With an absolutely stunning fourth quarter, Missouri's offense steamrolled Nebraska's defense, the Tiger defense stymied Jammal Lord and the ‘Husker offense, and the Tigers erased a quarter-century's worth of losing with a 42-14 win against No. 10 Nebraska on Saturday.
The result was the near 10,000 Nebraska fans heading out the gates with five minutes left as Brad Smith put on the finishing touch, a 9-yard touchdown run. And then the Missouri fans rushing the field and taking down both goalposts.
"I didn't realize that would cause to much commotion," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel joked.
Missouri (5-1, 1-1 Big 12) came back from a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit, with that Missouri offense pouring on four touchdowns in four drives against the nation's top-ranked defense. Yes, THAT Missouri offense, the same one that went scoreless in the fourth quarter two weeks ago against Kansas and put up only 196 total yards. The Tigers had 121 yards in the fourth quarter alone against Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 Big 12) and ended with 452 total yards.
Brad Smith led Missouri with 350 total yards, including three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. Yes, THAT Brad Smith, the same one who only had 95 total yards in the loss to Kansas. He had two early interceptions, his first two of the season, but he scored all three touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, the quarter Missouri had dominated before the game in Lawrence two weeks ago.
"We came out and played ball," Smith said. "We let it loose today. From the coaches to the players, just to play loose and make plays. It felt really good, I mean, throw a couple picks, get it out of the way. We were just wide open, and that's the kind of offense we are. It was fun the whole game."
But Smith had nothing to do with Missouri's biggest play of the game, and arguably Gary Pinkel's gutsiest call at Missouri. With Missouri down 24-21 with a little more than 11 minutes left in the fourth, Pinkel called a fake field goal pass from the Nebraska 14. Sonny Riccio rolled out right and floated a pass over two Nebraska defenders and tight end Victor Sesay caught it in the back right corner of the end zone, putting Missouri ahead 28-24.
"I wasn't nervous at all. It was basically playing catch with the quarterback. When he threw it up, I mean, I'm pretty much bigger than most cornerbacks, so when he threw it up, I went up and got it up over them."
It was a surprising call from Pinkel, the discipline coach who usually swears by the averages.
"I just felt we haven't beat these guys in 25 years," Pinkel said. "You think about the old games they've had around here, the close games that have happened in that stadium, and we were just going to be aggressive in everything we did."
Then the close game turned into a rout, with Nebraska struggling to get even a first down and the Tigers pouring it on. After a ‘Husker three-and-out, Marcus James returned a punt 16 yards to the Missouri 16. On the eight play of the drive, Smith ran right after a play action fake to Zack Abron and then stiff-armed a Nebraska defender to get into the end zone. Mike Matheny's kick failed, so Missouri went ahead by 10.
On the next Nebraska drive, defensive end Zach Ville, who was floating in zone coverage, intercepted a Lord pass and returned it to the Nebraska 7. Smith scored later on a 9-yard quarterback draw.
"What a great fourth quarter we had, both offense and defense," tight end J.D. McCoy said. "It was unreal. They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the country, and we pretty much had our way with them."
It was a redemption day for the Missouri offense, which faced questions all week about its ability to open up and throw downfield and faced criticism for being too conservative.
"Hopefully, some people will forget about Kansas now," center A.J. Ricker said. "We had awesome playcalling today. We made some mistakes, threw a couple interceptions, but we overcame that. It was a lot of fun."
There was nothing conservative about Saturday's win. Missouri had several tricks in its bag, not only the fake field goal. In the second quarter, Smith threw a lateral to the right end of the field to former quarterback Darius Outlaw, who fired it back to Smith on the left side of the field. Smith caught it and took it 47 yards for a score, hurdling over a fallen Tiger blocker on his way.
"When you're throwing back to a playmaker like Brad Smith, you can't help but to meet him in the end zone," Outlaw said.
It wasn't all the offense, though. Missouri's defense and special teams combined to force five Nebraska fumbles and recovered four. Two of the fumbles came on kick returns, at a point in the first quarter when the rain starting pouting on Faurot Field. James Kinney forced and recovered a fumble, while having seven tackles, including three for a loss.
"James is a very gifted athlete," Pinkel said. "We have a high expectation level for him. So he should do those things, that should be a normal game for him."
For the Tigers, it was a victory so unbelievable in its nature, not only that it came on the heels of such a bad loss, not only because it came against a top 10 team, but mostly because it came against those Nebraska Cornhuskers, who last lost to Missouri in 1978.
"Aww yeah, aww yeah, aww yeah," Outlaw said, increasing in volume each time. "It feels great. I can't compare it to anything else."
In a complete coincidence, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden had invited former Tiger coach Warren Powers, the last coach to beat Nebraska, to town for the game. Alden called Powers about six months ago, he said.
"I'm not even paying attention, I had no idea he was the last football coach to beat the University of Nebraska," Alden said. "I was able to bring coach Powers down after the game to the locker room to say something to coach Pinkel."
Pinkel wouldn't call this the biggest game ever for him out of respect to his Toledo, Washington and high school colleagues, but he certainly realized what this game meant.
"I would suggest it's pretty darn big," he said.