With 1 loss, Mizzou looking up at Neb in B12 North
Missouri's head coach Gary Pinkel watches Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. (10) get tackled during an NCAA college football game, Saturday Oct 30, 2010, in Lincoln, Neb.(AP Photo/Dave Weaver) By Dave Weaver
Nebraska's Jared Crick (94) takes down Missouri's Blaine Gabbert (11) during an NCAA college football game Saturday Oct 30, 2010, in Lincoln, Neb.(AP Photo/Dave Weaver) By Dave Weaver
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (3) is tackled by Missouri safety Jarrell Harrison (11) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) By Nati Harnik
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel looks down in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010. Nebraska beat Missouri 31-17. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) By Nati Harnik
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- With one loss, Missouri has gone from being a potential national-championship contender to needing help from other teams to win the Big 12 North.
Nebraska looked to be the biggest obstacle between the Tigers and a perfect regular season. Missouri couldn't clear it Saturday, not with Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. rushing for a school-record 307 yards and three touchdowns and a new-look Blackshirt defense hounding Blaine Gabbert all game.
The 31-17 loss dropped the Tigers (7-1, 3-1) from No. 7 to No. 14 in The Associated Press Top 25 and left them likely needing to beat Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas to have a chance to win the Big 12 North.
Even if the Tigers win out, they wouldn't play for the conference championship if Nebraska beats Iowa State, Kansas, Texas A&M and Colorado to finish the regular season.
Missouri and Nebraska both figure to be favorites in each of their final games.
"We understand that," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said, "and what we need to do next week is try and get back in the winner's circle. First loss of year and it's a difficult one."
If there was a hangover from the Tigers' upset of then-BCS standings leader Oklahoma a week earlier, Pinkel wasn't admitting to it.
"Nope. That's an excuse," he said. "We've got to play big game after big game after big game and play your very best, and we didn't play well enough."
Helu scored on 73- and 66-yard runs as Nebraska broke out to a 24-0 lead, and his 53-yard burst in the third quarter made it 31-14.
"We came out flat and weren't ready to play," linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "We missed some tackles. They capitalized. I always give them their props. There were definitely some things that were mess-ups by us, and they scored 60-yard touchdowns off them."
The Tigers came into the game allowing just 114 yards rushing and having not given up more than 250 yards on the ground to any opponent.
Nebraska took advantage of Missouri's over-pursuit on blitzes and breakdowns in the secondary to spring Helu for big gainers.
"Obviously, you can't give up big plays like that and win games like this, especially when your offense isn't moving the football," Pinkel said.
Nebraska used a three-man defensive front for the first time, having end Cameron Meredith stand up as an outside linebacker.
The scheme took the Tigers by surprise. After having allowed seven sacks through the first seven games, the offensive line surrendered six to the Huskers.
Missouri ran for 178 yards against Oklahoma but all but abandoned the running game, and not just because the Huskers got out to a big lead quickly.
There were just two called runs on their first three possessions. Though Gabbert ran for 74 yards, most of them came on scrambles when protection broke down.
Gabbert was 18 of 42 for 199 yards and a touchdown, and he threw his first interception in four games.
T.J. Moe, who caught five balls for 71 yards and a TD, said Nebraska's secondary covered Missouri's receivers as well or better than any opponent.
"They're ranked that high for a reason," Moe said. "A couple of those guys are going to be in the NFL next year. I think maybe we could have taken advantage of some things we didn't do. But you have to give them credit."
Maybe the most frustrating possession came in the third quarter, when Gabbert moved the Tigers from their 20 to inside the Nebraska 1.
With a touchdown, the Tigers would have pulled within 10 points with a full quarter to play. Suddenly, Missouri wanted to play power football.
But Jared Crick and Meredith teamed up to stuff Gabbert on a sneak, Henry Josey for no gain and Gabbert again when he tried to run around left tackle.
Missouri was lined up to go for it on fourth down, but Josey flinched during the snap count for a false start, and the Tigers had to settle for a field goal.
Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara said he figured the Tigers might try to throw a fade pass into the end zone.
"We analyze a lot of film and try to get the ball in," Pinkel said. "We do what we think is best. When you don't get in from the 1-yard line, you get criticized."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)