Rather than worrying about some hit on Blaine Gabbert, Husker fans should be talking up Roy Helu. 307 yards against the sixth-ranked team in the nation? Incredible!
It was an excellent weekend. My oldest son and his girlfriend (and her Scottish Mom) went with us to Lincoln to attend Friday's "Red Letter Day" - which was basically a recruiting trip for prospective students who are thinking of attending the University of Nebraska. Our 15-year old daughter stayed home by herself for the first time.
(As we were heading to Lincoln, visions of "Risky Business" would creep into my head to be quickly chased away by my focus on Husker football. You can congratulate me on my dedication if you like.)
We spent the day Friday touring the campus, meeting advisors, and talking to other parents and teenagers. I will spare you the complete details, other than to say - (holy crap!) - how much things have changed since I was there in the 80s. Not only has the university become a much better educational institution, but you might as well call it a high-cost resort for all the amenities students have these days (cue Grandpa Simpson).
Dining halls that serve all kinds of food you'd ever want at all kinds of hours. A recreation center that looks like Lifetime Fitness. Advisors that guide you through iss ues you might have. Something called "ACE" - where every college has the same core requirements so that if you change your major, it doesn't cost you the year and a half it cost me because you don't lose a whole crapload of credits. I wonder if I can move into the dorm with my son while he attends school. The answer is no. Bastards.
Towards the end of the day we're paired up with a tour guide, and I mention that I have a Husker football web site. When I say "Corn Nation", he says "I love that web site, I read it every day!". It freaks me out a bit, because to be honest, a year ago, I would have guessed few people would have known what we're doing here. Now, it appears, things have changed. It makes my day, even though I drop my iPhone in the middle of the street, shattering the front screen.
Friday evening we go down to the Haymarket area, meet one of my nephews and eat at El Potrero. Pretty decent food, good beer, and it's amazingly inexpensive.
Husker Mike provided me with a pair of tickets and my sister in Lincoln provided a pair. That left the two Moms without tickets. As we're walking to Barry's, the place I plan to leave them, I stop frequently and talk to scalpers. Tickets are going for $200-$250 a pair, and Mrs CN wants no part of that. We arrive at Barry's, and I quickly get a very large beer for me and the Scot. I don't spend much time there, because I have to meet Mike in the North bottoms for the other set of tickets that my 11-year old and I will use. He meets us about halfway across the bridge, thank God, and off we go into the stadium.
We're in the 86th row, section 16b-1. Two big guys sit directly in front of my son. He can't see much of anything. He sulks.
On to the game.
Two of my keys to victory were "Fast Start" and "Don't Fart Around Faking It, Run the Damned Ball", therefore I take credit for the first quarter. Roy Helu wasn't farting around, was he? If his first run to score didn't blow up the stadium, his second one sure as hell did.
It's been mentioned by others, and it will be a cob entry, but I am astonished that Missouri comes out in wide sets for their first two series and doesn't even try to run the ball right at us. How do they not take advantage of what everyone knows is our greatest weakness? Are they daft?
The defensive secondary is incredible. Blaine Gabbert continually cannot find anywhere to throw the ball. In the first two series, his third down throws are out of bounds. This theme will continue throughout the game.
24-0 after the first quarter, and it looks like a complete blowout. I'm adding up the score in my head. If this continues, it could be one of the highest scoring games in Nebraska history. I'm thinking - no way that happens. Missouri is too good a team to just let us run all over them. However, I wonder if they deserve it.
Second quarter - the game settles down and Missouri starts playing the game I thought we'd see. We have to fight for yardage, while the Tigers just can't generate any offense. Early in the second quarter, Missouri comes out in a weird-looking heavy set on a third-and-one, and Nebraska calls timeout. I don't blame them. I don't understand what the Tigers are doing here either. Unfortunately, right after the timeout, Missouri comes back out in the same heavy set, and instead of running right up the middle for a first down, Gabbert pitches to De'Vion Moore, and he goes 33 yards for a touchdown. A little embarrassing, that.
It's 24-7. Missouri has shown some life. The fans around me are getting a little anxious. The guy behind me declares that we need to score more and not let the Tigers back into the game. I'm thinking - "wow, we're 17 points ahead and Missouri's defense has shown little in the way of stopping us, what's the big deal?". The guy directly in front of me is listening to the radio, keeping track of Roy Helu's stats for us.
I get some people to move so the 11-year old is no longer behind huge guys, but behind an older lady who doesn't stand very much. He's still sulking, but can see a little more.
The short version of the rest of the game goes something like this. Gabbert goes back to pass, can't find anyone open, and scrambles. Sometimes he's sacked (the Blackshirts had six for the game), and sometimes he gains some yardage. Other than the 33-yard Moore run, Missouri has no rushing offense. You could say they had to throw because of the deficit, but, it doesn't help matters for them that the spread formations and passing aren't doing much either.
The crowd is loud all of the time. The only time it's not loud is during obvious TV timeouts and during the play reviews. Every time Missouri lines up to run, it's incredibly loud. The crowd boos the refs - a lot. I constantly find myself trying to figure out what the hell we're booing about. I don't recall a Nebraska crowd booing that much, and to be honest, after a while, it bugs the hell out of me. When did we start booing every time we don't get a call (or vice versa)?
Third quarter. Nebraska kicks off again. We all figure it's because they wanted the wind in the fourth quarter. Missouri keeps the ball most of the quarter, but they keep burning time outs.
The Tigers score to cut the lead to 24-14. Everyone gets more anxious, and I realize that if Missouri were to score again, about 75% of my section is going to drop dead of heart attacks, brain aneurysms, instant terminal cancer, but not alcohol poisoning. There isn't a single drop of alcohol to be had (yet another change from the games from years ago). I conclude that Husker fans aren't as sneaky as we used to be.
Missouri kicks off and Tim Marlowe gets a good return. Two plays later, Helu is running at us again, this time burning the Tiger defense for 53 yards, 31-14. High fives all around as Helu has saved everyone's lives. I point out to the people around me that Missouri has just worked their asses off for a touchdown, while we ran only a couple plays to score. We can score on them whenever we want. Some of them put their respirators away. None of them offer me a drink.
At 5:02 in the third quarter, Blaine Gabbert calls Missouri's last timeout. The guy next to me says this may be important near the end of the game if we're only leading by seven... and I cut him off and start screaming at him - "What do you mean, leading by seven? You mean, leading by 35, don't you? What kind of guy thinks we're only going to be leading by seven at the end of the game!!!!!" Everyone laughs. He laughs, too. No one offers me a drink.
Missouri makes some plays to move the ball down the field. Michael Egnew makes a leaping sideline grab for a 29-yard gain on third down. It's a great play. A few plays later, Gabbert hits Wes Kemp for a 16-yarder to the 15, and then after that, Gabbert attempts to call another timeout. Delay of game, go back five yards. On the next play, Gabbert scrambles to the one, gets facemasked, fumbles, and after the review, Missouri keeps the ball. The guy with the radio says Matt Davison is going nuts - that Gabbert clearly fumbled. He doesn't mention the face mask.
Everyone is sure Missouri is going to score. They don't. The defense that can't stop the run stuffs them cold on three straight plays without a gain. It's fourth down, and the loud crowd at the other end does it's job - the Tigers get a false start and have to settle for a field goal.
By now the 11-year old is standing up, and grinning. A lot. I feel better and think maybe he'll make a good son after all. Maybe I'll re-think my strategy of trading him for good tickets next season.
Somewhere in all this, Taylor Martinez got hit and started limping. He looks like he can barely walk. The people around me are adamant that he can't be in the game like that. They get their wish. Zac Lee comes in, and everyone, including the Missouri Tigers, know what the plays will be. Zac Lee will hand the ball off to Helu, and that will be that.
At the end of the third quarter, Roy Helu had 13 carries for 239 yards with a 18.4 yard per carry average. We're all wondering if he can break Calvin Jones single game record of 294 yards. The Huskers attempt two passes in the fourth quarter, possessing the ball for 13:49. Helu rushes left. He rushes right. He gains yardage. Every once in a while, Zac Lee keeps the ball just to make things interesting. It doesn't matter. Missouri can't stop the run. (Ha Ha Ha!)
About midway through the fourth, I glance down at the kid to see what he's doing. The crowd erupts and I see Huskers running towards the other goal line. He asks me what happened. I have not a clue. I watch the replay, and I see why. Gabbert gets crushed on a sack, the ball is loose, and it appears we've scored again. The radio dude says Matt Davison is going crazy (isn't that redundant?). Nebraska is up by 14 points, and it's pretty clear that we're going to win this game, so other than for pure entertainment value, I don't really care.
With about six minutes left, I notice that Husker fans are lining the aisles. There are gobs of them leaving early. This is the last game ever against Mizzou, a team that's given us fits in recent years. They're leaving early? WTF? Who are these people, goddammit!
The only explanation I have is that they didn't have a guy with a radio to tell them that Helu was about to break one of the biggest records in Husker history. Fools! Helu finishes with 28 carries for 307 yards and three touchdowns. That's just bloody amazing.
It turns out that Mrs CN and the Scot found tickets after all. Near start time, some guy who probably noticed how good Mrs CN looks in jeans came up and implored them to buy his tickets, which they did, for $100 for the pair.
In the end, our defensive secondary smothered their receivers, even after Alfonzo Dennard left the game early with a concussion. Freshman Ciante Evans performed well and it seemed like Nebraska could put any one out there with the same result. The defensive line that couldn't generate pressure did.
Offensively, Nebraska showed why Shawn Watson's idea of "multiple" is a must-have. Look at what's happened so far this season. Taylor Martinez explodes on the ground to destroy Washington. Oklahoma State shuts down the run, so Martinez throws all over the place. Against Missouri, Helu turns in one of the best rushing performances in Nebraska's history. All this from an offense that couldn't find the first down marker last season.
Much has been said about the hit on Gabbert, the non-call of a helmet-to-helmet hit, and the possible fumble. Does it matter? At that point, the game was over. Better that Husker fans celebrate Helu and forget any conspiracy theories about Big 12 refs wanting us to lose conference games. Stay positive.
That's it for Mizzou, 96 games and a record of 60-33-3 against them. Fitting that our final game against them was for the Big 12 North. Of the Big 12 North teams, they may be in the best position to continue to build on their program and challenge Texas and Oklahoma.
Do I care? Yeah. I wish them the best of luck with whatever happens to them. It's easier saying that knowing that we keep the Nebraska - Missouri Victory Bell for the remainder of history.