Nebraska ran out to a 24-0 first quarter lead from which Mizzou could never recover on Saturday. Below is a series of notes and observations from Rock M Nation's Ross Taylor on the game that dropped the Tigers to 7-1 for the season:
The Note In Which The Nebraska Defense Brought It
We knew the Nebraska defense was good heading into Saturday, but I don't think many people knew they were quite that good. One week after Missouri dominated the trenches against Oklahoma, the Mizzou offensive line was sent spinning in circles by Nebraska's unconventional defensive front, leaving quarterback Blaine Gabbert running for his life most of the day. (Addendum: There are many things you can call into question when discussing Gabbert, but his toughness is certainly not one of them. He took an absolute beating in Lincoln and kept coming back for more.)
The numbers are bad enough -- 142 rushing yards (74 from Gabbert, 33 on DeVion Moores' 33-yard touchdown on fourth down) and 199 passing yards, but there was an interesting juxtaposition for football fans watching on Saturday. For as maddeningly frustrating as it was to watch the Missouri offense flounder, seeing the Nebraska pass defense at work was a thing of beauty. Even when the Missouri line afforded Gabbert time to throw, the Husker secondary and linebackers were in blanket man coverage on all five receiving options, often for six or seven seconds. A secondary loaded with NFL talent showed up in a big way on Saturday.
The Note In Which Roy Helu Haunts Your Dreams
A couple of tailback names still stick with Mizzou fans after the last couple of years -- Illinois State's Geno Blow, Navy's Marcus Curry, San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, etc. But none of them terrorized the Missouri defense the way Roy Helu did on Saturday. Helu rushed for a school-record 307 yards on Saturday (more than Mike Rozier, Tommy Frazier, Lawrence Phillips, et al. ever did), running wild through the second level of the defense with open space that even the Great Plains would call "roomy."
All season, Missouri had made its defensive living by being in good positions, swarming to the football and not missing tackles. The first two facets of that strategy fell apart in stunning fashion, rendering the third facet all but moot. The struggle of the defense now raises the question: What is the true outlier -- Nebraska's offensive performance or Missouri's defensive rankings entering the game?
The Note In Which A Silver Lining Remains
No matter how bad Nebraska pasted the Tigers, the beating only counts as one loss. That statement could not possibly be more overly simplistic, but the fact stands. Missouri now enters the final game of The Stretch, and it's now more than ever that Mizzou's win against Oklahoma looms large. Exiting the A&M/OU/NU/Tech stretch 4-0 was a pipe dream. 3-1 was improbable but not impossible. 2-2 was a baseline for success, and through three games, that's Missouri's worst case scenario.
Mizzou lost control of its Big 12 North destiny, but the division is far from decided thanks in large part to Texas' upset of Nebraska earlier in October. The Huskers aren't likely to drop a game the rest of the way, but if Missouri wins out, it creates a razor-thin margin for error for Big Red. Again, the odds aren't great, but there's nothing wrong with a shot at a disappointing 11-1 regular season, right?
The Note In Which We Say Goodbye
Saturday brought a horribly-saddening end to the Missouri/Nebraska series, and not just because of the final result. A 25-year stretch of futility beginning in 1980 all but buried Missouri in the all-time record between the two schools, but Missouri's reemergence in the mid- to-late Aughts revived a previously-dormant rivalry that provided Missouri it's annual measuring stick against a former elite. Now, my colleague Bill Connelly is left pondering how Missouri fills that void:
With Nebraska leaving the schedule shortly, Mizzou is in the market for another historical rival against whom they can measure themselves on an annual basis, and Oklahoma looks as if they will fit the bill.
But in a piece he wrote prior to the 2009 Mizzou/Nebraska game in Columbia, Connelly wrote perhaps the most perfect summation of the rivalry and why it'll be heartbreaking to no longer see the Tigers and Huskers play on an annual basis:
I love the Border War, Missouri's rivalry with Kansas. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Few rivalries in this country can literally claim to have ties in the Civil War. Ancestors of Kansas fans killed ancestors of Missouri fans, and vice versa. It is a rivalry with intensity, history, and bitterness. It is a personal rivalry that bleeds into sports.
Missouri-Nebraska, on the other hand, is a football rivalry. (And yes, no matter what Nebraska fans might tell themselves, it is indeed a rivalry.) It springs from Missouri and Nebraska coaches hating each other, Missouri and Nebraska players hating each other, and of course, Missouri and Nebraska fans hating each other. There is no war history between these two schools, only football. And football's enough.
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