'Huskers shoot for 23 straight over Mizzou

Saturday, September 29, 2001

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Nothing good seems to come Missouri's way when the Tigers play Nebraska.

There are the 22 consecutive losses, but it's more about the heartbreak.

In 1997, the unranked Tigers improbably led No. 1 Nebraska heading into the final play of regulation. A deflected pass paired with a diving catch, as confused students at Faurot Field rushed from the stands in short-lived celebration, kept the Huskers' national championship season alive.

The next year in Lincoln, Missouri's game-winning pass was dropped by a diving receiver in the end zone. Last season, Missouri quarterback Kirk Farmer broke his collarbone in the third quarter, effectively ending a competitive game unreflected by the 42-24 final score.

"I have not seen them beat themselves," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "It's not been a team that has given a ball game away. You can get reputations sometimes that are deserved. And sometimes you can get them when it's not deserved."

No one will make that mistake with the Huskers (4-0), who bring one of the Big 12's three Top 5-ranked teams to Columbia on Saturday to open the conference season against the Tigers (1-1). Nebraska, which has been ranked in the AP poll 330 straight weeks, hasn't lost a conference opener in 26 years.

Rolling through a nonconference schedule that included a 27-10 win over Notre Dame and last week's 48-3 drubbing of Rice, Nebraska has rolled up more than 240 rushing yards per game. With two running scores and 97 yards against Rice, quarterback Eric Crouch moved ahead of former Missouri star Corby Jones as the conference's all-time leading rusher with 2,564 yards.

But it's the passing game that's drawing attention. Crouch threw for three scores against the Owls and is completing 60 percent of this throws, good so far for 513 yards this season -- almost half of his total from last year.

"He can still run the option great, but now he can throw," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "If you gear up to stop the run now, he can hurt you with their receivers. That's going to cause a lot of problems for anyone who's going to play them."

In spite of an opening game loss to Bowling Green, the Tigers have managed to post decent numbers defensively, allowing just 229 yards per game. Their passing defense, at 120.5 yards per game, if the nation's seventh best.

"If you want to have an opportunity to win games like this, you have to have guys who have (personal record) games," Pinkel said. "That means guys at every position, not just one aspect of our team. I think our players recognize that."

Following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Missouri rescheduled its Sept. 15 game at Michigan State and had a natural bye last week. Pinkel refused to even consider the layoff as a possible challenge and his players appear ready to match the attitude.

"We're ready for the Big 12," quarterback Darius Outlaw said. "Just because we've been off for a couple weeks, that hurt us. But we've been going out there and practicing hard, and I think coach has been impressed with us."

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