It’s no wonder Nebraska wins the lion’s share of its night games at Memorial Stadium. The place was up for grabs Saturday night in those scintillating minutes before kickoff. You had the sense that maybe something magical was about to occur.

You watch upset after upset in college football these days and realize anything can happen.

OK, not anything.

Nebraska needed more than magic to upset fourth-ranked Missouri; the Huskers needed a miracle.

No such luck: Mizzou 52, NU 17.

The margin on the scoreboard reflected the apparent distance between the programs. The gap is wide, folks. Startlingly wide, actually. Or so it seemed on this night.

Missouri hadn’t won in Lincoln since 1978. The Tigers made it seem like it was a regular occurrence, or could become one, assuming MU can keep finding Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks.

Indeed, tip your cap to the kings of the Big 12 North. Kansas? Not this year, Jayhawk fans.

Nebraska? Well, Bo Pelini has some hard work ahead of him before his program catches Gary Pinkel’s — maybe a few years of work. Yes, it seemed that way Saturday.

What we saw against Missouri and last week against Virginia Tech was Nebraska succumb to two coaches who have built strong programs. Pinkel is nearing 20 years total as a head coach.

Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, it’s showed the last two weeks.

It certainly showed in the third quarter. At that point, there was no great disparity in total yards, yet Missouri led 31-10. The Tigers led because they were fundamentally sound and basically error-free. They played with the poise you’d expect from a veteran team. Meanwhile, the Huskers — who have plenty of veterans of their own — made too many mistakes. Once again, they missed too many tackles and made too many mental blunders.

Nebraska committed 10 penalties before Missouri committed its first, with six minutes left in the third quarter.

Missouri has much more talent and speed than Nebraska. The Tigers also played a much cleaner game. Hence the result.

The thing is, Nebraska did plenty of things right in the first half, and Missouri still led 31-10 at the break. The Huskers had a nearly 2½-minute edge in time of possession. They had 11 first downs. They were sustaining drives, despite their anemic rushing total (13 carries for 7 yards at the half). They also were hurt by some old bugaboos, including a crucial interception.

Facing third-and-14 at the NU 16-yard line, Ganz rolled right and looked for a receiver. He had been rolling and zipping strikes successfully much of the first half. But he threw this one right at linebacker Brock Christopher, who bulled his way into the end zone for a 31-7 lead. Bad pass. It felt like “game over.”

Nebraska had six penalties at the break. Ganz had been sacked twice. The Huskers had to play much better than this to pull off this upset. They knew it. Everybody in the crowd of 85,372 knew it.

The crowd hoped for magic, but Missouri made sure there was none on this night.

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