'Huskers need to build on comeback win
Nice gut check; now do it again
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As the Vin Scully line goes, momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher, but for a Nebraska program looking to get back to being special, as in national title-contender special, the fourth quarter against Missouri might have been the turning point in the Bo Pelini era.
Of course, if the Huskers lose to Texas Tech next week and drop games to Oklahoma and Kansas down the road, this win over the Tigers will be seen as a nice victory on a rainy Thursday night. But when the running game wasn't working (I admit that I had already written my part for this about how the old-school Nebraska offense rolls through a game in the rain), Zac Lee wasn't throwing well, and Mizzou appeared to be playing just efficiently and effectively enough to take the early lead and ride it to a win, the Huskers came through with one big pass play, one big pick by a very big future multi-millionaire (Ndamukong Suh), and the floodgates opened.
After the way Nebraska blew the Virginia Tech game, failing to get a touchdown and settling for five field goals, and giving up two late pass pass plays, now the team knows it can win a gut-check game on the road, and it knows that the potential is there to be really, really good. Now do it again.
The world will start to believe in you, Nebraska, but you need to beat a mediocre Texas Tech team at home without any problem. Do that, and it's a two-game season with Oklahoma and at Kansas in back-to-back games. With a defense that has earned the right to wear Blackshirts, and an opportunistic offense, the pieces are there to run the table. And now it's time to start thinking that the fallen superpower can do it.
Suh is the man
Hey, at least there was Suh before things got interesting in the fourth quarter.
On an otherwise miserable night for fans, both in attendance and at home, Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh was the best reason to stay committed to an extremely sloppy game that took until the final 15 minutes to develop a following.
Suh is more than just one of the top interior linemen in the country and a high NFL draft choice next April. He's an anomaly in the sport, that rare athlete who has the athleticism and immense strength to toy with opposing blockers and change the pulse of a game. He did that countless times Thursday night at Missouri, commanding multiple blockers, harassing Tiger QB Blaine Gabbert and hunting down ballcarriers from behind. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he does things defensive tackles shouldn't be doing, like dropping back into coverage and making tide-turning picks. There's a name for players with Suh's unique all-around skill set. They're called All-Americans.
If you moved on to some other form of entertainment when Mizzou was leading 12-0 toward the end of the third quarter, no one can blame you. This one took longer to get started than a jalopy. However, you missed a stirring rally from the Huskers and another 60-minute effort from Suh, one of a small handful of defensive players worth spotlighting whenever he's on the field.
Holding call killed the Tigers
1) Nebraska's defense had just committed a face-mask penalty and an offsides penalty on back-to-back plays, giving Missouri a 1st and 5 at the Husker 9-yard line late in the third quarter. After a 2-yard run made it second and 3 at the 7, it seemed even more likely that the Tigers could keep the ball on the ground, remove an added dimension of responsibility from the shoulders (and legs) of gimpy quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and gain a 16-0 lead that would have felt like 35, given the way Nebraska had moved the ball through the first three quarters.
But then, precisely when they were on the verge of cementing their advantage, the Tigers specifically their offensive line cracked. A holding penalty short-circuited the drive, which resulted in only a field goal. When Nebraska scored its first touchdown on a busted Mizzou coverage, the score stood at 12-7 Tigers instead of 16-7, 16-8, or perhaps 16-6. You want the play of the game? It was Missouri's holding penalty on second and 3 from the 7, when this game was slipping away from the Huskers. Things change quickly if you don't register a kill shot; the Missouri Tigers re-learned that truth to their chagrin in Columbia.
2) Two strategic moves from this contest merited a quizzical look (or three). For one thing, why did Bo Pelini chase an extra point after a false-start penalty took the conversion after touchdown to the 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter, with Nebraska leading by a 13-12 count? Missouri remained within one score of the Huskers until the final minutes precisely because Pelini didn't kick the PAT when leading by 1 point. Had Pelini kicked the PAT to go up 14-12, Nebraska's subsequent touchdown on a throwback tight-end pass would have made the score 21-12. Coaches shouldn't chase points until the final 8-10 minutes of regulation. If they have to start conversions from the 8-yard line and not from the 3, they should be even more willing to settle for a single point.
The other decision that raised eyebrows was Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's decision to go for a first down on fourth and 20 from the Nebraska 32 with roughly 5:30 left in what were at the time fairly dry conditions. Had Mizzou trailed by 7 points, the decision would have been smart, but because the Tigers were down by 8 (20-12), a field goal possessed the added value of eliminating the need for a tying two-point conversion.
The daunting down-and-distance calculus made it worthwhile for Missouri to try for 3, hope that a 2-point play would not be necessary, and regroup on defense. Instead, Gabbert ran around like a headless horseman on a play that had no chance. Down 7, a field goal doesn't mean much. Down by anywhere from 8 to 11 points, a field goal means a lot more in the fourth quarter. Yes, his team crumbled in the face of Nebraska's relentless defensive pressure and superior mental toughness, but it remains that Pinkel admirably bold on his gamble at the end of the first half needed to think more about a field goal with 5:30 left in regulation.