Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 | midnight
RENO, Nev.—Blaine Gabbert is doing his best to make Missouri fans forget about Chase Daniel.
The sophomore quarterback passed for 414 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring tosses of 74 and 31 yards to Danario Alexander, while scrambling for his life much of Friday night to help undefeated Missouri beat Nevada 31-21.
"You look at him sometimes and say, 'How does he do it?'" Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He finds people down field."
"That's our team. The young guys have learned a lot from the guys ahead of them."
In four games this season, Gabbert has completed 66 percent of his passes (87 of 131) for 1,161 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Alexander finished with nine catches for a career-high 170 yards, and Grant Resel made all four of his field-goal attempts to run his streak to 10 for 10 this season for the Tigers (4-0), who have won a school-record 14 consecutive nonconference games.
"When our defense and offense put it together, we're a pretty good team," Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.
Luke Lippincott ran for 114 yards for the Wolf Pack (0-3), who took a 13-7 lead on the first series of the second half on Colin Kaepernick's 11-yard touchdown run and had a chance to regain the lead early in the fourth quarter before Lippincott fumbled on Missouri's 4.
Wes Kemp caught three passes for 99 yards, and Jared Perry added eight receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers, whose last nonconference loss was in the 2006 Sun Bowl against Oregon State. They have an off week before opening Big 12 play at home against Nebraska on Oct. 8.
Gabbert completed 25 of 40 attempts Friday night. He knew he had some big shoes to fill when he began the season. Daniel, now on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad, led Missouri to two Big 12 championship game appearances and set school records with 12,515 career passing yards and 101 touchdown passes.
Missouri struggled early but went ahead 18-13 in the third quarter on Gabbert's 74-yard hookup with Alexander. The Tigers put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a 97-yard scoring drive, capped by Gabbert's 4-yard TD pass to Perry.
Turnovers and penalties cost both teams in the first half.
Trailing 12-7, Nevada had a chance to cut into the lead just before the half when Burnett Kaelin forced Derrick Washington to fumble and Jonathan Amaya recovered it at the Tigers 27 with 23 seconds left. But the Wolf Pack's Nate Agaiava was whistled for a personal foul after the recovery and they had burned all their time outs in the first quarter so were unable to get close enough for a field-goal attempt.
Nevada squandered another chance to score on Lippincott's fumble on the 4 when Aldon Smith stripped the ball loose and Brian Coulter recovered with 14:29 left in the game.
"The turnovers have killed us," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "The difference in the game was that 14-point turnaround. We fumbled and they go down 97 yards and score. That also hurt us because they were able to eat the clock. That put us in a real difficult situation with our offense."
Nevada's Mike Ball returned the opening kick of the second half 52 yards and Lippincott carried six consecutive times for 34 yards to move deep into Missouri territory. On third-and-7 from the 11, Kaepernick started to roll right then with three Tigers in pursuit, rolled back around the left side to score for a 13-7 lead. Running back Courtney Randall failed to convert a 2-point play.
Missouri answered two plays later from their own 26 when Gabbert lobbed a pass to an open Alexander at midfield and he raced to the end zone. Another failed 2-point try left the score at 18-13 with 10:29 left in the third.
Missouri led 3-0 on Ressel's 22-yard field goal after Vai Taua fumbled a punt at midfield and Andrew Gachkar recovered it.
Nevada's first first-half score of the season came when Kaepernick pitched to Lippincott, who pitched to flanker Chris Wellington on a reverse for a 19-yard gain to set up Randall's 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead. Ressel added a 31-yard field goal to cut it to 7-6 a minute before the end of the first quarter. He also hit from 27 and 26.
Gabbert was scrambling under pressure on third-and-8 from Nevada's 31, but managed to escape and threw over the middle to Alexander who caught it at the 20 and sprinted to the end zone to put Missouri up 12-7 with 2:09 left in the half.