Through three quarters this was a certified and sealed, "F".
For three quarters junior quarterback Zac Lee was having problems hitting the rain in a downpour. But in the space of five minutes he only missed on one ball, but saw three out of his five others go for touchdowns, taking a 0-12 deficit and turning it into an eight-point lead. His confidence seemed genuinely shaken during that third quarter as things were seemingly mounting against him. His 9-for-27, 79 yards and no touchdowns in that first three quarters was as much just bad balls as it was people dropping them. Probably more. But oh how things can change in a game, and going 5-for-6 and throwing three touchdowns will do wonders for your reputation in the end. He made the plays when it counted the most.
There were a couple of dropped balls, but for the most part these guys weren't getting much help from Lee early on. Two balls squarely behind Curenski Gilleylen. Another way over the head of Menelik Holt. Lee tossed up an ephis pitch on a screen which almost got running back Rex Burkhead decapitated. But as Lee got hot, so did they, and nobody more-so than Niles Paul. Making perhaps his two biggest catches of his collegiate career, Paul's 56-yard reception for a touchdown and then another one not even a minute later from eight yards out, helped put the Huskers in the lead and put good old "Mo" squarely on the side of the big red. It's a hard game to gauge from so many areas, especially when Nebraska seemed so intent on working the short passes the entire game, many of those being contested in a crowd. But once the offense opened up, the receivers got into their own. And isn't this what we were talking about at the beginning of the season, what might be the identity of this particular group? They lost bonafide leaders in Todd Peterson and Nate Swift, but what they had coming back was speed and athleticism. It took about three quarters for it to show up in earnest tonight, but boy, did it.
More holding penalties. More procedure calls and Ricky Henry got his first personal foul of the game. And then there is the mis-snap which cost Nebraska the ball. Missouri was playing this game to stop the run and make Zac Lee beat them with his arm. Based on what he did against Virginia Tech in his only road experience up to this point, I'd say it was a good strategy, and for three quarters it worked like a charm. So, I'm not going to be too harsh on them for not opening up a lot of space for the running game, because Missouri seemed to be playing it the whole way. But with the penalties, and with Mike Smith having easily his worst game of the season, this group, at least from a consistency standpoint, still has a ways to go.
I know, I know. No A+? Hey, Ndamukong Suh may be the king of all pass-intercepting defensive linemen, but I bet you he would tell you he should have had two tonight instead of one. Defensive End Barry Turner can say that he should have had the one. It isn't much, but it wasn't perfect, and just like good ole' Bo, the standard of perfection is pretty high. But what can you say about this group which saved this team from another butt kicking down in Columbia? There will be plenty of credit given to the offense for putting the nail in the coffin, but the only reason that coffin was still needed was because of that front four. From Allen in run support to Turner on the edge, to Crick doing well with the one-on-ones when Suh was getting doubled, they were not just aggressive, but fast both up the field and laterally. I'd bet that it's not any easier for a 300-pound lineman to cut on a wet field than a running back. And then there is Suh. Give it to the broadcast group for helping Husker recruiting tonight as they gave Suh plenty of love and then some. But that guy deserves it. He's an absolute force, and he leads the team in tackles, gets another interception, another pass break up and give him a "P" for being a certified pain in the you-know-what of you-know-who.
He's a game changer. Hell, he's a season changer. The kid is just a stud.
You didn't see them too often, but when you did it was usually good. Whether it was Phillip Dillard in lateral pursuit stopping a run for a short gain or Will Compton making a stick on another play which was designed to stretch wide, these guys were simply supposed to mind the gaps the defensive linemen couldn't. And they did. Compton even did Suh a favor as there was one play late in the game where it looked like Suh was about to get into an altercation with a player until it was Compton who got in-between them before it could escalate. That's a middle linebacker for ya, not just a savvy player and physical, but someone who is mindful of the situation in the game, even at the most emotional of moments.
That fall down of Prince Amukamara's aside, there's some things to nitpick here and there, but I thought this group had its best game of the year. Now, of course, they were helped by the rain. Not even Joe Montana is going to be lights out in those kinds of conditions. And yes, there was a ball Amukamara had in his hands he should have intercepted, but didn't. And Larry Asante had one on his hands which he probably could have brought in, but nope. But I thought they did well, and yes, they can thank the defensive line for some of their great performance, but if you looked at the times Amukamara's man was thrown to beyond 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, he couldn't shake the Arizona native. Hagg had another great open field tackle which saved a first down late in the game. And what about Dejon Gomes? Tonight we got to see a whole lot of new faces play their biggest minutes of the year, and all this guy did was have two solid shots at interceptions, the one he brought in an absolute back breaker toward the end of the game. And it wasn't a gimmee either. Amukamara's ball was much easier to handle than the one Gomes actually had to reach out, go get and he even ran with it after he pulled it in. In conditions like this you might say that the defense has the advantages. But you still have to take them if they are there. I think for the most part this group did.
Special Teams D-
Yes, I want to make this an "F", and I honestly wouldn't feel entirely wrong if I did. I have personally never seen so much drama in special teams when there wasn't a dynamic return man on the other end of the kick. But the long-snapping was as bad as you are likely to see it. The fielding of the punts wasn't exactly good, two muffs luckily not ending up in the hands of the Missouri Tigers. I'll write off linebacker Matt May's hiccup to being just one of those things that can happen, because it's not like he has eyes in the back of head. And let's face it, when you see five billion punts like we did in this game, that kind of stuff can and does happen. But it was just a barrage of mistakes for this group, and on both sides. Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time either. They need to get this stuff fixed.
Play Calling B
Yes, I know, everyone was screaming about Shawn Watson not running the ball. Why don't you run the ball? Any idiot can see that Zac is having a horrible game and you should run the ball. Not sure if you caught the game, but Nebraska tried that early, and it didn't take long that Missouri didn't think Zac could beat them. They had that box stacked no less than seven-deep almost the entire contest, and I saw more, at times. They were daring Lee to do something that would force them from playing the run. There was no doubt that when it came to comparing the two quarterbacks, Lee and Gabbert, through the first three quarters, the one-time Nebraska commit and his big hands, seemingly had a huge advantage handling the ball. The only thing I really didn't like was ultimately what saved them in that end, that being the pass beyond 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. I'm no quarterback coach, so when you have a QB who is throwing the ball to everyone but who he's supposed to be throwing it to, is the simple thought of trying something deep, pure madness? I'll say "no", but I am using a bit of hindsight in that. But huge props to whoever was calling the defensive plays for not succumbing to the pressure early to blitz to get pressure on Gabbert. They knew what they hand and even when their own offense couldn't do a thing, they stuck to their guns and just kept doing what they were doing.
Hard to know what to call in a game like that, but in the end it doesn't look at all bad. And a win is a win.
The Impact A++++++
This is one of those things you don't normally grade, but after three humiliations in Columbia the last three trips and after last year's 52-17 debacle in Memorial on Homecoming, this was something Nebraska sorely needed. It was a whole lot of monkeys they might have gotten off their back.
You can't win a true road game against a ranked team
You can't win the big games in the division
Can't win a prime time game on national TV
It's Missouri's time now
Gone..but then again..if we are talking about conference dominance, Missouri was never really there to begin with, thanks to the Big 12 South.
Overall, for so many reasons this was a monumental win for Nebraska. Not because it was Missouri, but because Nebraska had found enough ways to beat itself, in the end, I think that it was their biggest opponent once again.
Look at the stats. This was still nothing close to flawless, and double-digit penalties for triple-digits yards isn't going to make anyone smile.
But it wasn't the difference. It wasn't the reason they lost and it wasn't one of those things we had to talk about why once again Nebraska just couldn't get it done.