He just didn’t realize the reason would be revealed to him on a wet, clammy night that tested his competitive will. The miserable conditions got worse as little went right for his team until the very end.
Nebraska’s 27-12 victory over Missouri wasn’t an artistic masterpiece. But being a part of the gritty performance was why Suh was beaming about giving up a chance at NFL millions to come back for his senior season.
“A game like tonight was a huge reason why I came back,” Suh said. “I knew I had great teammates and we would have games like this. We just had to wait a little while for it to happen.”
But the cumulative effect of Suh and his teammates along the defensive front helped keep the Cornhuskers close enough until a fourth-quarter offensive spark. And when it kicked in, Nebraska streaked to the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
John Rieger/US Presswire
Ndamukong Suh and the Nebraska defensive line made life miserable for Blaine Gabbert.
Suh helped change the momentum of the game with a fourth-quarter interception during a flurry of 20 Nebraska points in 3 minutes, 22 seconds that enabled the Cornhuskers to claim the lead for good. Earlier in the game, he also forced a fumble, notched a sack and broke up a pass.
“Suh played his you-know-what off,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
But another big play came in the first quarter when he rudely slung Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the turf while recording a sack. It left the Missouri signal-caller limping, and his abilities regressed as the game went on.
It was reminiscent of a heavyweight fight. The body shots early in the fight didn’t deck Gabbert, but paved the way for his demise as the game progressed.
Gabbert had thrown his first 164 passes of the season without an interception before Suh’s acrobatic play, which was amazing in itself. And considering Suh weighs near 300 pounds, it made the play even more remarkable.
“I sat at the line of scrimmage and read his eyes and he just threw it to me,” Suh said.
That played helped spark a feeding frenzy that eventually smashed the Tigers’ competitive drive.
It represented a huge change from last season, when Pelini didn’t think he had enough defensive talent to match Missouri’s strength up front. Instead, he played with a wrinkle, having one of his lineman play as a stand-up defender rather than relying on the unit’s growing pass-rushing strength.
But this season, with an inexperienced quarterback in Gabbert and more confidence in his defensive front, Pelini turned his defense loose. For much of the game, the Cornhuskers played a 4-2-5 defense where they rarely relied on blitzes and depended almost entirely on the pressure from the front.
“Suh played great,” Pelini said. “But those other guys -- Barry Turner, Cameron Meredith, Pierre Allen, Baker Steinkuhler -- all had big games. They played hard and well, which you can say about everybody who lined up on defense for us. They played pretty good defense against a good football team.”