Gabbert shows mettle in strong finishing effort
September, 26, 2009
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Blaine Gabbert's development took another step forward Friday night.
The Missouri sophomore quarterback helped the Tigers blow the game open by orchestrating drives on four-straight possessions in the second half that enabled the Tigers to claim a 31-21 triumph over Nevada.
The Tigers put the game away in the second half by muscling through Nevada's defense on scoring drives of 80, 71, 97 and 51 yards.
Gabbert finished by passing for a career-best 414 yards and three touchdowns, making it look easy against a gasping Nevada secondary.
Some thought that Gabbert would crumble under the pressure of his first true road contest. The Wolf Pack ratcheted up the pressure by stacking the line to contain Missouri's running game, daring Gabbert to beat them with his arm.
He did just that, taking advantage of Danario Alexander running through the Nevada secondary for a career-best nine catches for 170 yards.
The game turned when Nevada running back Luke Lippincott fumbled at the Missouri 2-yard line on the second play of the fourth quarter. Nevada was trailing 21-13 and appeared poised to pull closer when linebacker Brian Coulter pounced on the fumble.
But instead, the Tigers took the ball 97 yards on a drive that was jump-started by two critical third-down conversions.
Gabbert confidently hooked up first with Alexander and then with Wes Kemp on plays deep in his own territory that young starting quarterbacks aren't supposed to be able to make.
The fumble marked the second straight season that Nevada appeared to have a Big 12 team on the ropes before a critical second-half miscue killed their momentum.
Last season, Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick fumbled at the Texas Tech goal line as the Wolf Pack were poised to take the lead over the Red Raiders. Graham Harrell took advantage of the break by driving for three touchdowns after the mistake to give them a 35-19 victory.
Lippincott's fumble was just as critical.
And Gabbert stepped on their throats to lead the clinching offensive burst -- just like Harrell did last season.
No wonder it seemed like every time I saw Nevada coach Chris Ault during the game, he was grimacing and yelling into his headset. Critical turnovers -- especially when they occur over and over -- have a way of irritating coaches.