Homecoming of sorts for Gabbert, once a Nebraska recruit
Thursday, October 28, 2010
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Three years ago, eons for a college kid, Blaine Gabbert switched commitments from Nebraska to Missouri. That’s not nearly long enough for Cornhusker fans to forget.
Missouri’s star quarterback can anticipate getting an earful Saturday when the unbeaten and seventh-ranked Tigers visit the 14th-ranked Huskers in a matchup of Big 12 North powers.
Missouri (7-0, 3-0 Big 12) ended a 25-year drought in their last trip to Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) in 2008, but this will be the junior’s first start there. The 6-5, 230-pound Gabbert, from Ballwin, wasn’t expecting forgiveness after choosing to stay closer to home instead of heading to Nebraska.
“I highly doubt it,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and they’re great fans, and it’s going to be a pretty special atmosphere up there this weekend.”
Optimistically, he downplayed the infamy.
“Anytime you go into an opposing team’s stadium there’s going to be signs, there’s going to be taunts,” Gabbert said. “You’ve just got to kind of block those out and just focus on the game. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s going to be worse for me than anybody else.”
Publicly, Nebraska players and coaches have nothing but nice things to say about Gabbert.
“He’s a good decision-maker who makes good throws and is a good quarterback,” coach Bo Pelini said. “Obviously, if you get more experience, you’re going to get better.”
Personal experience can serve as motivation for Gabbert, who played a role in a rain-drenched failure last year at home. Missouri led 12-0 in the fourth quarter before surrendering 27 straight points that propelled Nebraska to the North title, and Gabbert wasn’t the same for several weeks after spraining his ankle.
“No one is going to play perfect week in and week out, everyone is going to have a bump in the road,” Gabbert said. “It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to play them.”
Back to his nimble self, Gabbert has led the way offensively in the school’s first 7-0 start in 50 years. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes, up 8 percent from last year, with 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Gabbert threw for 308 yards last week in a 36-27 victory over Oklahoma, the school’s first-ever victory over a No. 1 team. He was at his best in the fourth quarter, going 8-for-9 for 95 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Dave Yost said Gabbert is much smoother and efficient running the offense, better at hitting the quick out and the long ball.
“One of the best things, he’s got a good feel for it,” Yost said. “We’re doing a great job of protecting for him, so he feels comfortable back there and getting the ball downfield to our guys.”
Gabbert is on a roll heading into a matchup against a team that handed Oklahoma State its first loss last week and hasn’t allowed a player to accumulate 300 yards of total offense the last 24 games. He claims no extra motivation.
“Not at all. Just another football game,” Gabbert said. “This team knows what to expect going up to Lincoln. We’ve won there before and it’s a great environment to play in.”
Gabbert is 15-5 as the starter, plus has won five of his last six on the road. He’s spreading the ball around a lot better than last year, when Danario Alexander caught 113 passes.
Tight end Michael Egnew has 56 catches, fifth-best in the nation, and T.J. Moe has 53. Jerrell Jackson had a slow start while wearing a cast the first month to protect a broken wrist, but had a careerbest nine receptions for 139 yards and the go-ahead score last week. Wes Kemp has 14 catches and two touchdowns the last two games.
Coach Gary Pinkel points out nice protection from the line, too. Gabbert makes it all click.
“I thought he played a really exceptional game last week,” Pinkel said. “He’s playing very poised. Good decisions. Tough guy.”
Tough enough for the sea of red at Nebraska? Time will tell.
“He certainly doesn’t like them, I can tell you that,” Moe said. “And neither do I, neither does anybody else on this team. And they don’t like us. That’s part of a good rivalry.”