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Friday, November 21, 2014

Tigers finally win 'the big one'

Tigers stomp Cornhuskers, look ahead for future victories.

Oct. 9, 2007

MU football coach Gary Pinkel, junior quarterback Chase Daniel and Missouri finally won the big one.

The fault Pinkel and the Tigers have had is that they can't win big games or find their way past mediocrity.

No. 17 MU struggled to get over the hump under Pinkel, highlighted by losses to teams such as Troy and multiple blown leads.

With a 41-6 win against the No. 25 Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Tigers have started to shed their label of underachievers.

But maybe this Nebraska team was not the Cornhuskers of old; they could not move the ball on the ground or through the air, and the defense came nowhere close to resembling the famed Blackshirts.

Regardless, this was a dominant win by the Tigers, and it could go a long way in silencing their critics.

The players and coaches talked all season about how the team had not put together a complete game yet, but this was that game they were looking for.

"We played our A game on a lot of facets," Daniel said.

It was the perfect setup with an 8:15 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, giving the Tigers a chance to showcase their talent on national television.

Everybody responded, including the coaches, players and fans.

Various newspapers across the country had pointed to Pinkel and his coaching staff as reasons the Tigers could not win the North Division, let alone big games.

With a bye week before facing Nebraska, the coaches had the team well prepared.

This was especially evident with the defense, which was suspect heading into the game.

Instead of a shootout, which was widely suspected, the Tigers held Nebraska to 297 total yards.

"We were on the sideline and Brock (Christopher) was like 'Where has this run defense been all year?' and I was like 'Better late than never,' so I don't think we've been holding back — I just think we came out and did a lot of things right tonight," sophomore linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.

The preparedness did not just show on the defense. Up 34-6 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers faced fourth and goal from the Nebraska 10.

They lined up for the field goal, but senior tight end Martin Rucker received a shovel pass from senior wide receiver Tommy Saunders, who was the holder, and ran in for a touchdown.

"We've been running it for, I think, three years, and we finally got it in the end zone," Rucker said.

Daniel also silenced critics who said he couldn't win the big game.

Last year he struggled against Nebraska and Oklahoma and could not lead the Tigers past Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.

But Daniel was sharp from the start. He completed seven of his first eight passes on the way to a career-best night of 401 yards on 33-of-47 and two touchdowns.

He also led the Tigers with 72 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground.

"I felt it," Daniel said. "I felt we were so well prepared."

Pinkel, Daniel and many others also credited the fans for their part.

The MU crowd wore mostly gold, and the atmosphere was electric.

"If we keep winning like this, then we will have crowds like this regularly," Pinkel said.

The Tigers have little time to enjoy the win with Oklahoma coming up next, but for a program on the rise, winning these big games is the first step toward the top 10.

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