Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tom’s Time: A Slight Scheme Switch to Get a Win at Missouri

November 04, 2021

Nebraska changed its offense for the 1994 game at Missouri. Not because Tom Osborne wanted to. He wasn’t trying to confuse the Tigers. But because he felt he had to.

Quarterback Brook Berringer was coming back from a collapsed lung, and Osborne didn’t want him running options—even though he had 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash.

In addition, I-back Lawrence Phillips couldn’t use his left hand because of a sprained left thumb, suffered in the second quarter of the Kansas State game.

Osborne said Phillips was playing with one arm.

Protecting Berringer, however, was the greatest concern, especially with Colorado next up on the schedule. The Buffaloes, also undefeated, had moved ahead of Nebraska in the rankings following a 45-7 victory against No. 22 Oklahoma. Colorado was No. 2, the Huskers’ No. 3.

So Osborne, who was his own offensive coordinator for all 25 seasons as head coach, decided to limit the offense, to use a “pro-style” instead of the option offense that characterized Nebraska. That “really restricted us,” said Osborne, who “never liked the pro style” because players stood around “a lot during practice.” And that’s what the Huskers had been doing, standing around “like a pro team.”

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Berringer had the skills for a pro-style offense, though. During the week before the Missouri game, Osborne described him as potentially the best passer Nebraska ever had. And when he did have to run, he could use his 4.6 speed to get out of bounds.

Option or not, Nebraska still relied on the running game—58 of its 71 plays from scrimmage were runs, including 22 carries by Phillips, for 110 yards and the first touchdown, early in the second quarter, capping a 14-play, 92-yard drive. The Huskers would win, 42-7.

Berringer attempted only one pass during the opening drive, but kept the ball and ran three times for 31 yards. Perhaps, he hadn’t been clear about his not running. Message received. He would carry only twice more, losing 8 yards on the second carry—as well as a fumble, Nebraska’s only turnover.

His first pass had floated over an open Reggie Baul. But he would complete nine of the next 12, for 152 yards and three touchdowns—1 yard to tight end Mark Gilman, 30 yards to split end Brendan Holbein and 43 yards to Baul, in response to Missouri’s only touchdown, a 34-yard pass from Jeff Handy to Rahsetnu Jenkins. The play was the Tigers’ longest from scrimmage of the season.

Back-up I-back Damon Benning rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The Blackshirts limited Missouri to 198 yards, including 48 rushing. They sacked Handy three times, and cornerback Barron Miles intercepted one of his 32 passes, returning it 27 yards. Miles also forced a fumble and made five tackles. Ed Stewart and Troy Dumas led the Huskers with eight tackles each.

Starting defensive tackle Terry Connealy missed the game because of flu-like symptoms he experienced the night before the game. He slept through most of the second half in the locker room.

That Phillips had rushed for 100 or more yards for an eighth consecutive game tied a school record to start a season, set by Bobby Reynolds as a sophomore in 1950. Phillips’ season total was 1,233 yards, just 109 yards short of Reynolds’ school record for a sophomore, 1,342. The Big Eight sophomore record was set by Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas in 1985, 1,553 yards.

Osborne pulled Berringer with four minutes remaining, inserting Matt Turman. On his third play, Turman kept the ball and ran for 21 yards. He was hit out of bounds, drawing a personal foul penalty and injuring his right shoulder. He was replaced by Berringer for one play. Then Monte Christo, a freshman walk-on who had been pulled from a redshirt came on to finish up.

Quarterback would continue to be a concern.

Nebraska hadn’t been looking ahead to Colorado, freshman outside linebacker Grant Wistrom said. But now the Huskers could turn their attention to that game.

“That’s a big game,” said offensive guard Brenden Stai. “We’ll probably see the winner in the Orange Bowl, in the polls and in the news.”

He was right.

As for pro style or option, it didn’t seem to matter—as long as Berringer remained healthy. The Huskers amassed 482 yards of offense. They weren’t standing around at Faurot Field.

Next: Here come the Buffaloes, setting the stage.

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