In 3 minutes, Nebraska takes control of North
Nebraska offensive lineman Keith Williams (68) hugged Nebraska tight end Mike McNeill (44) after NcNeill scored a touchdown on a broken play during the University of Missouri and University of Nebraska football game on Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Oct 8, 2009, in Columbia, Missouri. Nebraska beat Missouri 27-12.
SHANE KEYSER/The Kansas City Star_20091008_MUNU_SP
COLUMBIA | They talked about floods all day in mid-Missouri. Who knew it could come in 3 minutes?
That’s how long it took for Nebraska to overcome a 12-point deficit, score three touchdowns, assume command of a game and seize the Big 12 North Division by the throat.
Not only that, but the 27-12 Cornhuskers’ conquest ended an ugly six-game losing streak to ranked teams on the road and stands as the most significant regular-season victory in coach Bo Pelini’s two seasons.
But wait, there’s more. It reclaimed territory lost to Missouri over the last few years, and Nebraska gained the upper hand in the keyboard wars that have added a fun cyber spice to the proceedings.
That’s a busy 3 minutes, and not a moment too soon.
“We talked about at halftime, we said before we walked out on the field for the second half that we would not walk out of here without a win,” Pelini said.
Both sides of the ball have to come up huge for these things to happen, and in the short span quarterback Zac Lee, who was having an awful time of it, flung three touchdown passes.
The Cornhuskers defense, which dropped at least three interceptions in the first three quarters, pulled down two Blaine Gabbert passes. The first coming from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose dominant play allowed the Cornhuskers to rush four most of the evening and harass Gabbert into the worst outing of his young and promising career.
And just like that, Nebraska was on its way to doing something that is essential to claiming the division.
It won on the road. Sure, it’s only the conference opener, but this was a swing game from the moment it appeared on ESPN’s prime-time lineup in February. These two, along with Kansas, entered the season as the projected upper division choices in the North.
A Missouri victory would have maintained a sense of order because the Tigers would have protected their home turf. Nebraska also has a trip to Kansas, and the Mizzou-KU season-ender at Arrowhead would decide things.
But this alters the equation, and for three quarters, only the truest of the Big Red faithful could see it coming.
Through 45 minutes, Missouri was going to pull it off, and it was going to happen with a completely new cast. No Daniel, Maclin, Coffman, Hood, or Moore of the previous Mizzou division title teams.
The torch would be passed to a new generation of Tigers, and it was happening because Missouri had outplayed the Cornhuskers and tamed the conditions much better than the visitors.
Oh, the conditions.
Let’s just say the most bizarre record in the college football books is safe for another game. On Nov. 11, 1939, Texas Tech and Centenary combined to punt 77 times. Sixty-seven of the punts came on first down, including 22 in a row in the third and fourth quarters. How did it happen?
The game was played in such a driving rainstorm the referee couldn’t spot the ball.
Thursday, like 70 years ago in Shreveport, La., the rain never seemed to stop falling. And although no official word came from the university, the deluge had to have something to do with the campus blackout an hour before the game that blew out the jumbo scoreboard for the evening.
Missouri’s first points came on a safety when punter Alex Henery threw the ball out of the end zone to avoid a fumble.
Lee was as inaccurate for three quarters as he was all day at Virginia Tech. And Nebraska entered the fourth quarter with this ugly statistic: It had not scored a touchdown against a non-Sun Belt Conference opponent for seven quarters. Pelini was asked whether he thought about replacing Lee, and he didn’t exactly supply a ringing endorsement.
“You always consider putting people in,” Pelini said. “But it was a lot more than Zac in the first three quarters.”
But it was Zac and Suh and everybody else who put up what must be one of the strangest scoring quarter-by-quarter totals of the season: 0-0-0-27.
It took a while to get going, but Nebraska finally started its comeback — Thursday and perhaps the long haul.