STILLWATER, Okla. — No matter how the scripts and casts change, the Nebraska-Oklahoma State game always seems to end the same way.
For the 23rd time in the last 24 years, Nebraska won the gunfight, kissed the pretty girl and rode off into the sunset.
The ninth-ranked Huskers beat fifth-rated Oklahoma State 34-24 before 50,400 in Saturday night’s game at Lewis Field in the Big Eight opener for both teams.
The Huskers, now 4-1, rolled to a 20-3 lead, watched OSU close with 20-17 after three periods and then waited for the Cowboys to shoot down their own comeback in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
It’s something that’s happened with amazing regularity in the series and the Cowboys did it again.
This time OSU misfired with 13:17 left in the game when quarterback Ronnie Williams undid his record-breaking passing performance with a wobbly pass that Husker linebacker Marc Munford swiped at the Oklahoma State 10-yard line and carried to the 7. NU fullback Tom Rathman scored on a 4-yard run three plays later and Nebraska led 27-17 with just 13 minutes left in the game.
Williams finished the game with 27 completions in 44 attempts for 363 yards and two touchdowns. It was the best passing performance in OSU history, but Munford’s interception might last longest in the memories of Cowboy fans.
“Of course, the interception was the turning point,” Williams said. “We lost all of our momentum.”
OSU head coach Pat Jones had similar thoughts.
“I was proud of the way we battled back in the second half,” Jones said. “I thought we kind of had the momentum arrested there and had the crowd back in the ball game. And then we threw the interception on the 7-yard line.
“You’re not going to give the ball to Nebraska on the 7 and expect to stop them very often.”
For sure, Oklahoma State looked ready to finally end the Nebraska jinx. After tailback Thurman Thomas catapulted his way to a 2-yard touchdown to pull OSU within 20-17, the momentum swung the Cowboys’ way. They held Nebraska and regained possession. Most in the sellout crowd were on their feet in anticipation of another big play by the Cowboys.
But when Williams dropped back to pass, Husker defenders Brad Smith and Danny Noonan gave chase. Williams scrambled to his right. At the last second, he jumped high in the air and threw a safety valve pass aimed for Thomas standing all alone near the sideline. The pass instead hit Munford dead center.
Not that Nebraska hadn’t done its own share to win the game. Some have said Clayton was a quarterback who couldn’t pass, but against OSU, he hit 8 of 16 passes for 161 yards and one touchdowns. Doug DuBose, back after missing the New Mexico game Oct. 5 with a bruised knee, rushed for 139 yards on 16 carries. Split end Robb Schnitzler caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown pass from Clayton.
“I thought this was one of our better games played in two or three years,” said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne. “I was pleased we moved the ball as well as we did against their defense. Coming in, I thought their defense was the strength of their team.”
OSU had more total yards than Nebraska 420 to 417 but the Husker defense often gave up short passing gains to wait for Cowboy mistakes.
Thomas, the country’s second-leading rusher, was held to 71 yards in 22 carries, far below his 167-yard average.
It proved a somewhat costly win for Nebraska. Munford suffered a knee injury late in the game and might undergo arthroscopic surgery today. Osborne said Munford will probably be sidelined for at least two weeks. On Saturday, the Huskers play at Missouri.
OSU scored first when Joey O’Donnell hit a 36-yard field goal early in the second period. But Nebraska came right back to take a 7-3 lead when Clayton scored on a 1-yard option keeper with 11:31 left in the half. The big play in the drive was a 50-yard run by Du-Bose after faking a reverse handoff to wingback Von Sheppard.
The Huskers stretched their lead to 14-3 moments later when Clayton hit Schnitzler with a 38-yard touchdown pass. A key third-down pass by Clayton to Sheppard for 16 yards kept alive the drive. Clayton then faked a handoff to I-back Paul Miles and waited for Schnitzler to break clear. Clayton then threw a perfect strike over the outstretched arms of OSU cornerback Demise Williams and Schnitzler caught it in the corner of the end zone to make it 14-3 with 4:13 left in the first half.
Clayton gives them a dimension that I don’t think they’ve had since Turner Gill left,” Jones said. “Obviously, he threw the ball well enough with telling effect like Gill and some of those other quarterbacks they’ve had in the past.
“He’s got so much running ability with the threat of the option, which we knew coming in.”
Nebraska took a 17-3 halftime lead after Dale Klein drilled a 40-yard field goal with 23 seconds left in the second quarter.
Klein’s second 40-yard field goal, this one with 8:35 left in the third period, gave Nebraska a 20-3 lead and quieted the OSU fans.
Williams, though, revived the on-the-ropes Cowboys with his passing. He hit tight end J.R. Dillard with a 5-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-10 with 5:32 left in the third quarter. The Cowboys’ defense stiffened and on OSU’s next series, Williams struck quickly.
He faked a reverse handoff and threw a bomb down the middle for flanker Bobby Riley who was being shadowed by Husker safety Bryan Siebler. Siebler, though, turned his head the wrong way to locate the ball and stumbled. Riley caught the ball to complete a 49-yard gain to Nebraska’s 16-yard line. Thomas gained 11 yards on the next play and a personal-foul call against Siebler gave OSU a first and goal at the 2. Thomas vaulted over the pile for a touchdown on the next play and OSU closed within 20-17 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
Then came the game’s pivotal pass completion OSU’s Williams to Nebraska’s Munford and the Cowboys were done.
The Cowboys scored their final touchdown on the last play of the game when Williams hit Lynn Beck with a 23-yard pass. The stands were nearly halfempty by then.
Oklahoma State had hoped to turn over a new leaf against Nebraska and thought this would be the game. Instead the Cowboys turned over the football, four times in all, while the Huskers had just one turnover.
Nebraska, which was the country’s top rushing team entering the game with a 409-yard average, was held to 256 yards on the ground. But Clayton’s accurate passing made up for it. He hit 8 of 16 passes for 161 yards.
Both teams squandered scoring threats early in the game.
Nebraska’s game-opening drive ended in a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by freshman Chris Drennan. Oklahoma State reached the NU 15 before Thomas’ fumble was recovered by Husker tackle Chris Spachman.
Another Nebraska drive ended when DuBose fumbled away the ball at the OSU 26.
Jones downplayed Nebraska’s 24-year stranglehold on the Cowboys.
The OSU coach said the whole thing had been overblown.
“There’s been much too much made of that,” Jones said.
“Obviously it’s frustrating to lose to anybody. This is only the third time I’ve gone through this as a head coach and I didn’t like it the other two. I like it less now.
“But you go against a good football team and there’s not that many people who can beat them. We’ve got a good football team, but you just can’t make that kind of mistake and expect to beat them.”
Osborne said the Cowboys didn’t need to feel bad about their loss to Nebraska. The NU coach said Oklahoma State, as expected, will figure prominently in the Big Eight championship race.
“I thought OSU gave a great effort and they’ll be tough to beat down the road,” Osborne said. “I’m really pleased to get by them.”
|Yards per carry||1.8||4.8|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Florida State||Sept. 7|
|New Mexico||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Nov. 2|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 12. See them all »