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Posted on Fri, Oct. 09, 2009 01:02 AM
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Mizzou lost because it couldn’t run the ball

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COLUMBIA | Blame it on Missouri’s ill-conceived and inconsistent running game.

The Tigers’ inability to run the football placed too big a burden on injured sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert and eventually contributed to the Tigers blowing a 12-point advantage in 3 fourth-quarter minutes.

Nebraska 27, Missouri 12.

In the Big 12 North’s showcase showdown in the Show-Me State, the game turned into an unsightly spectacle marred by questionable coaching strategy, bad weather and a downpour of penalty flags.

The Tigers dominated for three quarters, leading 12-0 thanks to a safety, a short Gabbert touchdown run just before halftime, a late third-quarter field goal and Nebraska’s refusal to run the ball when the rain fell the hardest.

Despite their double-digit lead, the Tigers never controlled Thursday’s game at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh badly injured Gabbert’s right ankle on Mizzou’s second offensive series. Gabbert limped and favored the ankle the rest of the game.

He threw off his back foot, backpedaled in the face of light pressure and constantly threw into heavy coverage.

On a night when he desperately needed a running game to bail him out, Mizzou’s sideways-running, shotgun-spread ground game produced next to nothing. On the plays that were properly blocked, tailback Derrick Washington ran east or west for 3 to 4 yards before turning upfield for a harmless 2-yard gain.

When the game was being decided, Missouri ran for 68 yards in 34 carries. Washington tacked on a meaningless 23-yard run on the game’s final offensive play, giving the Tigers 91 rushing yards for the night.

Some of Mizzou’s offensive woes, particularly in the first three quarters, can be directly attributed to the tight manner in which the officials called the game. Holding penalties sabotaged several Missouri possessions. The refs flagged the Tigers for eight penalties for 100 yards. The refs penalized the Cornhuskers 12 times for 108 yards.

The officiating and both teams’ insistence on throwing the ball in a torrential downpour created a game that undermined Missouri’s and Nebraska’s credibility as top-25 teams.

Bo Pelini is going to get a lot of credit for getting an important road victory, but I was not impressed with his offensive strategy. Why did the Cornhuskers throw it 22 times in the first half?

The weather, their running backs and their offensive line begged for the Huskers to line up and chew up yards on the ground. Through three quarters, Zac Lee completed nine of 27 passes for 79 yards and the Huskers were shut out.

Lee flung three TD passes in a 3-minute span. On third and 9, he hit Niles Paul with a 56-yard strike on a skinny post that cut Mizzou’s lead to 12-7.

Suh batted and intercepted a Gabbert pass setting up Nebraska’s next touchdown, a 13-yard strike to Paul that came 57 seconds after Nebraska’s first TD.

Three plays later, Nebraska’s Dejon Gomes sat on a Missouri out route and picked off Gabbert again. Gomes returned the ball 40 yards, setting the Huskers up at the Mizzou 10. Lee flicked an 8-yard pass to Mike McNeill for another score, just 2 minutes, 25 seconds after Nebraska’s second TD.

Once the Cornhuskers jumped ahead 20-12, the game was pretty much over. Gabbert just didn’t have a comeback in him. Mizzou’s receivers weren’t getting much separation. The penalties kept the Tigers in long-yardage situations. And Suh provided consistent pass-rush pressure in the middle of Gabbert’s pocket, forcing the young QB to drift to the sidelines on nearly every throw.

“Offensively we never got on track,” MU coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged after the game.

The sad thing is, is that the Tigers didn’t need much offense to win Thursday’s game. They mostly needed the threat of a running game. The Tigers managed only 225 yards of total offense. The Huskers scored 27 points on just 263 yards of offense.

You can’t blame it on the weather. You can’t really blame it on Gabbert. He played most of the game on one leg.

At some point, Mizzou and Pinkel must figure out how to run the football. I know the Tigers have had success with the spread, winning the Big 12 North twice. But against equal competition, the offense lets the Tigers down.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to jwhitlock@kcstar.com. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com

Posted on Fri, Oct. 09, 2009 01:02 AM
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