The 2010 Missouri football season has been all about finishing games. The Tigers have outscored every opponent in the second half this year, and their undefeated record used to be proven success of their “finish” philosophy. But the story this weekend was all about the start, not the finish, of the Nebraska game.
Of all the analysis and critiques of Missouri’s loss in the last few days, junior wide receiver Jerrell Jackson might have put it best.
“We blinked and they were gone already,” Jackson said. “They got a good start. Coach always preaches about finishing, but this game it was about how we started.”
The Tigers were outscored 24-0 in the first 12 minutes of the game in Lincoln, Neb., as the defense gave up two huge scoring plays and the offense started with a handful of three-and-outs.
Although Missouri outscored Nebraska 17-7 in the next three quarters, the team wasn't able to overcome the early deficit.
Nebraska senior running back Roy Helu, Jr., broke loose for 66-yard and 73-yard touchdown runs respectively in the first quarter, the first one coming on the Huskers' first offensive play of the game.
Coach Gary Pinkel knows how big plays can influence a game, especially when they happen early and often.
“They came out and played exceptionally well,” Pinkel said. “They were on fire. Those few plays were devastating. Obviously you can’t give up big plays and be a good defensive team.”
Senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar knows how detrimental those plays can be for his defense, especially when the offense doesn’t pick them up on the other end.
“The first play of the game, when it’s a touchdown, that’s really deflating,” Gachkar said. “And then add on our offense not coming out right. Our whole first quarter together wasn’t a good show.”
After the defense was pummeled by the double threat of Helu and a running quarterback in redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, the Tiger offense did little to cover for them.
Missouri managed to score in the second quarter on a nifty, fake quarterback sneak toss to junior De’Vion Moore. The touchdown provided the team's only points of the entire first half, a recipe for disaster when playing on the road. The only way the Tigers were going to quiet the 85,000 strong in sold-out Memorial Stadium was to score early.
The Missouri offense could be summed up by one frustrating possession at the end of the third quarter. Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert and company had the ball inside the one-yard line on first down, but failed to go the extra two feet in the next three downs.
Settling for the short field goal was a killer for Missouri, especially after Helu had posted his third long touchdown run just a few minutes before. Helu finished with 307 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.
Win or lose, the Tigers know they need to have a short memory and start focusing on the next game.
“We turn the page,” Gabbert said. “We have a 24-hour rule in this program. Whether you win or lose you have to turn the page and focus on the next opponent.”
The rule means even more this week, as Missouri no longer controls their postseason destiny. The loss to Nebraska means that even if they win out with an 11-1 record, they won’t play in the Big 12 Championship if the Huskers do the same.
The Tigers will travel to Lubbock, Texas, this Saturday to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Missouri’s second-straight road contest is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.