On Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, the #14 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1), defeated the #6 Missouri Tigers (7-1, 3-1), by the final score of 31-17. Following the game, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel shared his immediate thoughts.
"Obviously, we're really disappointed," said Coach Pinkel. "We made a lot of mistakes. That was really disappointing. You got to play better, if you're going to win a game like this. And, we just didn't do that."
Disappointed. An accurate assessment of the state of Tiger Nation in the aftermath of Saturday's loss. Fans have the luxury of allowing their disappointment to gradually subside. But, for the team, they will have had to start to turn the page by the time they take the field on Sunday evening. On Monday afternoon, several team members will be asked by the media to revisit Saturday's disappointing loss. But, by the time the team takes the field on Tuesday afternoon, the disappointment of Saturday's loss will have become a fading memory, one that the task at hand demands be left behind.
The loss leaves the Tigers and Cornhuskers tied for the lead in the North Division of the Big 12 Conference, with Nebraska holding the first (head to head) tie breaker. Four conference games remain for each team. Nebraska's schedule is as follows: at Iowa State, Kansas, at Texas A&M, Colorado. Missouri's remaining games include: at Texas Tech, Kansas State, at Iowa State, and against Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium. The Tigers' task is to continue to win each week, in the event that the Cornhuskers stumble.
On Saturday, Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. set a single game school record with 307 yards rushing on 28 carries (11 yards/carry). He scored 3 TDs, on runs of 66, 73, and 53 yards. In addition, Nebraska scored a fourth TD on a 40 yard pass play. That's a total of 232 yards, on four plays. On the game, Missouri surrendered 454 yards of total offense to Nebraska, just below the Cornhuskers' average of 459 yards/game.
"We gave up four big plays for 28 points," lamented a frustrated Coach Pinkel. "Four plays on defense. They were big plays. Three runs and a pass. We battled back, had some opportunities...................... We had our chances, but we didn't do things good enough to get back in it................... You can't be a good defensive football team, and give up a lot of big plays."
There's no question that the big plays were, for the most part, the result of players being out of position. Early in the game, when Nebraska did most of their damage, the Missouri defensive players appeared to be hesitant, as if they were unsure of what to do. They were obviously focused on stopping Taylor Martinez, and were pretty successful in accomplishing that assignment. But, they seemed unprepared to stop Helu.
On offense, Missouri ran the football on 34 of their 76 offensive plays (45%), including 22 carries by QB Blaine Gabbert. After subtracting the 44 yards lost by Gabbert on the 6 plays where he was sacked, Missouri's rushing game still averaged 4.1 yards/carry. I'm not privvy to the Tigers' offensive game plan, but as I outlined prior to the game, running the football much more than half of the time should have been in the plan against Nebraska. The Missouri TBs carried the football just 12 times for 70 yards (5.8 yards/carry).
Nebraska's defensive front mounted more of a pass rush than they had demonstrated in previous games. Maybe a few more Missouri running plays would have helped to slow down the Cornhuskers' pass rush, and have helped to open up the passing game a little more.
"It's a tough loss, our first one," said Coach Pinkel. "We made too many mistakes, on both sides of the football. We weren't consistent enough.................. You've got to bring it each and every week. You've got to bring your A game....................... So, lessons learned here. Our guys are competitors. First loss of the season. Lessons learned, and we'll get back and get to work."