Erin Andrews asked Bo Pelini in the postgame interview, and the smile said it all: the Blackshirts will be issued shortly. Maybe tomorrow, definitely this Saturday. It was a masterful defensive performance in absolutely horrible playing conditions.
Truth be told, things looked bleak throughout the third quarter. Nebraska couldn't generate any offense all evening in a downpour. When Zac Lee wasn't misfiring, receivers were dropping the ball. Sensing the difficulty in throwing the ball, the Mizzou defense turned up the pressure and shut down the running game, daring the Huskers to go deep.
And deep they went at the start of the fourth quarter, with Niles Paul redeeming himself for special teams disasters early in the game. Special teams were a disaster most of the night, with misfielded punts and blown snaps. At one point, it was easy to suggest that Nebraska should have given up on fielding punts and simply put 11 men on the line and see if you could force Missouri punter Jake Harry IV to make a mistake.
But on 3rd and 8, Lee finally connected with a wide open Paul for a 56 yard touchdown that was an adrenaline shot to everybody wearing Husker Red. The defense was beginning to wear down at that point, as Derrick Washington was beginning to gain some yardage towards the end of the 3rd quarter. But the adrenaline shot revitalized the soon-to-be-Blackshirts, as Ndamukong Suh finally snared a Blaine Gabbert pass setting up the winning touchdown. Follow that up with a Deion Gomes interception shortly thereafter, and suddenly the Huskers were in control.
Many people are going to criticize Zac Lee's performance for the first three quarters, and that performance was nothing to be proud of. But at that point, Lee's numbers weren't dramatically worse than Gabbert's if you exclude the long pass just before halftime that set up a touchdown. It was an ugly night for both quarterbacks to be sure.
But in the end, it was Lee who made the plays down the stretch; going 5 for 6 for 79 yards in the 4th quarter, the exact same yardage for the first three quarters. Gabbert's numbers might actually have been helped by the rain; Nebraska dropped several interceptions with the wet ball.
There will be plenty of things to review, criticize, and correct. Lack of push by the offensive line, lack of execution especially on special teams. But this was a victory to savor against a division opponent, and the next step on the road back to relevence.
Before anybody asks the question, the answer is "NO!" We saw a Husker defense tonight that reminds us of the "good 'ol days," but the offense is still a work in progress. This team still needs to prove itself a few more times before anybody can utter the word that begins with a "B" and ends with a "K". It's wonderful that three weeks after letting a victory slip away from them, Nebraska roared back in the fourth quarter and restored the heart that was ripped out of the program in December 2003. That's the best takeaway from a dreary night in Columbia, and the best revenge for a fourth quarter meltdown six years ago, also on a cold, wet night.