During the last few weeks, Nebraska stymied itself with a barrage of missed tackles and missed opportunities on offense.

Husker safety Andrew Shanle noticed something else was missing of late, something that can't be found on the stat sheet.

Nebraska's sideline lacked life. The players generally were running low on enthusiasm.

"It was gone for a while," Shanle said.

Thanks in large part to Shanle, excitement returned to the Nebraska sideline Saturday.

The sophomore from St. Edward  blocked a second-quarter punt, and walk-on linebacker Adam Ickes of Page scooped the bouncing pigskin and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown, sparking Nebraska's 24-3 win against Missouri on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Huskers improved to 5-3 overall and grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 North Division at 3-2.

Missouri, limited to 51 rushing yards, fell to 4-4 and 2-3.

Tiger standout quarterback Brad Smith threw for a season-high 277 yards, but misfired on 32 of 56 attempts and was sacked four times. He managed only 25 rushing yards.

It was suggested to Nebraska coach Bill Callahan that perhaps his defense needed this victory more than anyone. After all, during the previous three games, the Huskers had allowed an average of 47 points and 447 total yards.

"I think we all needed this game," Callahan said.

Before Saturday, Nebraska had sandwiched an uninspiring home win against Baylor between road losses at Texas Tech (70-10) and Kansas State (45-21).

Callahan made some changes in operation this week, according to several players. Perhaps most important, he went back on his previous decision to limit the number of players in pregame warmups to 70, same as the travel roster.

In the Oct. 16 Baylor game, approximately 60 other Huskers weren't allowed in warmups, causing anger and frustration among starters and reserves alike. Callahan had said there simply wasn't enough room for everyone before the game.

"Those guys put in their time like everybody else," said Ickes, referring to the players who weren't allowed to warm up.

Callahan informed the players earlier this week that everyone would be warming up again.

"He just said that he thinks he had made a mistake, that it was his fault," Ickes said. "He just wanted to bring everyone back there."

Said Nebraska senior linebacker Chad Sievers, "We need everyone out there, cheering and having fun and going nuts together."

The Nebraska sideline erupted, as did the crowd of 77,616, when Ickes rumbled into the end zone with 9:42 left before halftime.

The place went bonkers again late in the third quarter when Missouri punter Matt Hoenes mishandled a good snap and Shanle recovered at the Tigers' 15-yard line. I-back Cory Ross scooted around left end 15 yards for a touchdown, pushing Nebraska's lead to 17-3.

"It was obviously difficult for us," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "Two kicking errors like that — the impact is huge."

Ross capped the scoring with an 86-yard touchdown dash with 2:56 remaining in the game. The 5-foot-6, 192-pound junior finished with a career-high 194 yards on 19 carries.

Ross was limping after the game because of a sore toe, but his team suddenly had bounce in its step again.

The stadium was rocking before kickoff, as former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne led members of the Huskers' 1994 national championship team from the tunnel. The 1994 team was honored this weekend.

Jared Tomich, a defensive lineman on the 1994 squad, roamed the Husker sideline Saturday and gave the Huskers a rousing halftime speech. What exactly did he say?

"I can't repeat it, honestly," Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker said.

Whatever Tomich said, it helped pump excitement and passion into a team that had been lacking in those areas in recent weeks.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.