Columbia, MO (Sports Network) – Zac Lee threw a trio of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and 21st-ranked Nebraska took advantage of a pair of interceptions to rally past No. 24 Missouri, 27-12, amid a driving rainstorm in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams.
The Cornhuskers (4-1, 1-0 Big 12) scored three touchdowns in a span of 3:22 and had all of their points in the last quarter, coming back from a 12-0 deficit.
“We made some plays in the fourth quarter. We had the opportunities before that. We didn’t make all those plays and they made some plays early,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “Conditions like that, sometimes, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. We didn’t take advantage of them in the first half, but we were able to get that done in the fourth quarter. I just think our football team showed a lot of character tonight.”
Lee connected on 14-of-33 passes for 158 yards, and Roy Helu Jr. rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska. Niles Paul had six receptions for 102 yards and a pair of scores.
Blaine Gabbert went 17-of-43 for 134 yards, but the two interceptions he threw were costly for the Tigers (4-1, 0-1), who dominated the Cornhuskers for the first three quarters before falling apart.
The conditions were so rough at Memorial Stadium that a power outage shut off one of the scoreboards prior to the start and there were problems with the time being displayed in intervals throughout the contest.
Lee hit Paul with a 56-yard bomb for a touchdown just 64 seconds into the final quarter, bringing the visitors within 12-7.
On the next play from scrimmage, Gabbert was picked off by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. That gave Nebraska the ball at the Mizzou 18, and two plays later Lee found Paul from 13 yards out on the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead score with 12:59 left. The two-point conversion pass failed, leaving the Cornhuskers with a 13-12 edge.
“It was a momentum change, but on offense, it’s our responsibility to get the ball back and score,” said Gabbert.
That didn’t happen the next time for the Tigers.
Cornerback Dejon Gomes intercepted Gabbert on the next series, and the subsequent return had Nebraska knocking on the door again, at the Mizzou 10. On 3rd-and-goal, Lee remained calm under a heavy rush and found tight end Mike McNeill alone in the middle of the field and he made it to the end zone uncontested for the eight-yard score with 10:34 remaining.
Missouri ate up the next five minutes, driving to the Nebraska 32, but Gabbert’s fourth down pass was incomplete.
The Cornhuskers salted away the victory when Helu broke off a 41-yard run before scoring on the next play from five yards out with just under a minute left.
“It feels great, it’s a great start to Big 12 play,” said Suh. “It’s one of those that means a little more to us. We want to dominate the Big 12 North and start it off the right way. It was not exactly the way we wanted to win but I’ll take it. Missouri played hard but I’m really happy with the way it ended.”
Both teams had trouble with their footing and Gabbert lost the ball after being sacked early in the opening quarter, but the Cornhuskers weren’t able to move into field goal range.
The first points of the night, a safety, came nearly a minute into the second quarter. Cornhuskers punter Alex Henerey stumbled after taking the snap and underhanded the ball out of the back of the end zone to avoid a fumble or worse.
Gabbert, who had his ankle bent backward in the first half, took matters in his own hands to give the Tigers a 9-0 lead on the final play of the half. He threw a 38-yard pass to Jared Perry, converting a 3rd-and-10, to move the ball to the six. After an incomplete pass and a pair of Derrick Washington runs for short yardage, the Tigers were faced with a 4th-and-goal with two seconds left.
Rather than kick the field goal, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel chose to go for the touchdown. Gabbert faked a handoff to Washington and then darted for the end zone, diving across before the ball squirted loose. Gabbert’s left knee hit the turf just as the ball barely broke the plane, but after a replay review the score was allowed to stand.
Missouri failed to convert a fumble into points early in the third as Grant Ressel missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, but he split the uprights from 33 yards away with 1:26 remaining in the quarter for a 12-0 margin.
It tied the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Nebraska’s history…Missouri plays at Oklahoma State next Saturday, while the Cornhuskers return home to face Texas Tech October 17…Missouri lost for just the third time in the last 25 games at Memorial Stadium…Prior to Thursday, the Tigers had won the three previous meetings in Columbia by an average of 23 points…Nebraska has won 33 of its last 35 conference openers. The only blemishes on that record are a 2002 loss to Iowa State in Ames, and last year’s Missouri victory in Lincoln…In the past 11 meetings between the two schools, none of the matchups have been decided by single digits. The closest game in that stretch is a 24-13 Nebraska victory in 2002…Nebraska snapped a 10-game skid against ranked opponents…Washington ran for 80 yards.