Owen Field, Norman, Okla.—Fans threw oranges onto the field, the band played “Happy Days Are Here Again” and players paraded with Coach Bud Wilkinson perched on strong shoulders here late Saturday afternoon.
Oklahoma had just walloped Nebraska, 34-6, to clinch the Big Eight Conference championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Alabama.
In that atmosphere of enemy celebration, and mindful of the fact they had given Oklahoma an easy touchdown in the first three minutes, the Cornhuskers were not easily consoled.
However, behind the gloom of the moment reposed the pleasant truth that Nebraska had just concluded its most successful season in 22 years.
In his first term as head coach, Bob Devaney produced an over-all record of eight victories and two defeats. The final conference record is 5-2, which places the Huskers behind Oklahoma (6-0) and Missouri (5-1-1).
That’s the loftiest league finish for N.U. since 1950.
Nor was there cause for the Cornhuskers to berate themselves for beating themselves. That wasn’t the case.
Despite their shaky start, they were trimmed by a clearly superior team—an Oklahoma team that now has won 10 consecutive conference games over a two-year period.
To the throng of 60 thousand, eighth largest turnout in the history of this stadium, the mode of Oklahoma’s victory may have been more surprising than the margin.
Line play by both sides was so thundering that Nebraska’s leading rusher, Willie Ross, picked up only one yard in two carries and Joe Don Looney, O.U.’s No. 1 ground gainer, was limited to 19 in 10 efforts.
The Sooners were spurred by the bullish running of rookie Fullback Jim Grisham, who netted 98 yards, but got a greater lift from the aerials of Quarterback Monte Deere.
Deere equaled a series record by pitching three touchdown passes—to End John Porterfield for 22 and 24 yards, and to End Allen Bumgardner for 26.
The mark had been set by Nebraska’s Chick Hartley in a 39-7 conquest of the Sooners in 1922.
Deere clicked on eight of 12 aerials for 168 yards.
Although overshadowed by the little senior from Amarillo, Tex., Denny Claridge also used the air lanes to create Nebraska’s most effective weapon.
Denny and his receivers had their erratic moments, but he delivered 10 of 23 passes for 130 yards while the Huskers were being limited to 68 ground yards.
The latter figure compares with 265.2 aver that had ranked N.U. fifth in the nation.
Claridge’s most important shot was to End Mike Eger for 11 yards and the first points given up by Oklahoma in 21 quarters. Kansas also scored on a pass, but O.U. has not yielded a ground score in the conference this year.
Saturday’s toil enabled Claridge to break a couple of Nebraska single-season records.
His 56 completions for the year wiped out the high of 52 set by Johnny Bordogna in 1953. His 824 aerial yards topped the mark of 706 established by Fran Nagle in 1950.
Nagle was among the spectators.
Nebraska won the toss and chose to receive on a field that never was touched by predicted rain.
Willie Ross wheeled 17 yards to the Nebraska 28 on the kick-off/
Dennis Stuewe picked up eight yards on first down, then disaster moved into the N.U. backfield.
An illegal motion shoved the Huskers back to the 31. Thornton hit the right side for three yards, but dropped Claridge’s accurate pass on the O.U. 49 on the following play.
On fourth down, punter Jim Baffico was handicapped by a high snap from center. End John Flynn charged in to block the kick. As the ball dribbled toward the N.U. goal line, Guard Newt Burton won the race for possession.
Burton claimed it inside the one. From there Grisham scored easily over left guard with the game only two minutes 40 seconds old. Butch Metcalf’s kick raised the Huskers’ deficit to 7-0.
As it turned out, that was enough to win.
Each team had possession five times in the sparring that then carried midway into the second quarter.
It was on opportunity No. 5, however, that Oklahoma started to roll. In fact, the eager, versatile Sooners rolled to three touchdowns in four chances.
The first of these scoring trips covered 70 yards. It gained impetus when Grishman plowed for three yards with fourth down and one to make.
Another key thrust was a 16-yard pass, Deere to Looney, that put O.U. on the Nebraska 28. There was a momentary setback when illegal motion backed the Sooners from the 17 to the 22.
Deere took care of that on the next down, floating a high, wobbly pass to End John Porterfield, who made a leaping catch deep in a corner of the end zone.
Husker Rudy Johnson had raced across to beat the throw but he couldn’t intimidate Porterfield.
The half ended with a 14-0 count. Oklahoma had been in the same predicament at Lincoln the previous year but whistled back to smack Nebraska, 21-14.
On this overcast afternoon, it again was Oklahoma which came back tougher than ever.
A thudding third-down stop by Bob Brown and Warren Powers foiled Oklahoma after the second-half kick-off. When Claridge punted 58 yards a couple of minutes later, O.U. went back to work.
The drive covered 76 yards and was topped by Deere’s 24-yard flip to Porterfield who made a tumbling catch and skidded out the side of the end zone.
Metcalf made it 21-0 with 8:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Oklahoma quickly forced a punt and once more set sail for the Huskers’ goal.
It was a 55-yard sweep, with Deere notching the final 26 on a pass to Bumgardner, a lonely, but delighted, figure in the middle of the end zone—and no one close.
Metcalf obliged for a 28-0 margin.
Claridge then hustled the Huskers 72 yards in eight plays that included aerial strikes to Powers, Bill Comstock and Eger, and runs by Thornton, Kent McCloughan and Powers.
With the ball on the 11, Claridge ripped Oklahoma’s defensive record with an end-zone pass to Eger. The senior end from South Bend, Ind., made the catch as defender Paul Lea grabbed him from behind.
That was the final play of the third period. A Claridge-Comstock conversion pass was far off the mark.
Oklahoma went 67 yards against a variety of Husker lineups in the final quarter. A fourth-string signal caller named Norman Smith hit third-string Halfback Gary Wylie with a 14-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the final 26 seconds.
Despite the keen disappointment for Nebraska and its rooters, the fact was well established that Oklahoma would make the Big Eight’s best representative against powerful Alabama on New Year’s Day in Miami.
|Yards per carry||3.8||2.1|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|South Dakota||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|North Carolina State||Oct. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 20|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 17|
|Miami (FL)||Dec. 15|
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