Each week I post an article containing three keys to victory over the upcoming opponent. This past week, I decided that using turnovers and the concept of "getting physical" were too easy - you could state these in pretty much every game in college football and you'd be correct. The team winning the turnover battle and that wins the line battle (the area most responsible for "getting physical") is the winner in a wide majority of contests.
The rain that poured down on Faurot Field made last week's game unique. I don't know of another game I've ever watched in which the weather was so relentless. If that weren't enough, power problems robbed the Missouri crowd from generating as much energy they might have had otherwise - think of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium if there were no tunnel walk to amp up the crowd to start, and no prompting from the giant screens for cheering.
Given that, it's hard for anything to hold true to what you thought it would be going into the game.
Stop the Big One!
What I said:
So far this season Missouri has managed 15 pass plays of over 25 yards, compared to 11 for Nebraska. Of those 15, four have gone to Danario Alexander (with a long of 74 yards), six to Jared Perry (with a long of 48 yards) and four to Wes Kemp (with a long of 49 yards).
The point was that the Tiger offense had feasted on big plays for their first four wins. The weather had a huge affect on each team's offensive production, but Missouri managed only one play over 25 yards - a 38-yard pass play to Jared Perry near the end of the second half. Prince Amukamara fell down on that play, making it an easy catch for Perry. It's surprising there wasn't more of that happening given the conditions. The catch lead to the Tigers' only touchdown, giving them a two-score lead.
I'd say the Husker defense did a darned good job here. With Dejon Gomes interception and 40-yard return, they made a big play of their own, one that was equal to Perry's gain, perhaps more than equal since it stuck a dagger into the heart of the Tiger (how's that for cheese?).
Stop the Run (with Only Five)!
What I said:
The Husker defense will start the game seeing if they can stop Missouri's (somewhat) anemic running game with their four defensive linemen and a linebacker.
The Husker defensive line showed why they are the strength of this year's team. Derrick Washington had one long run of 23 yards, on the final play of the game. Take away that gain, Washington ends up with 19 carries for 57 yards, and the team has 68 total yards on the ground. That's a pretty dominating performance (Captain Obvious here).
It was the same in the passing game. Nebraska spent most of the night rushing four because there was little need to blitz. The advantage that gives our defense can't be overstated. Perhaps it's best described by asking you to remember how you felt when Ndamukong Suh intercepted the pass in the middle of the field.
Helu Stays Average
What I said:
Be honest with yourself, for once in your life. Do you really trust Zac Lee to win this game for Nebraska? Or are you going to be like me - hold your breath whenever he's throwing the ball because his only road start to date was as unpleasant as an infection. Until Lee has a good road game (which please let it be tonight!), expecting him to win a game is wishful thinking. Until then, Lee represents unrealized potential - not something you can count on.... yet.
My point was that it would be Helu that carried us to victory. Unfortunately, Helu had a hard time running against a Missouri defense that was stacked to take away the run game. Helu's longest run was a first-quarter 13-yards scamper until the fourth quarter when he broke free on a 41-yard run that would ultimately seal Missouri's fate as it lead to the final score. Helu doubled his game output in two runs - finishing with 88 yards on 18 carries for a 4.89 yard per carry average.
Helu looked slow and tentative throughout much of the game. Part of the reason for that can be put on the offensive line as Husker Mike alluded to in his post-game report card.
Ultimately, it was Zac Lee that won the game. His long pass to Niles Paul was perfect in horrid conditions, as was his second touchdown pass to Paul. His third touchdown pass was executed perfectly as he waited long enough for Mike McNeill to clear his block and get open before lofting him the ball.
Husker fans can complain about Watson's play selection - I can assure you that I did - but the game turned out okay. Perhaps Watson was lucky, but his play call on the long Paul touchdown wasn't luck. He got the safety to bite up on an under route at the exact moment that something good needed to happen. Only thing I'd say to Watson is - "Hey, next time maybe don't wait so long, eh? You're aging me, man!"
Who's The Weather Benefit The Most?
Right before the game I did another article regarding the weather conditions, asking "Who's the Weather Benefit the Most?". The conclusion I came to was - the team that was most mentally tough and didn't let the conditions bother them.
For three quarters that team was Missouri. A couple of big plays later and suddenly it was Missouri's turn to wonder what happened. Keep in mind those touchdowns to Paul came only after he, Menelik Holt and Curenski Gillylen were benched in favor of Antonio Bell, Brandon Kinnie, Chris Brooks, and Khiry Cooper.
Obviously the coaches sent the right message - perform or get out. It's an asset to have coaches like that - the previous staff would have kept doing the same thing over and over, wondered why it didn't work and then later blame the players. That's why they're gone. Perform or get out applies to everyone.