LINCOLN, Neb. — Three straight losses and three straight missed opportunities put the Missouri football team at .500 for the first time since losing its second game of the season Sept. 9 to Troy.
The Tigers lost 24-3 to Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, extending their losing streak to three games and getting their 14th consecutive loss in Lincoln. The win puts the Cornhuskers alone in first place in the Big 12 Conference-North Division and is their 36th-straight Homecoming win.
After failing to score on a final drive with a chance to beat No. 10 Texas, squandering a 17-point lead to No. 20 Oklahoma State and looking helpless against an average Nebraska team, Missouri (4-4, 2-3) has blown three-straight chances to control the North Division.
“(The losses) get worse every week,” wide receiver Sean Coffey said. “Some things are out of reach, but at the same time some things are in reach and we still have to go get them.”
Although Nebraska (5-3, 3-2) got the win, both offenses struggled and two lapses by Missouri’s punting squad determined the outcome.
The second mishap for Missouri’s punting squad was the costliest, giving the Cornhuskers a two-touchdown lead and accenting the Tiger offense’s miserable third quarter.
Missouri punter Matt Hoenes dropped the snap deep in Tiger territory, picked the ball up, ran to his right and then tried to punt it on the run. Crossett whiffed and the ball fell to the ground. Nebraska’s Andrew Shandle recovered it on Missouri’s 15-yard line.
Cornhusker tailback Cory Ross ran through a big hole in the left side of the line for a 15-yard touchdown on the next play, giving Nebraska a 17-3 lead with 1:34 left in the third.
Shandle also made the biggest play of the first half on a Missouri punt.
The linebacker ran unblocked through the middle of Missouri’s line and easily stepped in front of Crossett’s punt. Adam Ickes picked the ball up on one bounce and ran it in for a touchdown, putting Nebraska up 10-3 with 9:42 left in the half.
“Our kicking game was pretty sound until today,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Obviously, you can’t make plays like that.”
Both teams’ offensive impotence allowed those plays to determine the game.
Nebraska had just eight first downs, and quarterback Joe Dailey was 4-for-18 passing for 26 yards. The lone bright spot was tailback Cory Ross who ran for 194 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Although the Tigers amassed 328 yards of offense, they ran for just 51 yards. The Tigers missed tailback Damien Nash, who was suspended earlier in the week for disciplinary reasons.
Missouri had a season-high 277 passing yards, but quarterback Brad Smith was 24-for-56, throwing the most attempts of his career. Smith also had just 25 yards on 21 carries.
“It’s frustrating when you’re not successful with the offense and you’re not doing what you want to do,” Smith said. “People have found a way to stop (the rushing game) right now and we have to find a way to get it back.”
The Tiger offense has consistently struggled to reward the efforts of its defense this season. Although Missouri gave up 209 rushing yards, it held Nebraska to 235 yards of total offense.
Missouri shut down the Nebraska rushing attack for most of the game with the exception of a strong first drive and the 86-yard touchdown in the fourth.
“Unfortunately for our defense, they had that one big play at the end,” Pinkel said. “Our defense really played outstanding to that point, and I’m certainly very pleased with that.”
That big play may have been a result of a tired defense.
The Missouri offense went three-and-out seven times and was stagnant in the second half, giving the defense little time to rest.
“It’s a little frustrating, you know, three-and-out, then (the defense does) a three-and-out, then the offense does a three-and-out,” safety Jason Simpson said. “We just have to find ways to get around that.”