Daniel for a second straight year.

"We were trying to get pressure on him," Ekeler said. "We would mix things up. Obviously, it didn't work. The offensive line did a nice job. I just tip my cap to those guys.”       

Nebraska recorded its lone first-half stop when Jeff Wolfert was short on a 59-yard field goal on the final play.

Washington picked up where he left off in the first half with 41 yards on Missouri's six-play, 52-yard march that he capped with a 7-yard reception to make it 38-10 with 7:16 to go in the third period.

Washington, who averaged 90.2 rushing yards in Missouri's opening four games, broke loose for a 43-yard score to make it 45-10 with 2:24 remaining in the third. He finished with 139 yards on 14 carries.   

"Defensive strategy (was to) give them a lot of different looks," Pelini said. "We tried to mix it up with reads, a change in coverage and a change in fronts."

Now, Nebraska must pick up the pieces as it prepares to face another high-flying offense in Texas Tech.

"I don't worry about morale," Pelini said. "These guys come to work every day. You got seven more (games) to go. We have to move on and get all seven of them. I don't have any doubts these guys have the ability to move on."

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