For three quarters, I'm sure that most of Husker Nation was feeling the same way: Here we go again.
After dispatching the Ragin' Cajuns 55-0, our beloved Cornhuskers were getting embarrassed on a national stage once more. All that talk of Nebraska's inability to win a road game against a ranked opponent, the same mantra over and over again by media types of every stature.
Shawn Watson tried running Helu inside with poor results. In the third quarter, Helu tried the sidelines with only slight improvement. Zac Lee, despite his upbeat demeanor, was throwing above and behind receivers. The flooded field was further flooded by yellow flags on both teams. Time and time again, the Huskers' transgressions seemed to come at the most inopportune moments; the proverbial self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the foot. Special teams were almost impossible to watch, causing more than one Husker fan's heart to catch in their throat each time a punt by either squad was attempted and well before the safety that started the scoring for Mizzou. Admirably, the blackshirtless "Blackshirts", anchored by Ndamukong Suh, kept NU in the game. Yet, seemingly certain interceptions bounced from their grasp and once again they gave the impression that they were unable to finish a complete half of football as the second quarter expired. My honest and (somewhat) unbiased opinion? Gabbert's knee was down.
So for three quarters, visions of how fiery Coach Bo was going to berate his team were flashing through my mind while I pieced together the criticisms I intended to unleash on the Huskers (and their staff) in my commentary.
Then, while the rain kept falling in Columbia, the clouds abruptly parted for the Huskers.
Three plays into the final stanza and, like a bolt of lightning from those same rain clouds, Niles Paul benefited from a blown assignment in the Mizzou secondary (sound familiar?) and a beautiful pass from Lee which resulted in a 56-yard touchdown strike. Even from my comfortable (and dry) seat on my living room sofa some five hundred miles away, I could feel a cold wave of apprehension and disbelief ripple through Faurot Field.
Momentum had swung in an instant. Husker fans everywhere hoped that Nebraska could capitalize on it and erase a five-point deficit. They didn't have to wait long. On the Tigers' first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Ndamukong Suh showed again why he is a man among boys, as he took to the air to intercept a Gabbert pass. Prior to that, the former Husker-commit hadn't thrown a pick all season. It wouldn't be his last. Suddenly, the crack in Missouri's composure had become a fissure; one large enough for Niles Paul to run through again and score his second touchdown, a thirteen yard pass from a resurgent Lee. Although, the Huskers failed to convert their two-point try, the damage was done. The thoroughly soaked gold and black clad locals, hoping to see their team defeat Nebraska for the third year in a row, a feat not accomplished in most of their lifetimes, could only stand in the rain with their mouths agape.
Meanwhile, the Husker faithful who had made this rain-drenched journey rejoiced; nothing could dampen their spirits.
Especially when a mere three plays into Mizzou's next possession, Dejon Gomes, neatly stepped in front of another Gabbert pass near the midfield stripe and took it to the Tigers' ten-yard line. Mike McNeill ran a delayed route on third down, made the grab, and waltzed into the endzone with nary a Tiger in sight for the Huskers' third touchdown of the quarter.
With each ensuing score, the Tiger fans became further dejected, further deflated and farther from the stadium as they sought shelter from not only the garden-variety rain, but the Big Red reign as well.
On Mizzou's next drive, the Nebraska defense seemed to soften, allowing the Tigers to gain some yardage, aided by a weak horse collar penalty called on Suh, but then found their aggressiveness once more. Following a holding call on Missouri, Gabbert threw four straight incompletions and surrendered the ball to the Huskers.
While running out the clock, Helu finally broke loose for a 41-yard gain, then punched in Nebraska's final score from the five-yard line on the ensuing play. A handful of meaningless seconds ticked away into the soggy night.
One of the most dramatic turnarounds in Husker history was complete. An ESPN analyst quipped that the rain hid the Tigers' tears.
It was a vindicating win for a team that would not give up. Yes, it's true that Coach Pelini will have a laundry list of items for his team, items where they need improvement. But for one quarter of one game on one miserably wet night in enemy territory, the Huskers played up to their potential like the great teams of the past. As the joyous Huskers head home to Lincoln, they have to know that, as a program, they're headed in the right direction as well.