LINCOLN NE - OCTOBER 30: Coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers (with headset) stands with his staff during second half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 30 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Missouri 31-17. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
I had no intention of going to this game. In fact, I had no intention, really, of acknowledging this game existed until exactly 2:30 pm on Saturday. With all the potential implications of this game, the less I thought about it, the better. (A strange thing to say, I realize, considering how many words we wrote about this game this week.) But when I ended up with an opportunity for a press pass (I drove up with SleepyFloyd7 Friday night -- and by the way, ghtd36, Sleepy can now also verify that my wife does indeed exist), I leaped at it. I knew that even if a loss was in the works, the disappointment from that loss probably would not be as strong as the disappointment in the end of one of Mizzou's longest-running, most intense series. Many of the most memorable games in Mizzou's history have been against Nebraska, and though the 1980s and 1990s all but laid waste to this series as a true "rivalry," it was just beginning to realize its potential again. And now it's over.
When the announcement came down this summer that Nebraska was getting the Big Ten invitation for which Mizzou fans were yearning, I was, by that point, completely and totally beaten down. June had been, to that point, the best month in Rock M Nation's history, and I had not enjoyed a second of it. It was the most stressful, high-anxiety month that I could remember as a Mizzou fan … and not a single sport was going on. You could say that there was a period in 2004 where things were less enjoyable, either because of the basketball or football team, but I didn't have a blog then -- and was going out of my way to avoid Tigerboard -- so I didn't have to write about it every day. Plus, there were days off between games. Every morning Mizzou was getting dumped on by a new news outlet, and every morning there were new possible scenarios to discuss. I knew that things probably wouldn't work out terribly for Mizzou, but the threat and the negative sentiment (Who does Missouri think they are, saying they deserve a Big Ten spot?) seemed so much more stressful than the upside and potential (Big Ten! SEC! Big Ten!) seemed exciting.
Because of this, I was just numb. When we put the pieces together and realized that Mizzou's Halloween weekend trip to Lincoln would be its last (at least for the foreseeable future), there was no regret, just "whatever." Now? Regret. Serious, serious regret. After hitting the 20-year pause button on what was an intense rivalry, things had just started to get good again. Both teams are on pace to possibly win double-digit games this year, and if that happens, it would be the first time since the 1960s. Mizzou has finally beaten Nebraska enough in recent years to get their attention, and looking at the North division as it is currently constituted (for another month or so), Mizzou and Nebraska -- who will almost certainly have combined to win the final five North titles -- were poised to continuously battle for titles year after year. But that won't happen now. Instead, we will just continuously talk about what could have been with this rivalry while getting back into the Oklahoma series full-force (and hopefully finding some new rivals along the way) and watching Big Ten fanbases slowly come to realize they don't enjoy Nebraska fans nearly as much as they thought they would in this summer's group hug stage. (And yes, Big Ten fans, it will happen. Quickly. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into.)
1924. Riding high into Lincoln, undefeated Mizzou advances, time after time, into Nebraska territory. But after taking a 6-0 lead, they cannot put the game away. A fourth-quarter touchdown gives Nebraska a 14-6 win and Mizzou their only loss of the regular season (and a frustrating one at that).
11:00 - I wait for Sleepy to pick up the credentials and parking pass, stuck listening to local sports radio. One of the Mackovikas has a Saturday morning show, and the conversation I was dreading begins: "Is Missouri a rival of Nebraska?" Of course not! Here's what I learned:
* You can't be Nebraska's rival until you've won some national titles recently. Sorry, Iowa, Wisconsin, and probably even Penn State (1986 was likely too long ago to matter for them). Only Michigan and Ohio State can be their rivals, as only they meet the qualifications.
* Just beating them "a couple of times" recently (four of seven heading into yesterday) doesn't matter. Why? Because any wins over Nebraska during the Bill Callahan Era do not count. They magically no longer exist. As far as Nebraska is concerned, their history stops in 2003 and picks up in 2008. (In which case, Mizzou has still won two of the last four with Nebraska, but I'm sure Solich and the Callahan remnants don't count either, so let's just say it stopped in 1997 and started again last year.)
* Gary Pinkel has somehow turned Mizzou into something resembling a mediocre program, even though he's clearly a terrible, terrible coach. ("Must be the assistants or recruiting or something. It obviously isn't him.")
(I also learned that Kansas State -- while foolishly considering themselves NU's equals for a few years there -- never actually turned the corner and won a Big 12 title … which would be news to K-State fans.)
Typically I would never have begun listening to a program like this in the first place, but this being the last true experience with Nebraska for a long time, I wanted to soak it all in. And by the way, they spent 30 minutes on this topic … which makes you wonder who they were trying to convince -- the listeners or themselves.
What are my own "rivalry" thoughts? Obviously this is, for the most part, a semantics debate. We can all define "rivalry" in our own way, but I have always believed that Mizzou-Nebraska was the absolute definition of a rivalry -- even though Nebraska was more historically successful -- until the dormant period in the 1980s and 1990s. As I mentioned in the Colorado diary a few weeks ago, rivalries are created by moments and big games. Mizzou and Nebraska played in a ton of huge games in the 1960s and created a ton of amazing moments in the 1970s. Nebraska had more national success in that period, obviously, but they also lost three straight at home to the Tigers at one point. These schools hated each other in the late-1970s and early-1980s, when Mizzou was ruining Nebraska's national title hopes and Tom Osborne was suggesting that Mizzou played dirty. This was as intense as a series can be.
But then Mizzou didn't hold up their end of the bargain. They gave Nebraska no reason to continue to care about them; we have no one to blame but ourselves.obviously led a brief resurgence when Mizzou almost pulled the big upset in 1997 and should have won in Lincoln in 1998. But then four more years went by with easy Nebraska wins. Even with a memorable game in 1997, you can't consider anything a rivalry until Team B actually knocks off Team A a bit. With the last two Nebraska wins, these teams have now split the series since 2003. Only one of the two teams has finished in the Top 10 in that period, and it isn't Nebraska (though that could obviously change soon). Nebraska fans have spent so much time denying that Mizzou is a rival (and in most cases, they have been the ones bringing up the topic to begin with) that it's pretty clear that, at the very least, the stage was set to bring it all back.
Again, though, that will not be happening. No more MU-NU games are on the schedule, Nebraska gets to keep The Bell, and they get to tell themselves that since they won the last two games, they were right all along (again, it's Missouri's own fault). That's life. It's regrettable, but life is regrettable sometimes. And now we turn to the rebuilding of a couple of rivalries (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) and hopefully the in-earnest building of some more (Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor).
1926. From the Savitar: "On October 9, in the great grey walls of the Cornhusker Stadium at Lincoln from which, until then, no Missouri Valley eleven had ever departed victorious and where Notre Dame, Illinois, New York University and other heralded teams had met their downfall; the Tigers squared their shoulders and by a great display of speed and skill and courage shattered whatever title hopes Nebraska might have had, 14 to 7."
11:30 - Time to do what I didn't get to do in my last trip to Lincoln in 1998 -- check out the pre-game environment and campus. Imagine if Faurot Field were actually located where Jesse Hall is. This is how the Nebraska campus and downtown interact. There is not nearly as much of a tailgating scene, at least not on the south and east sides of the tracks, but downtown is just a couple of blocks away from the stadium. Sleepy and I stop at the Embassy Suites on P Street, which has to make an absolute killing during football season. They open up their downstairs area for whoever wants to stop by for an (expensive) drink. Sleepy and I do our best to bring black and gold amid the sea of red.
Seriously, Embassy could charge $800 a room on home game weekends, and they would probably still sell out all their rooms.
12:15 - We have made our way down to Brothers on O Street, a pretty nice college bar with the welcome presence of mini-bowling. Here, we learn that Nebraska fans love their Jock Jams. That Alan Parsons Project song to which the Huskers come out during the Tunnel Walk starts playing and everybody immediately puts their beers down and start cheering/clapping. Considering how many times I've heard this song in my life and not reacted to it, this is a bit of a jarring experience. The fight song then plays ... and then we go back to the basic Def Leppard/Journey bar mix.
(By the way, if nothing else the trip to Brothers confirms one thing: take our actual teams out of the equation, and Missouri and Nebraska fans are very, very similar. Just do your best not to actually bring up football, and you'll all get along just fine.)
1938. Paul Christman's first trip to Lincoln sets abuzz the folks back in Columbia. The precocious Pitchin' Paul runs for a touchdown and throws for another, and Mizzou returns home with a thrilling 13-10 win. They will win five of six games to finish the season, building toward a 1939 campaign that goes down as one of Mizzou's best ever.
1:30 - Greetings from the Memorial Stadium press box!
1:35 - Oh holy crap, they seated us right next to Eric Crouch's seats! I am totally going to try to interview him ... and ask him why the hell he couldn't just let Nick Tarpoff tackle him in the end zone in 2001.
1:40 - Dammit. He gave his tickets away to some friends. Same with Johnny Rodgers on the other side of him. What a tease.
2:15 - The Husker fans in Crouch's seats are chatting with other Huskers in the general vicinity. "Have you been to Missouri's stadium?" "Yeah. It's ... cute." (Same fans later on: "Oh, Missouri's still undefeated? Huh." They had absolutely no idea. Stereotypes are often stereotypes for a reason.)
1940. The return trip for Paul Christman and Faurot's Tigers does not go as well as it had in 1938. In a game not dissimilar to this one, Nebraska scores twice early on (the equivalent of about four scores today), and Mizzou doesn't get on the board until they are down 20-0 in the fourth quarter. The 20-7 loss punctuates what will be a reasonably disappointing senior season for Christman after the thrilling heights of 1939.
2:25 - Considering how hard it obviously is to get extra tickets, Mizzou has represented pretty well today. They seem to have bought most of their allotted seats in the southwest corner, along with a patch in the northeast corner as well. There are random specks of gold strewn about the stadium.
I really am glad I came, just to get a more vivid memory of this stadium as a whole. (My only other trip was in 1998, and I went on a student bus trip. We were taken right to the alumni luncheon, then to our seats, so I really only experienced about 10 percent of the stadium and its surroundings.) What's most interesting about this place is ... in terms of its actual footprint, it's probably barely bigger than Mizzou's stadium. The difference is, the stands seem to go straight up on the east and west sides. As I will learn on the field later, the resulting noise level really is incredible. If Mizzou's Memorial Stadium is laid out like Dodger Stadium (wide and expansive), Nebraska's is, what, Tiger Stadium (tall, with the crowd right on top of you)? There's probably a better example than that. But combined with the (obvious) sellout crowd, it is both an impressive and rather shrilly loud experience.
In all, this atmosphere is what you would expect given the geographical and historical circumstances. Missouri's fanbase almost immediately gets split into factions because of the whole "KC vs StL" battle (not to mention a certain "rural vs city" tension as well). They also tend to split their sports budget between Missouri and the Cardinals, or Missouri and the Chiefs, or ... etc. In Nebraska, the Huskers are both the college team and the pro team, and half the state doesn't root for one team while the other half roots for another. This is the major show in town, and ... good for them. It works out well. I wish Missouri had the same great arrangement (easy for me to say, since I have no attachment to the Cards, Chiefs, Royals, Rams, Blues, or any other team in the area).
Of course, there is also the historical factor: give Mizzou 50 years of winning and watch them fill an 80K+ stadium as well. Hell, they were getting reasonably close in the 1970s with no breakthrough season. No sport is more married to its history than college football, and there are some decades Missouri will never get back. The program creates the fanbase, and then the fanbase reinforces the program. That's the way it works.
(And in fairness to Nebraska, despite all the arrogance and condescension I clearly experienced around me on Saturday ... it's not like Mizzou's fanbase would be any less arrogant or condescending if they had been winners for most of five decades.)
What strikes me as the most surprising, however, is how so much of what makes the Nebraska experience stand out has so little history attached. Everybody loves the Tunnel Walk, and it really is pretty neat to watch (I'd say Mizzou should do something similar, but the "tunnel" between their locker room and the stadium is open-air ... and about 12-feet long) ... but they really do use a classic Jock Jams track in the background. They don't show nearly as many historic Nebraska clips in the pre-game as I had envisioned (though personalizing the intro to show the Matt Davison catch and Ndamukong Suh's play from last year was a nice touch). I expected to feel 100 years of history during the game environment, and really I felt about 15. I don't really say this with any negative tone -- it is just an observation.
It isn't like Missouri does much better in that regard, obviously. But we don't have the history that Nebraska has; despite all the years of winning, the vibe I got in the stadium was basically that Johnny Rodgers was about the only memorable thing that happened before 1995. It just wasn't what I expected, is all. Oklahoma does a much more thorough job of nodding toward their history in the gameday experience.
1952. This is not a high point in either team's history (both teams won five games that season), but Missouri takes a tight 10-6 win in Lincoln. The Tigers' defense steals the show -- they stop Nebraska four times inside the Missouri 25-yard line, and Ed Merrifield returns an interception 25 yards for the deciding touchdown.
2:33 - After Tunnel Walk, we get the "No cheering in the press box" announcement. Bless their hearts, they try as hard as they possibly can to follow this rule. It won't work, but they do try.
2:37 - Mizzou will receive to start the game. Who knew? Predictably, it's a touchback. Adi Kunalic leads the nation in touchbacks percentage, and he will only add to his lead today.
The first possession goes ... well ... exactly how Mizzou didn't want it to go. Nebraska gets pressure without blitzing on first down (they did a solid job of confusing Mizzou's offensive line early on by disguising who was rushing and who wasn't ... and by the time the line figured things out, they were down 24), and Gabbert is lucky to scramble back to the line of scrimmage He throws wide of Michael Egnew on second down and has to throw it away on third down. One minute into the game, Mizzou punts. Grabner hangs one out for 51 yards, and the return is short.
2:45 - Nebraska's first possession ... goes exactly how Mizzou didn't want it to go. Mizzou overplays Taylor Martinez, and Roy Helu, Jr., goes untouched for 66 yards. The blocking was good, and Carl Gettis took an absolutely atrocious angle. Helu isn't as fast as Martinez, but he's much faster than Gettis apparently thought he was. Just like that, it's 7-0 Nebraska.
1960. It's Homecoming in Lincoln, but the festivities are ruined by a rude bunch of Tigers. The fifth-ranked Tigers score once in each quarter. In the third quarter, Norris Stevenson rips through a third-down hole for a 69-yard touchdown, and Mizzou coasts, 28-0. Their last two trips to Lincoln have netted two wins and a 59-0 scoring margin.
2:50 - After another touchback (they're all touchbacks today), Gabbert keeps the ball when he should hand it off, then hands it off when he should have kept it (though it looked like that one probably wasn't an option), and very quickly, it's third-and-11. Gabbert flees the pocket into pressure and throws it away again.
Mizzou's Leverage Rate on the first two drives: 33%. That's as low as you can get considering one-third of a set of downs is a first-and-10 (which is a standard down). Nebraska has three primary strengths: they are great in the first quarter, their offense is great on standard downs, and their defense is great on passing downs. Early on, when the game was being decided, Mizzou failed to neutralize any of these strengths.
2:54 - After a rollout pass gets a first down, Martinez fires a very pretty ball downfield to Niles Paul. Paul found a spot in the zone, but if the pass had been off-target in any way, it would have either been broken up or picked off. Quickly, the Huskers are already to the Mizzou 25. Two short runs generate seven yards, and Nebraska faces its first third down of the game. Zaviar Gooden makes a perfect play on a scrambling Martinez, however, and the Huskers will settle for a 41-yard Alex Henery field goal. 10-0 Nebraska. As Dave Matter points out on Twitter, however, this means Mizzou still has the best red zone defense in the country. So we've got THAT going for us!
1962. Nebraska is thriving in Bob Devaney's first season, and the 6-0 Huskers host 5-0-1 Mizzou in front of 38,000 and a national television audience. Johnny Roland unleashes a 46-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and a short Jim Johnson touchdown finalizes a 16-7 Mizzou win. This was potentially the best Mizzou team of all-time, and they took care of business for their third consecutive win in Lincoln. Dan Devine didn't actually lose in Lincoln until his seventh season in charge.
3:02 - Positive yardage! After another touchback, Gabbert finds T.J. Moe for a 20-yard gain, and Alfonzo Dennard is injured. (He will miss the rest of the game, making Nebraska's ridiculously good coverage job that much more impressive.) Jerrell Jackson then drops a quick out on first down, however, and that's predictably a drive killer. After a short run by Kendial Lawrence, Gabbert is tripped up for a sack on third-and-7, and Grabner is already punting for the third time (it's another nice one, by the way). You can move the ball on Nebraska, but you simply have to get yards on first down to do it.
3:05 - Nebraska continues with the passing on standard downs. Martinez finds Ben Cotton for a nice gain on another rollout, and the Huskers are across midfield. Jarrell Harrison stops Martinez for no gain on a first down from the Mizzou 40, but then Kyler Reed -- a tight end, mind you -- burns Carl Gettis with a double move (Gettis very lazily reacted to the first move, and Reed was already on to the second) and gets open deep for a touchdown. 17-0 Nebraska. As co-founder and co-president of the Carl Gettis Fan Club, I can say that he played absolutely horribly in the first quarter. He was at least partially to blame on both of the first two touchdowns.
3:12 - Hey, look! A passing down! A forced incompletion and a one-yard gain lead to third-and-9. Gabbert throws it away, but Mizzou is bailed out by a defensive hold. First down! You take what you can get. Given new life, Mizzou finally gets a nice gain on first down; a screen (nearly broken up) to Egnew generates nine yards. Here's where I go deep on Playstation ... but instead, Henry Josey is tripped up for a loss of one. Third-and-2 from the Mizzou 39, and Gabbert throws wide to a well-covered Moe. Mizzou stayed in standard downs on that set of downs, and it didn't matter. Grabner punts for the fourth time.
3:15 - Okay, I get it, Roy Helu. You're faster than I thought you were. Fine. Point taken. Now stop. Helu gets the corner and, with no safeties anywhere in the picture (not sure what happened there), he only has to beat Andrew Gahkcar to the end zone. 73 yards, 24-0 Nebraska, and Mizzou is getting embarrassed. After outscoring the Huskers 119-33 over 13 quarters from 2006 to 2009 (and 17-7 over the final three of this game), they have been outscored 51-0 in the last two. That's ... hard to do.
(In the midst of dumping on Mizzou for this awful first-quarter performance, I should also compliment them. This had the look of a 66-7 route at this point, and they sucked it up and started playing better. Now, I mentioned all week how leverage-dependent Nebraska is -- they are not good offensively on passing downs, and they are the best in the country defensively on passing downs. They are exactly the type of team that probably isn't going to blow a 24-point lead against anybody in the country. Every down was basically a passing down the rest of the way for Mizzou, but Gabbert showed some serious guts and fortitude while getting wailed upon, and Mizzou moved the ball rather well over the final three quarters. The game was completely over at this point, but Mizzou kept fighting, and they do deserve credit for that.)
1972. Against the defending national champion Huskers, Mizzou fights to keep the score at just 21-0 at halftime, but after Johnny Rodgers rips off a great punt return and the Huskers intercept John Cherry, it is quickly 42-0, then 48-0, then 55-0. Mizzou loses, 62-0, setting the table for one of their most starting bounceback wins, an upset of Notre Dame in South Bend, just the next week.
3:18 - Drive No. 5 starts with a huge run by Gabbert, but it is negated somewhat because somehow Wes Kemp grabbed a facemask at some point. Not what one would call focused blocking. It's officially a 25-yard gain with a 15-yard penalty. Gabbert broke off what was probably a 50-yarder ... and it goes for 10 yards.
Moe gets ten yards on a slant, but then the offensive line says "¡Olé!" Gabbert is sacked as soon as he takes the snap on first down, then is sacked again by Jared Crick. Fortunately, Crick went hands-to-face for an easy 15-yard penalty. The crowd is outraged ... outraged!! (It was an easy call.) They will apparently guilt the refs into ignoring future penalty-worthy hits on the quarterback.
The line finally does its job on the resulting first down, but there is not a single receiver open, and eventually Gabbert is dragged down for the third straight play. So that's Line Sack, Line Sack (with penalty), Coverage Sack if you're scoring at home. On second down, Gabbert gets the pass off! It's wide of Moe, but ... progress! On third down, Gabbert lobs it to Jackson deep, and it is intercepted. Jackson was well-covered, but Gabbert had to throw to somebody, now didn't he. It basically serves as another punt.
3:28 - Life from the Mizzou defense! Rex Burkhead finds a nice hole for seven yards on first down, but after Martinez is crushed throwing a deep ball (almost intercepted), Michael Sam blows him up for a third down sack. (It's odd to say this, but in a game where a Nebraska runner set a school record, I think Mizzou's defensive ends actually played really well -- for the most part, it was in the linebacker corps and secondary where the glitches occurred.) The crowd boos lustily because ... well ... because Nebraska was penalized when they hit the quarterback, therefore it's only fair if Mizzou is flagged too, apparently. Gettis puts together a decent punt return, and Mizzou takes over.
3:30 - RPT on Twitter: "Hey Michigan State, you want to get a beer later?" (Michigan State is losing 23-0 to Iowa, and unlike Mizzou, they won't really bounce back.)
1974. No. 5 Nebraska leads 2-2 Missouri, 10-0, heading into the final quarter, but after Husker quarterback David Humm gets hurt, Mizzou plows ahead for three fourth quarter touchdowns and a shocking 21-10 win, just two years after the 62-0 loss. Mizzou wins five of their final seven games to finish 7-4.
3:37 - Mizzou's first successful drive comes an hour after the game began. Two passes to Jackson and Egnew generate a first down, then Moe goes for nine yards. Gabbert pump fakes and goes long on second-and-1 (my play!), but the throw is predictably well-covered, and it falls incomplete. On third-and-1 from the Nebraska 33, Mizzou brings out a pretty sweet seven-lineman double-jumbo package. Nebraska coaches are as taken aback as anybody, and they call timeout.
After the timeout, Gabbert plunges for the first down ... but one of the seven linemen moved. Sigh. Third-and-6, and Gabbert scrambles and finds a diving Egnew for five yards. Egnew justified every bit of the mid-season All-American hype with the way he played on Saturday. His growth this season has been simply incredible.
Fourth-and-1 ... double-jumbo package again ... and Gabbert quick-pitches wide to De'Vion Moore, who gets the corner and goes 33 yards for a touchdown. Great call, great run, great blocking. 24-7 Nebraska. Or, to put it another way, Teams Going Toward the South Endzone 31, Teams Going North 0. Wonderful job by the offense on this drive.
3:40 - Not as wonderful: a short kick by Trey Barrow and an easy 40-yard return by Niles Paul. The Huskers are near midfield without snapping the ball. As devastating as first downs and the first quarter were for Mizzou, Nebraska gave them no hope of truly coming back because they are one of the best in the country at playing the field position game. Mizzou started every possession at their 20-yard line, and after Mizzou scored, Nebraska tended to start closer to the 40. And against a team that fumbles over three times per game, Mizzou was unable to force a turnover and do their offense any favors. You must give yourself some short fields against this defense, and Mizzou just couldn't do it.
Despite the field position, Mizzou's defense continues to step up. Jacquies Smith forces Martinez to reverse field on first down, and Aldon Smith stops him for a loss of seven. Mizzou goes deep on second down, and Kevin Rutland is in position to make the interception, but he is tackled and can't reel it in. (In other words, it was a very obvious offensive pass interference, with no call. And now that I've set up the "Nebraska outrage!" meme, I feel hypocritical complaining about calls or no-calls ... but this one was a bad no-call, the end.)
On third down, Martinez scrambles forever and is gang-tackled for a loss of two. Once again, the crowd is shocked and boos because they want a flag. What flag, I have no idea. Another nice Gettis punt return gives Mizzou the ball at their 41. A small window of opportunity has opened for Mizzou to get back in this game.
1976. One of the greatest and most frustrating seasons in Mizzou history continues with a shocking Tiger win in Lincoln. Having already defeated No. 8 USC and No. 2 Ohio State on the road, the Tigers are far from intimidated in facing the No. 3 Huskers. With Mizzou down 24-23 in the fourth quarter, Pete Woods finds Joe Stewart for a shocking 98-yard touchdown. Mizzou pulls away to win 34-24 ... and then proceeds to lose three of four down the stretch.
3:48 - Nebraska's defense responds. Gabbert gets two yards on a keeper, and Kemp gets three on a quick slant. Gabbert gets great protection on third down, but there's nobody open yet again, and he throws it away. Grabner angles the punt out around the Nebraska 16, and the crowd boos the spot. Of course they do.
3:52 - The start of Nebraska's next drive is marred by a chop block on a Helu run. It's quickly third-and-15 (with press box attendees grumbling about the lack of play-calling creativity, which surprises me); Martinez shot puts a pass to Helu for 14 yards. He's clearly short ... and the crowd boos the spot. I have officially gotten Outrage Fatigue, even from the press box, where the crowd noise is muffled. Then, it gets worse. Gettis fair catches the ensuing punt, and his momentum carries him into an NU cover guy a bit. They jaw for a second, and the crowd reacts as if Gettis whipped out a shiv and stuck it in his belly.
Somebody behind me then gives the first "The Big 12 clearly wants Mizzou to win this game" rant of the day. Because ... the calls ... have been ... so much ... in Mizzou's favor ... I guess? Outrage Fatigue has turned into Outrage Exhaustion. Seriously, have fun with them, Big Ten fans. They're all yours. Did I say I'm going to miss this rivalry? I'm having second thoughts.
(And this says nothing of Gabe's experience Saturday night.)
4:01 - After Gabbert fires too hard for Moe (it bounces off his hands and is almost picked off), De'Vion Moore rips off a beautiful, strong, 13-yard gain in traffic. Kendial Lawrence runs for another first down, but two quick incompletions (one almost pass interference, the other a great piece of coverage on a deep ball) lead to third-and-10. Getting into field goal range is imperative here ... but they go long instead. Rolandis Woodland gets a step on his man but can't quite reel in the pass. The Nebraska defender grabs at Woodland's hand, which could be called pass interference, but I can't blame the ref for not calling it -- he'd have feared for his life if he threw that flag. And regardless, Woodland needs to get catch that ball anyway. He got a few opportunities to prove that he is more than just a Greg Bracey-type (a great athlete who isn't really a great football player), and the opportunities mostly fell to the turf.
On fourth-and-10 from the Nebraska 35, Mizzou once again has no good options. With their play to date, they probably had about a 3 percent chance of converting on fourth-and-10, so they tried a low-percentage field goal instead. The snap is poor, and Ressel's kick comes up short. Major-league missed opportunity there. Woodland should have caught the deep ball for seven, and a good snap might have meant three points. Instead, it's still 24-7.
4:04 - Starting from their 35 following the miss, Nebraska needs just one nice Martinez run to get back into Mizzou territory. Two more runs set up a third-and-3 at the Mizzou 43. Martinez somehow fires the ball right into Ebner's back, however, and Henery sand wedges one to the Mizzou 10 with 1:59 left in this miserable first half. Goal No. 1: make sure Nebraska can't expand their lead before halftime. Goal No. 2: try to steal some points. Mizzou goes one-for-two.
1978. Did you see him? Did you see him take that man and throw him down?
4:09 - Nice passes to Jerrell Jackson and Brandon Gerau (love that kid!) get Mizzou quickly to their 36, then Prince Amukamara knocks away a pass to Moe ... because that's what he does. Gabbert scrambles for three to set up a third-and-7, then lobs a pass just inches too far for a diving Moe. As with the San Diego State, some of Gabbert's long passes are just barely failing. But they're failing nontheless. Grabner crushes a 50-yard punt to a back-pedaling Burkhead, and though Helu comes this close to breaking another long touchdown, he doesn't, and Nebraska runs out the rest of the clock. It's 24-7 at halftime. It could have been much, much worse ... but if one of those deep balls had found its mark, it could have been a lot better.
4:33 - Wait ... Nebraska is kicking off again? Didn't expect that, but okay. Mizzou ball at the 20 (because I didn't need to tell you it was a touchback). Gabbert finds Egnew for five, then jukes a guy to the ground (seriously) for five more. All options are covered to start the next set of downs, however, and Gabbert is sacked for a seven-yard loss. After a lunging Jackson drops a tough-but-catchable pass 15 yards downfield, the drive ends with Gabbert having to throw the ball away yet again. Grabner comes on for his 26th(ish) punt of the game.
4:40 - And Zac Lee is now in for the hobbled Martinez, who got hit quite a bit in the second quarter and at some point suffered a bone bruise in one leg. For an offense that basically just needs to avoid killer turnovers, Lee will work just fine ... perhaps better than Martinez, actually. Penalties mar Lee's first drive, however. A dropped pass on third-and-penalty-aided-14 leads to a punt, and Mizzou takes over at their 22.
1982. From the Omaha World-Herald: "The fifth-ranked Huskers won 23-19, as Mike Rozier had his gutsiest day running for 139 yards over MU with a hip pointer. But the headline, again, was a "cheap shot’’ when Missouri defensive end (and Omaha native) Randy Jostes pushed Gill down after he had released the ball. Gill was knocked out of the game. Emotions got ugly again, even up in the press box, where the public address man announced it as a 'cheap shot.' Former Missouri sports information director Bill Callahan — the real Bill Callahan — charged up and scolded the PA guy."
4:56 - Here comes another strong Mizzou drive. Josey runs for six on first down, but a second-down out is broken up. (I probably would have just run the ball again there.) Third-and-4 for Mizzou turns into third-and-9 when Jayson Palmgren jumps (he is easily the most penalized Mizzou lineman), but great Nebraska coverage actually backfires on the Huskers; nobody notices Gabbert leaving the pocket, and 25 yards later ... IT'S MIZZOU'S FIRST THIRD-DOWN CONVERSION OF THE GAME!!! CUE CELEBRATION DOG.
Welcome to the game, puppy.
Opportunity No. 2 for Woodland once again comes within inches of paying off. Gabbert fakes the zone read keeper and quickly pitches to Ro, who almost splits two blockers and breaks free for a touchdown, but instead gets tripped up for six yards. After Gabbert scrambles for nothing, it's third down again. Gabbert is in a rhythm (sort of) at this point, however, and Egnew makes a gorgeous catch with Lavonte David on his back and going for the pick. First down at the Nebraska 39.
By the way ... I don't know if you've heard us say this (a million times since Saturday) or not, but Nebraska's secondary is really good. Gabbert is getting more comfortable, and the protection is getting better, but twice in a row he is forced to just throw the ball away. (Of course, that probably means Mizzou should be running more ... but down 17, they have all but given up on that.) Third-and-10, and Egnew makes another great catch over the middle for 11 yards. Mizzou wide receivers had a horribly forgettable day, but Egnew was just plain awesome.
Now inside the Nebraska 30, Gabbert fakes another handoff and plows ahead for four yards. After Nebraska perfectly sniffs out a screen, he has to scramble for a loss of one. Third-and-five, and Mizzou uses their second timeout of the drive (ouch), as Gabbert didn't realize the play clock was down to :01. Points are what is most important here, but losing two timeouts wasn't a good thing. BUT...
...the timeout was worth it. Moe motions all the way from the left sideline to the right sideline, then runs a pretty post route, shakes his man, and gets into the endzone. Well done on all accounts. 24-14 Nebraska. Mizzou's drive: 12 plays, 78 yards, 4:20. If Mizzou can make another stop, they are right back in this game.
4:59 - They do not make that stop. Not even close. Will Ebner horribly over-pursues to the right, and Helu stops and finds a huge hole up the middle. Fifty-seven yards later, it's 31-14 Nebraska, right back to a 17-point lead. These are Nebraska's only points of the game's final three quarters, but the score is just perfectly timed. Mizzou worked really hard to get the game back to 10 points, and Nebraska extended it back to 17 in one play.
1990. Riding a bit of national momentum after losing to Colorado via Fifth Down the week before, Mizzou thought they might be able to stand up just as well to No. 5 Nebraska. A win would likely mean their first Top 25 ranking in years. Instead, they couldn't force a single Nebraska punt. The Huskers led 45-14 at halftime on the way to a humbling 69-21 win, and the Bob Stull era, really, would never recover.
5:24 - Okay, this penalty doesn't end up mattering because Mizzou quickly responded with a first down, but Gabbert got called for intentional grounding despite almost hitting T.J. Moe's foot with the pass. Why? Because the ref says, "In college football, the ball has to be somewhat catchable." Maybe this is a rule, but I've never heard of it. As Sleepy says next to me, "That's science fiction." It's a good thing Big 12 refs want Mizzou to win this game, huh?
Anyway, after Gabbert (on second down) and Lawrence (third) combine to get the first down anyway, Moe makes a diving catch and temporarily injures himself. On third down, Gabbert buys time forever before heaving the ball downfield ... and Egnew makes a simply ridiculous leaping catch on the sideline. In real time, I decided there was no way in hell he secured the ball and got a foot down inbounds. Upon further review, he secured the ball and might have gotten two feet down. (That doesn't stop the fans from incessantly booing when the replay confirms the call on the field, of course.) I have compared him to Martin Rucker with increasing frequency recently, but that was, dare I say, Coffman-esque.
First down from the Nebraska 31. Mizzou goes deep immediately to Kemp, but Ciante Evans (in for Dennard) almost makes a gorgeous interception. Instead, he drops the ball and hurts himself. Gabbert goes right back at Kemp against the third-stringer, Anthony West, and it's almost picked off. Instead, however, Kemp catches the pass and breaks ahead for 16 yards.
After two tough yards for Moore, Gabbert goes to the end zone to Jerrell Jackson, but again it is broken up, this time by Amukamara. Jackson probably should have caught it anyway (he got both hands on it), but I'm not sure why you would ever throw at Amukamara. (At one point, Amukamara broke up a pass intended for Woodland, and my immediate reaction was ... "You threw it to him? With him covering?") Third-and-8 ... make that third-and-13 after a delay of game penalty (Gabbert tried calling a fourth timeout) ... and Gabbert breaks for the end zone. As he lunges for the end zone, he is face-masked pretty badly and goes down at the one-foot line. The ball comes loose, and the officials will review the play and say that he was down. ("BOOOOOOOOO!!!") Whether he was down or not, I figure they reviewed the play, saw the facemask, and figured ... we'll split the difference. Mizzou ball.
* First-and-goal from the one-foot line: Gabbert gets about an inch under center.
* Second-and-goal from 11 inchces away: Josey gets about eight inches.
* Third-and-goal from three inches away: out of the shotgun, Gabbert fakes the handoff and is pinwheeled at the goal line. No score. Oy.
Fourth-and-goal ... Mizzou's going for it, of course ... at least until Gabbert tries a hard count and Josey moves early. False start. Field goal. 31-17 Nebraska, 1:35 left in the third quarter. With the reviews and penalties, that drive took 22 minutes in real time. Holy moly.
1995. Following a shutout loss to Kansas State, a desperate Larry Smith attempts to shake things up by tearing the redshirt off of prized freshman quarterback Corby Jones. Nebraska (whom Jones spurned to stay closer to home) is unimpressed. The Missouri defense holds on as long as it can, and Nebraska leads only 7-0 after one quarter ... but it is only a matter of time. The points pile up in nuclear fashion, and Jones' debut ends with a 57-0 defeat.
5:27 - And the steady diet of Roy Helu begins. Three runs generate exactly ten yards, and that's the end of the longest third quarter in the history of the world. Just imagine how long it would have been had Nebraska attempted more than two passes.
5:35 - Two more Helu runs generate exactly ten more yards, then two Lee keepers do the same. Nebraska is to the Mizzou 38 now -- this has been the perfect clock-eating drive so far. Two more Helu runs get six yards, giving Mizzou their first opportunity for a stop. Helu is strung wide and wrapped up for a two-yard loss, bringing up fourth down and a long field goal attempt ... which is blocked by Jacquies Smith! Mizzou (technically) has life for a little while longer. Still 31-17, 10:30 left.
5:44 - Mizzou's following drive starts with a defensive holding penalty ("BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!") and a four-yard De'Vion Moore run to the Mizzou 48. After a Mizzou substitution infraction, however, it's second-and-long, and Nebraska can bring the blitz. Oh, do they. Safety Courtney Osborne comes off the edge and lights Gabbert up. Gabbert stays down a while. It's an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit ... and quite possibly also an uncalled fumble. It's likely another split-the-difference replay review ... Mizzou keeps the ball ("BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"). For now. Gabbert (who, to his credit, is upright yet again) gets 12 yards back on 3rd-and-22, but Mizzou punts with about nine minutes left.
1998. Nebraska is ranked seventh in the country, but they are on approximately their 13th-string quarterback, walk-on Monte Christo. No. 19 Missouri plays inspired defense all game, returning a fumble for a touchdown and setting up a short touchdown with a blocked field goal and return. But with Corby Jones severely limited with turf toe, the Tigers just cannot move the ball. They gain just 166 yards all game, and a desperation heave falls between John Dausman's hands. Mizzou cannot get revenge for 1997 and stumbles, 20-13.
5:48 - Two Helu runs get a first down, and as we're packing up to head down to the field, the event staff lady behind me is complaining that "somebody took all my pro-grums." On third-and-2 from the Nebraska 31, Lee runs a play-action rollout to Kyler Reed, and apparently he gets a foot down inbounds. When the play happened, I thought he was about seven feet out of bounds. Replay confirms, so there you go. The chains move, and any remaining hope Mizzou had fades away.
5:56 - We're down on the sideline, and Nebraska still has the ball. As Mizzou higher-ups like governor Jay Nixon and Mizzou president Gary Forsee prepare to leave, the 80K+ in attendance start a rather impressive "Helu, Helu, Helu" chant.
5:58 - Less impressive: the "Overrated" chant that follows. Ah yes, the "Ha ha, we're beating you, so you must not be as good as people thought" chant. That'll show us.
2006. In a game almost identical to this one, Nebraska breaks open a surprising early lead and Mizzou faces a 27-6 halftime deficit. They improve in the second half, but the damage is done, and in Chase Daniel's first truly poor start, Mizzou falls 34-20.
6:00 - Nebraska calls timeout with 2:17 left, then converts a fourth-and-1 to basically end the game. Here comes victory formation. This game was lost in the first quarter, but Mizzou made them fight as long as possible to officially wrap it up. That's something, I guess.
2008. Revenge! For the first time in 30 years, Mizzou actually gets it done in Lincoln, and in vociferous fashion. Jeremy Maclin scores less than a minute into the game, and Mizzou's offense operates at perhaps the highest level in the school's long history. Mizzou leads 52-10, until Nebraska's first-stringers finally score on Mizzou's scrubs as time expires in a 52-17 route.
6:14 - Pinkel's opening statement at his postgame press conference almost literally lasts eight seconds. His answers are as succinct as Post-Loss Pinkel's typically are (Most disappointing aspect of today's game: "Losing." Hangover eff--"No. That's an excuse."). Sleepy gets the audio he needs, and we get on the road. Sort of. It takes more than an hour to actually get out of Lincoln.
Leaving Lincoln, I predictably begin to face the layers of "what could have been" thoughts. If only Carl Gettis had only made one egregious error in the first quarter instead of two, or Rolandis Woodland had caught the second-quarter deep ball, or Will Ebner hadn't overpursued in the third quarter ... Nebraska still probably would have won, but Missouri would have given themselves much more of a fighting chance. And if only things had played out a little differently over the summer, this might not be my final trip to Lincoln. Granted, the Big Ten could always re-open the can of expansion worms again this offseason, and who knows what would then unfold, but it goes without saying at this point that the odds of Mizzou and Nebraska being conference rivals in the future are not amazingly high.
Mizzou players and staff now shift their attention to the coming weeks, but as we drive home in the pitch black landscape of eastern Nebraska and northern Missouri, there is no future -- only a past.