Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mizzou-Nebraska Redux: 2003 (Part Three)

Bye-bye Blackshirts
Missouri brings an end to misery vs. Nebraska.

By DAVE MATTER of the Tribune's staff
Published Sunday, October 12, 2003

On what was labeled across the nation as "Separation Saturday," Missouri finally settled its long and ugly divorce.

The Big Red pain in the Tigers’ backside for a quarter of a century was removed with Missouri’s 41-24 victory over Nebraska.

For the first time since Missouri spoiled Nebraska’s national-championship dreams in 1978, the Tigers beat their neighbors to the northwest. As parts of the sellout crowd of 68,349 spilled onto Faurot Field to topple the goal posts, Missouri players celebrated something that had never happened in their lifetimes. MU had lost 24 consecutive games to the Cornhuskers.

"That’s what makes this so special," said linebacker James Kinney, one of many heroes for the Tigers. "This was a win for all the fans that have been waiting for this for 20-something years. And it’s for all the players that played before us."

In beating the previously unbeaten and 10th-ranked Cornhuskers (5-1, 1-1 Big 12), the Tigers (5-1, 1-1) beat a top-10 team for the first time since beating No. 9 Mississippi State in 1981.

Coming two weeks after suffering a demoralizing loss to rival Kansas — a loss that brought heavy criticism down on Gary Pinkel for Missouri’s conservative offensive approach — the Tigers dipped deep into their playbook and played with a fearlessness rarely seen this season.

"We haven’t been playing with our hair on fire all season, and that’s the way I want to play," Pinkel said. "I told my team after losing to Kansas, ‘When you’re ranked and predicted to win, and you lose to the biggest team on your schedule, bullets are going to fly. And they should.’ "

The biggest bullets that flew yesterday were passes thrown by Tigers not named Brad Smith. The preseason All-Big 12 quarterback played perhaps the most complete game of his career — totaling 350 yards of offense — but it was a pass by his backup that gave the Tigers the lead for good.

With 11:21 left in the fourth quarter, and Nebraska leading 24-21, Missouri lined up for a routine, game-tying 34-yard field goal for Mike Matheny. But holder Sonny Riccio, MU’s backup quarterback, took the snap, sprinted to the right and looked for his primary target, Clint Matthews. But Matthews was covered, so Riccio lofted a pass to Victor Sesay in the end zone.

"Once I threw it, I knew it was good," Riccio said.

On a play strikingly similar to Oklahoma’s fake field goal that stunned the Tigers in the same end zone last season, Sesay hauled in the 14-yard TD. And with two more Smith touchdown runs, the Tigers cruised against the 7-point favorite Huskers.

"I told Sonny before the game to keep his arm warm," Pinkel said. "And it worked, so it was a great call."

"We knew it had been so long since we beat Nebraska," Riccio said, "so we just wanted to attack every chance we had."

An MU team that was criticized for rarely throwing deep through its first five games didn’t hesitate attacking the Huskers’ secondary early. The Tigers attempted passes on eight of their first 11 plays from scrimmage.

But after two rare interceptions — his first since last year’s season finale — Smith became Missouri’s most dangerous wide receiver. On a play called "Diamond Throwback Screen" — a play the MU installed after losing to KU and practiced several times last week — the Tigers lined up three receivers in a bunch formation on the right-hand side. Smith sent tailback Damien Nash in motion to the right and threw a lateral to Darius Outlaw behind the wall of blockers on the right. Outlaw fired back, hitting Smith in the left flat with four linemen and half a field of FieldTurf between him the end zone. Smith cruised in for the 47-yard score, giving MU a 14-7 lead with 10:57 left in the second quarter.It was Smith’s first career touchdown catch and the first touchdown pass for Outlaw, who is a former quarterback, since 2001.

With inspired play from a resurgent defense, the Tigers silenced Nebraska’s option offense in the fourth quarter and forced Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord to do what he does worst: throw deep. First, Kinney sacked Lord on third-and-11, forcing Lord to commit the Huskers’ fourth fumble of the night. Missouri rover Dedrick Harrington scooped up the loose ball on Nebraska’s 9-yard line. Four plays later, Riccio hit Sesay in the end zone on the fake field goal.

After a Nebraska punt, Missouri took a 10-point lead on Smith’s 1-yard bootleg run into the end zone.

After defensive end Zach Ville intercepted a pass and returned it 39 yards, Smith needed just two plays to score his fourth touchdown, a 9-yard draw up the middle.

Smith’s four touchdowns — three running, one receiving — tied an MU single-game record held by four former Tigers.

Smith’s night didn’t start out so great. On MU’s first possession, he overthrew Sean Coffey and was intercepted by free safety Josh Bullocks. Following a 6-yard touchdown run by Zack Abron and a fumbled Nebraska kickoff return, Smith threw his second interception, tossing an intended screen to linebacker Demorrio Williams.

But as the fourth quarter began, Smith and the Missouri offense picked apart the nation’s No. 1 defense. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith turned a third-and-4 quarterback keeper into a 39-yard sprint to the end zone.

He finished with 123 rushing yards, completed 13 of 27 passes for 180 yards and added the 47-yard catch.

Missouri plays at No. 1 Oklahoma next week, but after a gutsy and historic performance in front of a packed Memorial Stadium, the Tigers savored something that hasn’t happened in 25 years.

"We talked all week about just letting go," center A.J. Ricker said. "It’s amazing how much better you can play when you just let go and attack."


When you finally come to, this will still be documented

By JOE WALLJASPER Tribune sports editor
Published Sunday, October 12, 2003

I’m going to take this nice and slow because, chances are, your eyes are bloodshot and your head is pounding. It’s possible that your car is overturned and smoldering on Ninth Street.

But trust me, what you might more or less remember about last night really happened. The Missouri football team beat Nebraska 41-24.

Twenty-five years after their last victory over the Cornhuskers, the Tigers took out their frustrations with a vengeance.

"I’ve been a little bit disappointed in our team all year," Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said. "It just seemed like we weren’t playing on all cylinders. They were trying hard, but it just seemed that players were more concerned about making mistakes than playing good."

Pinkel’s standard facial expression on the sideline is the grimace of a man who could stand a larger pair of briefs. He is, by admission, someone who abhors turnovers and penalties. And throughout most of the first half of the season, his team had played mistake-free but robotic football.

The restrained Tigers played well enough to win the first four games but bottomed out in a 35-14 loss to Kansas two weeks ago. Even Brad Smith, who as a freshman was a creative genius with the ball in his hands, had become an ordinary player, dinking short passes and struggling to find running room.

Something had to change. It changed last night against the 10th-ranked Cornhuskers.

Missouri threw caution to the wind and threw the ball downfield. Smith caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Darius Outlaw. The Tigers ran a reverse on a kickoff return. And then came the mother of all gutsy calls, the one that unquestionably required Pinkel to go up a few sizes on his underwear.

Trailing 24-21 in the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-goal from the 14-yard line, it was an obvious field goal situation. But just as Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops did to Missouri last year, Pinkel elected to call a fake. On a play designed by tight ends coach Bruce Walker, holder Sonny Riccio rolled right and lofted a perfect pass over Nebraska defender T.J. Hollowell and into the hands of tight end Victor Sesay in the end zone.

Sold-out Faurot Field went bonkers, and the Tigers smelled blood. They added two more touchdowns before the goal posts came down and the party started in earnest.

"We hadn’t beaten them in 25 years," Pinkel said. "We were going to be aggressive in everything we did."

There was plenty of history made. It was Missouri’s first victory over a top-10 team since 1981 and the first over a ranked team since 1997.

The heroes were numerous. Smith gashed the top-ranked defense in the nation for 123 rushing yards, 47 receiving yards and 180 passing yards. He scored four touchdowns. The Missouri offensive line, which included first-time starter Steven Sanchez at tackle, got the better of the Nebraska defensive front. Sean Coffey caught three passes for 59 yards, including a huge third-down grab in the fourth quarter on which he used every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame. And linebacker James Kinney was all over, recovering a fumble and forcing another on a sack.

Most notable, though, was the passion the Tigers showed. Football was fun again.

"I told them a week and a half ago, when we started preparing for this, ‘When is Missouri going to start winning some big games around here?’ " Pinkel said. "There’s a lot of fans out there that this meant an awful lot to, and I’m just happy my players and staff could get it done."

Hope you enjoyed it, Missouri fans. Let’s do it again sometime before 2028.


Cornhuskers drop the ball
Missouri takes advantage of five Nebraska turnovers.

By DAVE MATTER of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, October 12, 2003

Missouri fans were hoping to avoid the rain showers that were predicted for Columbia last night, but a steady rain that began to fall just after kickoff might have benefited the Tigers early.

Slippery footballs could have been Nebraska’s excuse for its early case of fumbleitis in last night’s 41-24 Missouri win. But when the clouds cleared, the Huskers’ problems didn’t.

Just minutes after setting a Big 12 career record for return yards, Nebraska’s Josh Davis probably wanted to find a poncho and hide. With his 26-yard kickoff return to start the game, Davis passed Colorado’s Ben Kelly to become the conference’s career leader in return yards.

But on his next chance, as the raindrops continued to fall, Davis cost the Cornhuskers their early lead when he fumbled a punt deep in Missouri territory. After a third-down stop by Nebraska’s defense, Brock Harvey sailed a 53-yard punt to Davis inside the 5-yard line, and the usually sure-handed I-back let the ball slip through his hands. James Kinney came up with the recovery.

Much like the Tigers’ first touchdown of the season against Illinois, Missouri needed just 6 yards for its first score, getting a 6-yard run by Zack Abron to tie the Huskers at 7.

Following the touchdown, disaster struck Nebraska’s special teams again. This time it was wide receiver Jake O’Holleran who mishandled Mike Matheny’s kickoff. Nino Williams scooped up the ball for his first of two recoveries in the half.

Nebraska came into the game having fumbled 15 times through five games, and the slippery hands continued in the second quarter. A promising drive was stalled at MU’s 12-yard line when I-back David Horne fumbled after a decent gain up the middle. Kinney forced the turnover, and Williams picked up his second recovery.

In the fourth quarter, quarterback Jammal Lord was sacked by Kinney and fumbled to Dedrick Harrington to set up Missouri’s go-ahead touchdown.

Davis gave the Tigers good field position again on the next drive, fumbling a toss deep into Missouri territory.

● STREAK SNAPPED: Dating back to last season, Missouri’s Brad Smith had attempted 140 passes without an interception. Then he faced the Big 12’s turnover kings and promptly threw two picks in the first half.

On Missouri’s opening drive, on second-and-9, Smith was pressured by Nebraska defensive end Trevor Johnson and overthrew Sean Coffey over the middle. Free safety Josh Bullocks, who led the nation with five interceptions coming into the game, easily caught Smith’s high pass.

Three possessions later, Smith threw his second interception, when outside linebacker Demorrio Williams stepped in front of Darius Outlaw and hauled in the attempted screen.

● HARDLY HARVEY: After a inconsistent start to the season, punter Brock Harvey was demoted to backup status during the week leading up to last night’s game. But it was Harvey that kicked MU’s first four punts, not Todd Gohsler.

That changed after Missouri’s first series of the second half when Harvey’s fourth punt of the game went just 18 yards. On Missouri’s next series, Gohsler made his first punt of the season and pinned the Huskers to their own 3-yard line with a 40-yarder that bounced out of bounds near the goal line. On his next chance, Gohsler shanked the ball for a 25-yarder that gave Nebraska the ball on its 33 yard line.

● HUSKERS HEALED: Three Nebraska starters missed last week’s game against Troy State with injuries: offensive guard Jake Anderson, nose tackle Ryan Bingham and strong safety Philip Bland. Also, center Josh Sewell left the game with a leg injury and was considered questionable to for last night’s game.

Sewell and Anderson were both in the starting lineup but not Bland. Daniel Bullocks, twin brother of starting free safety Josh Bullocks, started in place of Bland.

● NEW-LOOK LINEUP: As expected, Gary Pinkel shook up his starting lineup, including two new starters on defense. Freshman Xzavie Jackson, who broke his foot during the preseason and missed MU’s first four games, started at defensive end for Brian Smith. Jackson made the first tackle of the game, stopping Davis after a 3-yard run.

A.J. Kincade, a sophomore cornerback, made his third career start and first this season, replacing Calvin Washington. Kincade made a key third-down tackle in the first quarter but later limped off the field and was replaced by Washington.

For the Missouri offense, strong tackle Steve Sanchez made his first career start, replacing two-year starter Scott Paffrath.

Freshman wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu didn’t start but played significantly. He took a reverse from Tyrone Roberson on a kickoff late in the third quarter and returned it 31 yards.

● NEXT UP: It doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, who play at No. 1 Oklahoma (6-0, 2-0 Big 12) Saturday in Norman, Okla. The Sooners destroyed Texas 65-13 yesterday in Dallas and have won eight straight games dating back to last season. The Big 12 will announce the game’s kickoff time and TV availability today.

Oklahoma has won 14 of the last 15 meetings with Missouri, including the last two: a 37-0 pounding at OU in 1999 and a 31-24 thriller in Columbia last fall. Missouri’s last win against OU came in 1998 - 20-6 in Columbia - during John Blake’s final year before he was replaced by Bob Stoops. Stoops has a 49-9 record in five seasons, including a national championship in 2000.

The Tigers haven’t won at OU since 1966, a streak of 15 straight losses in Norman.

The Sooners are led by quarterback Jason White, who’s an early Heisman Trophy frontrunner after returning from two injury-shortened seasons.

Defensively, the Sooners are loaded with their usual list of All-Americans, including defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Teddy Lehman and defensive backs Derrick Strait and Brandon Everage.