Early mistakes cost Tigers game

Missouri fans had waited two years for No. 5 Nebraska's return to Faurot Field so the Tigers could avenge one of the most heartbreaking defeats in school history.

It took just one quarter, two muffed punts and 16 unanswered points to make football fans realize they would have to wait even longer.

No one in Columbia was prepared for such an anticipated event's deterioration into a 40-10 debacle.

MU coach Larry Smith pulled no punches in his assessment of his team's play.

"We stunk," he said. "We were embarrassed. That was the worst excuse for a football team I've ever seen in my life and we are all responsible for it."

The Cornhuskers (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) completely dominated, totaling 476 yards to the Tigers' 174. They outrushed the Tigers 333 to 25.

Disaster struck for Missouri (2-1, 0-1 Big 12) following the first drive of the game. On the Tigers' first punt attempt since Sept. 4 — a game in which they had two punts blocked — sophomore long snapper Ben Davidson rocketed the ball over the head of sophomore punter Jared Gilpin, who alertly batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Nebraska lead.

On MU's next punt attempt, Davidson again fired it over Gilpin, who this time picked the ball up and threw an incomplete pass. The 'Huskers scored five plays later on a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eric Crouch to wideout Matt Davidson.

The first-quarter mishaps weren't over for the Tigers. Freshman quarterback Kirk Farmer tossed a pass right into the hands of linebacker Julius Jackson, setting up the 'Huskers at the MU 31-yard line. On the next play, Crouch broke an option run for a touchdown and put the Tigers down 16-0.

"The two punt snaps and the interception in the first half accounted for 16 points," Smith said. "We got ourselves into a hole and you can't do that against a team like Nebraska."

After taking a 19-3 lead into halftime, Nebraska virtually ended any hope of an MU comeback when Crouch connected with Bobby Newcombe on a 53-yard touchdown to open the second half.

A 23-3 lead seemed next to insurmountable considering the ineffectiveness of the Tiger offense, which averaged just 2.9 yards per play for the contest.

The offense's effort was a stark contrast to its 560-yard output against Western Michigan. The rushing attack that looked so dominant a week before could gain only 25 yards on 32 carries.

The 'Huskers, however, were able to pound the ball down the field on the ground against a Tiger defense that was supposedly designed for just such an attack.

"They didn't do anything confusing," Smith said. "They ran option football and we acted like we'd never seen the damn thing."

Though the Tiger front seven had trouble stopping Crouch, who rushed for 92 yards, they got no help from the offense's inability to move the ball. Field position killed the Tigers, as four of Nebraska's five touchdown drives started in Missouri territory.

"I don't think our defense figured they'd have to play on a 30-yard field," Smith said. "It was like playing a scrimmage on one-third of the football field."

The brightest spot for the defense was sophomore defensive end Justin Smith, who harassed Crouch and the rest of Nebraska's backfield all night. He finished with 13 tackles, including three for losses and a sack.

The Tigers' next test will come Saturday in Memphis, Tenn., when the team faces the Memphis Tigers. It will be MU's final nonconference game.

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