Nebraska 31 ... Missouri 17
Get up early and bleed them dry.
Give Missouri credit for trying to fight back against the suffocating Nebraska defense, and it had chances to take over the game in the second half, but the formula was perfect for the Big Red. Get up early, make the other team panic, and run, run, run.
Taylor Martinez got knocked out of the game in the first half, meaning the entire stadium knew who was going to get the ball. Roy Helu, who had already ripped off first quarter touchdown runs from 66 and 73 yards away, was going to be the offense, and there was nothing Missouri could do to stop it.
It’s one thing to see all the hopes and dreams of a Big 12 title, and maybe more, slip away so quickly after beating the No. 1 team in the nation, and it’s another to have them stuffed down your throat. Missouri has one of the nation’s best tackling defenses, and it has been strong all year against the run, but it didn’t have a prayer against the Huskers, who came up with their most physical game all year.
Helu got to fly through gaping holes for big dashes in the first half, and then he had to pound away in the second as Nebraska went on soul-crushing drive after soul-crushing drive. Missouri needed to have more of a sense of urgency on offense with the way the defense was getting run over, and it couldn’t find its groove as everything turned sour.
Washington’s Jake Locker and Texas’s Garrett Gilbert were a disaster against the Husker D, and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden struggled against it. Blaine Gabbert only completed 18-of-42 passes for the Tigers, and while he did what he could, there was nowhere to go with the ball even when he had to try to force plays.
Nebraska did the job on both sides of the ball, it’s going to win the Big 12 North, and it’s going to stay alive in the national title chase. And it did it the way Husker fans have been dreaming of.
They got their program back.
There are so many reasons that Nebraska ought to be ecstatic about Saturday’s outcome, a 31-17 win over unbeaten Missouri. Taking control of the Big 12 North and remaining on the fringe of national championship contention are two of the obvious ones. Not to be overlooked, however, is that the Huskers did it without linchpin QB Taylor Martinez for the majority of the game, a huge accomplishment that wouldn’t have been possible without the heroics of No. 10, RB Roy Helu Jr.
First off, you obviously don’t smash a single-game rushing record at a school like Nebraska, which has had plenty of great backs through the years, without a ton of help up front. The Husker O-line was, in a word, phenomenal against a Mizzou D that had played well throughout the season. That said, Helu was otherworldly against the Tigers, rushing for more than 300 yards and three scores of at least 50 yards on 28 carries. The blockers provided the daylight, but it was his blinding speed and cutback ability that turned what would have been a 12-yard gain for most runners into a back-breaking explosion for six.
Although Nebraska needs Martinez to reach its full potential, it didn’t need him to hold off Mizzou on Saturday because of the running of Helu and a Husker secondary that shut down QB Blaine Gabbert. From here on out, all that’s left on the schedule is Iowa State, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Colorado. Well, Helu, Big 12 title game on Dec. 4.
By Matt Zemek
Taylor Martinez was unable to help the Nebraska Cornhuskers when the Missouri Tigers crept within 10 points of the Big Red (24-14) midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game in Lincoln. Blaine Gabbert – who spilled his guts on the Memorial Stadium turf in a gutsy performance that was exhausting to watch (let alone produce) – had just performed his best Roger Staubach imitation to lead the Tigers back into contention. (Dan Persa of Northwestern was linked to Fran Tarkenton earlier in the day by a Northwestern football writer, so that comparison was unavailable for valid use.) Nebraska’s defense was gassed after chasing Gabbert around for what seemed like 12-15 seconds on virtually every third-quarter snap. Somebody in a red jersey needed to make a big offensive play to reverse momentum. Someone needed to turn back a Missouri team that, to its immense credit, did not fold the tent after being blasted to the tune of 24-0 in the game’s first 12 minutes and 14 seconds.
Enter Roy Helu, Jr.
Naturally, a man who rushes for 307 yards in a money situation will wind up doing some special things, but it’s so essential to emphasize that Helu’s production wasn’t limited to the opening 24-0 flurry. Helu’s 53-yard touchdown run gave the Huskers the breathing room they needed, and after Missouri coach Gary Pinkel – with no timeouts left – inexplicably punted the ball with just under nine minutes left in regulation, Helu slammed the door by pounding out multiple first downs. Helu’s feats were athletically impressive, but they were even more significant within the ebb and flow of the game. That’s the true mark of an elite athlete – not the dazzling physical ability, but the wherewithal to display said ability in supremely meaningful moments.
Now, the Big 12 North is Nebraska’s to lose. The team that came so close to winning the Big 12 last season is now in the driver’s seat to return to the conference championship game on Dec. 4.