Cornhuskers No Match for Mizzou Freight Train

It's become tired and cliché in sports, stamping an important or emphatic victory with the label, ‘Statement Game.' Missouri's hideous whipping of arch-rival Nebraska last night, however, is the sort of performance for which it should be reserved.

For so many years, Columbia, Mo., was but a speck in the road for the juggernaut that was University of Nebraska football. Perennially dominant, the Cornhuskers stormed into town, took quick and painless care of business, and went to stack championships like flapjacks. At one point, two dozen years came and passed without a single Missouri win – home or away -- over the hated Huskers.

Think times have changed a tad?

Chase Daniel made child's play of NU, the oft-question Mizzou defense dominated and Missouri rolled to a 41-6 victory Saturday night. It was the third consecutive time MU has hung 41 points on Nebraska at Faurot, yet somehow it wasn't as close as the lopsided final score indicated – and it couldn't have been as close, no matter the final score.

"We lit ‘em up," said Daniel, who passed for 401 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 72 and two more scores, celebrating his 21st birthday by showcasing himself for the country.

Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said, "He's one of the best three or four quarterbacks in the country."

And after this gem of a performance, during which he completed passes to eight different players in the first half alone and guided the offense to a ridiculous total of 606 yards, he also might be a legitimate Heisman contender.

But such hyping of both Daniel and the entire team is a bit premature, because next week Missouri must play the top-ten ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, where MU hasn't won in nine years.

"The good news is we got a great win. The bad news is we've got to wake up and prepare for Oklahoma," Pinkel said. "Let's not blow it out of proportion. It was a good win."

The Tigers were wary of celebrating too heartily – well, publicly, at least; hooting and hollering could heard from the locker room well after the game was done. It was a night on which the Tigers snatched the inside track toward the Big 12 North title and flaunted their embarrassment of riches before of the entire college football nation.

"It's huge. That's what we wanted to do and that's what we accomplished. Mizzou wants to be recognized as a top team in the nation," said freshman wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Simply put, this was a beatdown of epic proportion. Mizzou had beaten Nebraska by identical 17-point margins before last night's primetime showdown at Faurot Field, but the Huskers could have been so lucky this time. Tight end Martin Rucker may have locked up his All-America status, catching nine passes for 109 yards, including a touchdown on a fake field goal.

Leading by 28 points a few minutes into the fourth quarter, Mizzou lined up for a field goal, but holder Tommy Saunders flipped the ball to Rucker, who swept around the left end untouched. Missouri may never get even for all of those years of beatings, but this play, in this situation, was the sort you only call against a team against whom you're clinging to years' worth of resentment.

"They did a good job with that fake field goal. That's none of my business if they want to run that play," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "Our business is to defend it."

Which brings us to the most surprising development: Mizzou's newfound shutdown defense. The Tigers harassed Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller all night. They swarmed to the ball all night, and physically dominated Nebraska, holding the Huskers without a touchdown for the first time since 1961.

A night earlier at the team hotel, the players apparently reached some sort of emotional breaking point that carried through the game.

"Sitting there watching highlight film and everybody just felt it. Emotion, tears were being shed. It was just a great environment to be around," Maclin said.
Usually jovial defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams broke out of character while trying to impart upon teammates how big this game would be.

"I think I put a hole in the wall," he said.

He was then asked if he'd done the damage with fist, foot, head or other.

"A little bit of everything, I think," he said.

The message seemed to work. While the offense cruised to scores on seven of its first eight drives, the defense manhandled an NU offense that had been averaging more than 30 points a game.

When the defense plays like that, Daniel said, "We don't feel like we have to score every time we have the ball … But it seems like we pretty much did tonight."

Mizzou emerged out of the gate in full gallop, making easy work of the Nebraska defense on the game's first possession. Daniel completed passes to four different receivers on a tidy 80-yard drive punctuated when Daniel broke into the endzone untouched from one yard out.

Before he could catch his breath, he was back on the field slinging the ball around. After MU's defense forced a quick three-and-out, Daniel drove the Tigers 79 yards capped by a six-yard touchdown pass from Daniel to Chase Coffman. Daniel feigned as though he was through toward the right side before quickly turning back to the middle and lofting the ball to a wide-open Coffman.

Barely 10 minutes of clock had elapsed and Mizzou had blistered the Faurot turf to the tune of 23 plays for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Nebraska: Three plays, zero yards and a punt.

If this was a boxing match, it wouldn't have survived past the first round.

The Coffman touchdown, both well-designed and perfectly executed, was not the highlight of a drive that gave Mizzou a 14-0 lead of which it never was in danger of relinquishing. Rather, that honor belonged to a beautiful double-reverse that ended with the ball being flicked back to Daniel, who lofted it over the middle to Rucker for a big gain.

Nebraska could only manage a couple Alex Henery field goals in the first half, its best chance to score thwarted when linebacker Van Alexander and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood hammered Keller on consecutive plays to force a fourth-and-goal. Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert also connected on both of his tries in the half, the second of which sent Mizzou to the locker room with a 20-6 lead. But it was more consolation prize than anything.

Two plays earlier, Daniel had scrambled back and forth in the pocket, buying time and eventually lobbing the ball to Coffman in the corner of the endzone. The on-field and replay officials ruled Coffman didn't come down in bounds with the ball. But replay seemed to show he'd pulled off a sensational catch by pointing his toe to the turf and arching his heel above the sideline, all of this after jumping over a Cornhusker defender and snagging the ball from the air.

Given their domination, the Tigers weren't happy with the 14-point margin at halftime, and they spoke in the locker room about pedaling downhill and finishing.

Missouri's defense snuffed Nebraska again on three plays to start the second half, and Daniel again came out firing, leading a six-play, 64 yard drive punctuated when he sprinted into the endzone on second-and-three. If it were an Ultimate Fighting bout, NU would have been fighting the urge to tap out and save itself further bloodletting.

"We came out together as a whole team and just executed together tonight," said safety Pig Brown.

Daniel didn't miss until 14 seconds remained in the third quarter, finishing the period with nine completions on 10 attempts, for 147 yards – the highlight of which was a 48-yard touchdown strike to Danario Alexander, playing for the first time since injuring his wrist in the season opener.

The Tigers probably could have put up another couple of scores if they wanted to, but they finally eased off of the gas a bit after Rucker's touchdown with about 13 minutes left. By then, many of the Nebraska fans were making their way to the exits, and 70,000-plus gold-clad Mizzou fans were celebrating in and outside of the stadium.

"That," Pinkel said, "is about as good a game as we've played in a long time."

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