MU collapses in 4th quarter
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
COLUMBIA, MO. — Even if all wasn't necessarily going precisely as planned for No. 24 Mizzou on Thursday at Faurot Field, it was proceeding well enough through three quarters.
In a nationally televised Big 12 opener against No. 21 Nebraska, the Tigers led 12-0 and had allowed the Cornhuskers all of 109 yards.
The defense "was playing absolutely outstanding," MU coach Gary Pinkel said.
But in a night marked by a pre-game stadium blackout and framed by pouring rain — 5 ¼ inches fell in Columbia on Thursday — it was no surprise that lightning still might strike.
In this case, it was in the form of a startling three Nebraska touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 22 seconds — two set up by the first career interceptions thrown by sophomore Blaine Gabbert.
The Huskers added another late score to stun the Tigers 27-12.
"Tough loss ... We'll regroup," Pinkel said. "Part of this business is handling adversity."
That will be a new collegiate experience for Gabbert, who had excelled in his first four games. In his first start against Nebraska, the school to which he originally committed, Gabbert completed 17 of 43 passes for 134 yards and no touchdowns. He also lost a first-half fumble as he suffered an ankle injury. He never came out but appeared to limp much of the game.
"He struggled a little bit, but he thought he could play," Pinkel said.
Before a crowd of 65,826, MU threatened to tie it after Nebraska went up 20-12 but sabotaged itself, this time with the help of a crucial holding penalty. That was typical of a night on which the Tigers began three drives in Nebraska territory but only managed one touchdown.
Nebraska then essentially ran down the clock and clamped down the game with a touchdown in the final minute.
Nebraska's victory broke its three-game losing streak in Columbia and snuffed out its seven-game road losing streak against ranked teams despite being every bit as sloppy as MU.
Of the game's 20 penalties, Nebraska committed 12. Of the game's eight fumbles, Nebraska dropped five — but lost only two.
With the win, the Huskers (4-1) dealt MU (4-1) a key blow in its hopes of becoming the first team to win the Big 12 North three times in succession.
Along with undefeated Kansas, Mizzou and Nebraska are the apparent favorites to compete for the title. Only twice since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996 has a North team lost its conference opener and gone on to win the division.
Perhaps not surprisingly on slick terrain made more challenging by a low-50s chill, each team sputtered offensively, combining for less than 500 yards' total offense.
The best offensive weapon of the first half was MU punter Jake Harry IV, who never even stepped on the field in MU's 52-17 romp over Nebraska last year. Nebraska mishandled three of his punts in the half, and his punt that pinned Nebraska at its 11-yard line set up the first points of the game — a safety when Nebraska punter Alex Henery flung the ball out of the back of the end zone under pressure to make it 2-0 MU early in the second quarter.
MU went up 9-0 after the hobbled Gabbert found Jared Perry for a 38-yard gain to the Nebraska 6 as Huskers cornerback Prince Amukamara slipped and fell.
On Pinkel's gut feeling, MU went for it on fourth and goal from the one with 2 seconds left in the half, with Gabbert banging in to make it 9-0.
Not since 1988 had MU shut out Nebraska in the first half.
Given the pace of the scoring, the Tigers had a chance to nearly put it away early in the second half after linebacker Andrew Gachkar came up with his second fumble recovery, on a bad snap at the Nebraska 29.
But MU came away empty when Grant Ressel missed a 43-yard field goal attempt — his first misfire of the season after making 10 previous tries. Later, his 33-yarder made it 12-0.
Then the Huskers abruptly changed the tone of the game with Zac Lee's 56-yard touchdown pass to Niles Paul on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Gabbert's streak of 164 passes without an interception this season then came to an end when Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh jumped in the way and hung on.
Two plays later, Lee hit Niles from 13 yards out to make it 13-12. It stayed that way when the Huskers' two-point conversation attempt failed.
MU's next drive ended with an interception by Dejon Gomes, who returned it 40 yards to the Missouri 10 to set up an 8-yard TD pass to tight end Mike McNeill (Kirkwood) with just over 10 minutes left.
MU got as far as the Nebraska 22 on its next series before the drive faltered after a holding penalty and another incompletion by Gabbert.
Giving the ball up with 5:24 to go, MU couldn't stop the Huskers, with Roy Helu Jr. bursting 41 yards to set up his own 5-yard TD run with 56 seconds left to seal it.
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