COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Facing a double-digit road deficit after three quarters on a cold and rainy night, No. 21 Nebraska could have packed it in.
Instead, the offense that had been anemic took advantage of two big interceptions to help spur a 20-point scoring flurry over a little more than 3 minutes early in the fourth quarter, leading to a 27-12 victory against No. 24 Missouri on Thursday.
Zac Lee threw three TD passes in the decisive fourth quarter for Nebraska (4-1, 1-0 Big 12), outplaying counterpart Blaine Gabbert. The Missouri quarterback entered the game ranked fourth nationally in passing efficiency and leading the Big 12.
Dodds and Ends
"I was digging deep from the beginning," Lee said. "It just didn't show up until the end."
Missouri built a 12-0 lead after three quarters, its lone touchdown coming on Gabbert's 1-yard sneak on fourth down as time ran out in the first half. But Nebraska rallied with three touchdowns in a 3:22 span early in fourth quarter.
Lee hit Niles Paul with a 56-yard scoring pass to cut the lead to 12-7. On Missouri's next offensive play, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh deflected and then intercepted a Gabbert pass. The Huskers scored quickly on a 13-yard pass from Lee to Paul to make it 13-12. A 2-point conversion attempt failed.
A 40-yard interception return by Nebraska's Dejon Gomes on Missouri's next possession left the ball on Missouri's 10. Nebraska made it 20-12 on Lee's third TD, an 8-yard pass to tight end Mike McNeill.
Looking to run out the clock, Nebraska added a final TD on Roy Helu Jr.'s 5-yard run with 56 seconds remaining.
A steady downpour fell throughout much of the game. In the first half alone, the teams combined for 11 punts, nine penalties and six fumbles -- including three muffed punts by Nebraska. For the game, Nebraska had 12 penalties and Missouri eight, with each losing more than 100 yards for those violations. Both teams punted eight times.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel refused to target the sloppy conditions for his team's uneven performance.
"I'm not going to blame the weather on any of this," he said. "If you want to win a championship ... you have to play in any conditions. That's no excuse at all."
Columbia had more than 5 inches of rain and flash flooding throughout Thursday. A pregame campus power outage darkened all of Memorial Stadium for about 10 minutes before electricity was partially restored.
Passes routinely slipped through receivers' hands, and Missouri's lone score was aided by a 38-yard pass from Gabbert to Jared Perry after a Nebraska defender slipped and fell.
The Nebraska comeback kept Missouri from a third consecutive victory against its Big 12 North Division rival -- a streak the Tigers last accomplished in 1969. Until a 2003 home victory, Missouri had lost 24 straight to Nebraska.
Gabbert's two interceptions were his first of the season and the first of his career in 177 attempts. He had thrown 11 touchdowns this season but completed only 17 of 43 passes for 134 yards and no touchdowns. It was his first game this season without a TD pass.
Lee completed 14 of 33 passes for 158 yards and three TDs. Helu led the Huskers' running attack with 88 yards on 18 carries.
The Huskers' fourth-quarter outburst accounted for 160 yards of offense -- 57 more yards than they had for the entire game to that point.
"We just kept fighting," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "In conditions like that, you have take advantage of your opportunities. They took advantage in the first half and we were able to get that done in the fourth quarter."
Missouri defensive lineman Jaron Baston suggested that the Tigers became unnerved after Nebraska's unexpected late-game surge.
"Some things went their way, and we just didn't react well," he said.
Missouri had only 225 yards of total offense, with running back Derrick Washington gaining 80 yards on 20 carries.
With power unavailable for a new, $3.5 million scoreboard in the north end zone, game officials resorted to hand signals instead of the play clock. Rules required officials to shut off the opposite play clock so one team would not have an advantage.
|Nebraska's Niles Paul snags one of his two fourth-quarter TDs in the harsh conditions. (US Presswire)|
|MO||Blaine Gabbert 1 yd run (Grant Ressel kick)|
|MO||Grant Ressel 33 yd FG|
|NE||Niles Paul 56 yd pass from Zac Lee (Alex Henery kick)|
|NE||Niles Paul 13 yd pass from Zac Lee (failed 2pt pass)|
|NE||Mike McNeill 8 yd pass from Zac Lee (Alex Henery kick)|
|NE||Roy Helu 5 yd run (Alex Henery kick)|
|Third Down Efficiency||8-17||5-18|
|Fourth Down Efficiency||0-1||1-2|
|Kick Return Yds||2||82|
|Punt Return Yds||-5||63|
|Time of Poss.||29:32||30:28|
|NE: Roy Helu 18-88, Rex Burkhead 5-34, Zac Lee 8-7, Team 2--24|
|MO: Derrick Washington 20-80, De'Vion Moore 6-9, Blaine Gabbert 9-2|
|NE: Zac Lee 14-33-158-0|
|MO: Blaine Gabbert 17-43-134-2|
|NE: Niles Paul 6-102, Curenski Gilleylen 3-14, Menelik Holt 2-26, Mike McNeill 1-8, Rex Burkhead 1-4, Kyler Reed 1-4|
|MO: Danario Alexander 6-43, Jared Perry 4-68, Derrick Washington 3-10, Jerrell Jackson 2-11, De'Vion Moore 1-4, Wes Kemp 1--2|