MU gameplan doesnít pan out
Passing game fizzles after promising start against stout defense.

By DAVE MATTER of the Tribuneís staff

Story ran on Sunday, September 30 2001

Last season in Lincoln, Neb., Missouri attempted a season high 39 passes. Yesterday, against the same run-stuffing Nebraska Blackshirt defense, the Tigers attempted 43 passes - 17 more than their previous high this year. MU coach Gary Pinkel said the gameplan called for lots of short passes, hoping to catch the Huskers off-balance and open up the running game. The plan worked for a while.

Mark Schiefelbein photo
Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver tackles Missouri receiver Justin Gage.
Starting quarterback Kirk Farmer threw for 128 yards on 15-of-39 passing, but 77 of those yards came in the first half when the MU offense was most productive. Farmer found tight end Dwayne Blakley four times in the first quarter for 38 yards, but Blakley finished with only six catches. Farmer never found a rhythm with leading receiver Justin Gage (3 catches for 46 yards) aside from a 28-yard pass in the second quarter.

"It was rather obvious weíre struggling running the ball, and theyíre as good against the run as anyone in the country," Pinkel said. "I felt like we had to do some things gameplan-wise where instead of running the ball for 5 yards we wanted to throw it 4 or 5 or 6 yards. In the first half, we werenít perfect, but we did some of that."

In the second half, the plan produced little as Farmer misfired and his receivers routinely dropped passes. Farmer completed only 3 of 14 throws after halftime, and the Tigers were 0 for 6 on third-down conversions.

"Weíve known the last couple weeks that we were going to try and throw some more, spread them out a little bit," Blakley said. "So I had a lot of confidence in our offense. Itís no secret that they play the run well, so to run you have to keep them off-balanced."

Ed Pfueller photo
MU's Kevin Johnson forces a DeJuan Groce fumble.
The running game never benefited from Missouriís spread attack. MU gained just 67 yards on the ground - 29 coming on a Zack Abron gain in the third quarter. MUís three tailbacks totaled just 52 yards on 15 carries.

TALL ORDER: The Tigers tried to take advantage of NUís man coverage and their height advantage with the 6-foot-4 Gage and 6-4 Blakley. Gage against cornerbacks Keyuo Craver (5-11) and DeJuan Groce (5-10) seemed to be an enticing matchup for MU, but Gageís thee catches were his least since last Oct. 21 at Texas.

"I canít say they were frustrating me," Gage said of NUís defensive backs. "They were just doing their job, playing good defense. Ö With Nebraska playing as much man-to-man as they do, the passing game is what we really needed. We just wanted to go one-on-one with their defensive backs. The passing game was working, but we had some mental errors."

Added Blakley: "It wasnít anything they were doing. We just werenít making plays. Thatís what you have to do in big ballgames, make big plays."

STOP AND GO: MU cornerback Antoine Duncan took full responsibility for what turned out to be a tide-turning pass play for the Huskers. On first-and-10 from MUís 41 and less than a minute to play in the second quarter, Eric Crouch hit Wilson Thomas for a 37-yard gain down the left sideline, setting up Dahrran Diedrickís 4-yard TD run two plays later.

Jenna Isaacson photo
Missouri receiver Thomson Omboga couldn't bear to watch as things got ugly late in the fourth quarter of Nebraska's 36-3 victory over the Tigers.
Duncan was matched up with Wilson one-on-one, but Crouch beat him with a floater.

"They did a stop and go," Duncan said. "I was just trying to play with intensity and make a break on the ball. I wasnít ready for it, and he kind of had a step on me so I didnít have time to look back at the ball. He just made a big play."

Duncan played an otherwise solid game, collecting eight tackles and holding NUís receivers to just four catches.

RECORD RUN: After a 42-yard punt by Brock Harvey was downed on the NU 3-yard line, the Tigers stuffed the Huskersí running game again, holding Thunder Collins and Diedrick to a pair of 1-yard gains. On third-and-8, however, Crouch turned a broken pass play into a historic run for the Huskers - a 95-yard dash to the north end zone.

The Tigers were in perfect position to make the stop, Pinkel said.

"Thatís basic fundamental defense," Pinkel said. "Itís called leverage and tackling. If you leverage the ball, itís an 8- or 10- or 12-yard gain, so I give him credit because heís a great player.

"You stop him at the point of attack, you have people pursue and tackle. Even if you give up the first down, you donít give up what happened there."

With 191 rushing yards, Crouch set an NU single-game rushing record for quarterbacks. Gerry Gdowski held the previous high with 174 yards on 17 attempts in 1989 against Iowa State. Crouch moved into seventh place all-time in rushing yardage at Nebraska with 2,755 yards. He is 22 yards behind Lawrence Phillips for sixth place.

Even without the 95-yard gain, Crouch would have outgained Missouri in total yards 216 to 205.

"He didnít slow down or look back," MU defensive tackle Keith Wright said about Crouchís record run. "He didnít showboat at all. His momentum stayed the same. Thatís when I realized, heís there.

"We have to look at his hips and not his feet. If he leans to the left, we tend to go to the left. But your body goes where youíre hips are going, not where your head or hands are going. It was just a phenomenal play."

WISTROM SPEAKS: Webb City native Tracey Wistrom caught two passes for 26 yards and broke NUís all-time receiving yards mark for tight ends. After the game, Wistrom relished the win against his home state school.

"Itís a great feeling to come home to Missouri and play in front of my family and friends and just show one more time why I made the decision to go to Nebraska in the first place," the senior said. "You know itís going to be loud here, but we had just as many fans as they did, and to go out and dominate them like we did in this game are all the reasons why I went to Nebraska."

EXTRA POINTS: Pinkel was upset with MUís punt coverage. The Tigers surrendered an average of 19.9 on eight punt returns. "That just kills you," Pinkel said. "It just kills your field position. So that kind of neutralized some of the advantages we got in the kicking game." Ö Playing in his first career game after returning from a separated collarbone, junior cornerback R.J. Jones collected his first interception in the first quarter. Ö MU collected its second takeaway on its second punt attempt when Kevin Johnson stripped Groce and Tauras Ferguson recovered the loose ball.

Reach Dave Matter at (573) 815-1788 or