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Tom’s Time: Blackshirts Bounce Back at Mizzou in ’93

October 29, 2020

Now that’s more like it.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride called the Missouri game the Blackshirts’ best performance to that point in the 1993 season.

One week after giving up 565 yards to Kansas State, including a Big Eight record 489 passing, the Blackshirts allowed only 172 yards, 104 of them by passing, just under half of what Missouri quarterback Jeff Handy had averaged through the first six games (220 yards).

The previous season, Handy had passed for 424 yards against Nebraska.

McBride spoke to the defense before and at halftime of the game with a passion senior defensive tackle Kevin Ramaekers described as “like Vince Lombardi.”

Following McBride’s emotional halftime speech, the defense limited Handy to 33 yards passing, and the Tigers had a net of minus-1-yard rushing. They went three-and-out on their first five possessions and managed only one first down in the final 30 minutes.

The score was Nebraska 49, Missouri 7.

For the fourth time in seven games, the Huskers gained more than 500 yards, this time 539, led by I-back Calvin Jones and quarterback Tommie Frazier.

Jones carried 27 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Frazier rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown and completed 8-of-13 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, which preceded Missouri’s lone score, 4½ minutes into the first quarter.

The interception was only the second of the season for Frazier, the first in 61 passes.

Nebraska used 93 players, nine of whom carried the ball and eight who caught passes. Brook Berringer and Ben Rutz saw action at quarterback in the fourth quarter.

True freshman I-back Lawrence Phillips carried only twice but one was good for 25 yards and a touchdown, his fifth in six games—he didn’t play in the opener.

Nebraska’s defensive performance was particularly impressive given that next up for the Huskers was a trip to Boulder, Colorado, where they hadn’t won since 1987. They had snapped a three-game winless streak against Colorado in 1992, 52-7 in Lincoln, but the Buffaloes had won back-to-back games following a 19-19 tie at Boulder in 1991.

In addition, the Colorado game was almost certainly going to determine the Big Eight champion. Though the Buffs were 4-2-1, the back-to-back losses had been against non-conference, and ranked, opponents. They fell at No. 20 Stanford (41-37) and to No. 3 Miami (35-29) in what Gene Wojciechowski of the Los Angeles Times described as the “Brawl in Boulder.”

Wojciechowski’s description was literal. In the final seconds of the first half, a brawl that sent Colorado cheerleaders scurrying “up an end zone embankment,” broke out between players.

When order was restored, 12 players had been ejected, including five Buffaloes, among them wide receiver Michael Westbrook.

Nebraska fans, no doubt, weren’t surprised by the “Brawl in Boulder.”

Colorado, which had been No. 7 in the AP rankings before the Stanford loss, dropped from No. 13 to No. 20 after the Miami brawl; climbed back to No. 16 after defeating Oklahoma two weeks later; only to fall to No. 20 again following the tie at Kansas State.

Regardless of ranking, Colorado was on the minds of some Huskers during the blowout of Missouri. They couldn’t help but look ahead.

The Missouri loss was costly in one respect. Brenden Stai, the starting right guard, and Jon Pederson, a back-up center and long-snapper, suffered broken legs, ending their season.

Losing Stai, in particular, was a “big blow,” Tom Osborne said.

Stai, the team’s strongest player and an All-America selection as a senior in 1994, was replaced by Ken Mehlin, who had been the starting center and a back-up guard. Mehlin was replaced by sophomore Aaron Graham, who would remain the starting center on back-to-back national championship teams.

In addition, Rob Zatechka, the starting left guard, would no longer rotate at tackle—where he would start as a senior on the 1994 national championship team.

The line’s other starters were tackles Zach Wiegert, a junior, and Lance Lundberg, a senior.

In addition to Stai, Nebraska would be without starting tight end Gerald Armstrong for the Colorado game because of injury. Armstrong had watched the Missouri game from the sideline as well.

Otherwise, the Huskers appeared to be ready, health-wise, for the Buffaloes.

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