LINCOLN, Neb. – As bad as it played against Nebraska, Missouri’s offense had chances to get back in the game.
With a little more than five minutes left Saturday, the Tigers had their best chance, a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Although the offense failed to score, it never would have had those chances without the defense’s continued stout play. The defense again proved itself and highlighted an otherwise disappointing 24-3 loss to the Cornhuskers.
“I thought our players fought all the way down to the end,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Unfortunately for our defense, they got that one big play because our defense really played outstanding up to that point, and I’m certainly very pleased with that.”
The big play was an 86-yard touchdown run from Cory Ross with 2:56 left. It came two plays after the Tigers’ offense failed to score on their only goal-to-go situation.
When that run is removed from the Cornhuskers’ totals, the Missouri defense held them to 149 total yards and 123 rushing yards. The effort allowed the Tigers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12 Conference) to stay atop the conference for total defense and they improved to ninth-best in the nation.
Still, Ross’ run seemed to show that for the second straight time, the Tigers defense had worn down late in the game after offensive ineptitude.
The Tigers offense sputtered in the second half against Oklahoma State on Oct. 23. The Tigers defense, which had held running back Vernand Morency to 14 yards on his first seven carries, allowed Morency to run for 123 yards in the second half.
Several Tigers expressed displeasure with the effort Saturday but said they weren’t tired at the end of the game. They said they need
to maintain their effort for the entire game.
“It hurts, but we’ve got to come to play,” linebacker Hank Sweat said. “We’re a team. We’ve got to do our job, make plays on the defensive side of the ball.”
One area the Tigers struggled with Saturday was turnovers. For the first time this season, the Tigers could not get any turnovers, and Nebraska held a plus-2 turnover margin. Entering the game, the Cornhuskers were one of the worst in the nation with a margin of minus-11 for the season.
“We went into the game knowing that we needed to get four more takeaways, and we didn’t get that,” safety Jason Simpson said. “Then we gave up the touchdown at the end. You can’t do that against good teams, especially this is for the North. We’ve got to focus up.”
The numbers, though, don’t support Simpson’s sour view of the defense’s performance.
Even though they yielded their first third-quarter touchdown of the season, the Tigers stopped 14-of-15 third down attempts, and the one Nebraska converted came on the opening drive of the game. After getting three first downs on the first drive, which yielded a field goal for the Cornhuskers, the Tigers held them to five first downs the rest of the game.
The Tigers also rendered the Nebraska passing game useless. Joe Dailey completed 4-of-18 passes for 26 yards. In the past four games, the Tigers have allowed an average of 82.5 yards per game.
Finally, on the Cornhuskers’ first offensive touchdown, they started 15 yards away after a botched snap on a punt.
Even with all the good numbers, the Tigers walked away with their heads down and the disappointment of their third straight loss.
“We just didn’t make it happen for our team,” defensive end Xzavie Jackson said.