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Missouri's Dan Devine, the loser, looked like a man who had just learned that his disease was incurable. He was leaning against a table in the silent gloom of his locker room, whip-dog-tired, a towel around his neck, a paper cup of water in his hand, his large brown eyes fixed vacantly on a lot of things that could have happened. He talked softly and very, very slowly. "I don't think...I can remember a team of ours ever playing this well...and losing," he said. "But they do too many things too well." They are the relentless Cornhuskers of Nebraska, and this is how they leave you after a football game. Devine had got them in his own stadium on a warm, picturesque homecoming day, before the largest crowd (58,000) ever to see a sports event in the state—the perfect upset situation in one of the most important college football games of the year—and he had got them 14-0 down in the first quarter with a poised, vicious, well-prepared, thoroughly dedicated team of his own. But he had somehow lost, 16-14. And the only explanation seemed to be that Nebraska was overwhelming.
"They are even better than I thought they were," said Devine.
Indeed Nebraska is. The Cornhuskers had to be to get away from Columbia, Mo. with their seventh victory of the season, especially the way they did it. They went into the game as the nation's leading scorers and with the fattest total offense average in the land, but they had not met a really testing opponent and certainly had not been forced to come from behind. Suddenly, against Missouri, they were far behind, farther behind than any Bob Devaney-coached team had been in seven years.
Missouri simply took the opening kick-off and disrespectfully rammed the ball back 80 yards in 11 plays to a touchdown with shifty, 200-pound Quarterback Gary Lane passing and running to perfection. A hot-and-cold operator who was obviously going to be hot this day, Lane got the score himself on a 22-yard run so slick and weaving it seemed he was meandering through a field of sunflowers—not Nebraska.
Nebraska had hardly recovered from this effrontery when Missouri's superb defensive back, Johnny Roland, intercepted a pass at midfield, and Lane got hot again. He sent Halfback Charlie Brown tearing through guard for 11 yards, he swept end for 11 more, he shot a 19-yard pass to End Jim Waller—a routine curl-in—and he sliced Carl Reese through the middle for another touchdown from one yard out. It all looked so easy you figured the uniforms might have been switched.
Not only was Missouri's offense clicking at this point, the defense, featuring End Russell Washington up front and Roland's jolting play in the secondary, was making the Cornhuskers look almost inept the first three times they had the ball.
But this is the kind of team Nebraska is: big, mobile, deep, patient, mysteriously unemotional, workmanlike and confident. Nebraska is so big that a pro scout commented, "When they run out there, you can see the field tilt." It also has just enough quickness in the backfield with self-assured Quarterback Fred Duda and slashing runners like Harry Wilson and Frankie Solich that a defense, even a tough one like Missouri's, can never relax. The Cornhuskers took their time getting started, but when they did, about six minutes deep in the second quarter, you could almost foretell the result.
The touchdown that got Nebraska back in the game came in just four plays. Wilson squirted around end for five yards. Duda, a thick-legged senior, flipped a 14-yard pass to the split end, Freeman White, who is 6 feet 5 and weighs 230. Wilson then cut through tackle and fled 37 yards to the Missouri one, and Fullback Pete Tatman plowed across. It was 14-7. A ball game.
Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney, a plump, droll fellow even in moments of crisis, said later, "I don't particularly get a bang out of starting games 14-0 behind. But we'd been scoring over 30 points a game, so I didn't really think we were going to get beat by that score. We might have panicked if we hadn't finally found out we could move the ball on the ground. But we're not a rah-rah team. We know if we do our jobs well we'll win. So when we found out we could run, our problem was solved."
Duda solved it almost singlehanded. The next time Nebraska got the ball, still in the second quarter, he drove the Cornhuskers 89 yards for another touchdown. The drive was Nebraska at its brutal best: Solich for seven, Tatman for three, Solich for three, Duda for 12, Solich for seven streaking through the middle, Wilson for three, Wilson for two. Monotonous but effective. A giant coming to life.