LINCOLN — Undaunted by a grotesquely erratic start, Nebraska exploded for three touchdowns Thursday to turn back Oklahoma, 21 to 9, and haul up the banner on the school’s first 10-0 football season in half a century.
The triumph also gave Nebraska its third straight undisputed Big Eight championship, further establishing Coach Bob Devaney as one of the great gridmasters of all time in this league.
Harry Wilson, Bob Churchich and Charlie Winters were the trio who finally snapped the Cornhusker offense into a hard-striking force.
Churchich, the Omaha junior, came off the bench to put a steadying hand on the quarterback job after Nebraska had frittered and floundered in its first five possessions.
Winters, the “Choo Choo” sophomore from Joliet, Ill., stormed 29 yards for the touchdown that broke Oklahoma’s voodoo spell in the second period.
The incomparable Wilson, a do-it-all junior from Steubenville, O., stacked up 198 yards in total offense and contributed the final two touchdowns.
In the final accounting, Nebraska outyarded Oklahoma, 411 to 229 — by far the greatest production by any Devaney team against the Sooners.
But before any totals were added, there were eons of torment for the Huskers and their backers.
Their ill-fated start was so bizarre, it had to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, it was seen by a Memorial Stadium turnout of 52,865 and all souls tuned to NBC-TV’s nationwide coverage.
During the first half, which ended with the bristling Sooners out front by 9 to 7, Nebraska suffered its first blocked punt of the season, was penalized for three rules infractions, lost three fumbles on running plays, and fumbled but recovered two punt receptions.
Oklahoma’s band played the waltz strains of “Lover” at intermission.
The N.U. patsy period had ended, however.
Just as the artistry of a juggler or acrobat is emphasized by his preliminary failures, so was Nebraska’s comeback the more dramatic.
Oklahoma got the jump late in the opening quarter when Frank Solich’s fumble was recovered by Granville Liggins on the Nebraska 32.
Aided by a 16-yard toss from rookie Quarterback Gene Cagle to End Gordon Brown, the Sooners drove to the three. Clutch work by Dick Czap, Ted Vactor and Mary Mueller put the brakes on three scoring bids, after which Ron Shotts kicked a 21-yard field goal on fourth down.
The second N.U. fumble of the next quarter was covered by Vernon Burkett to put Oklahoma in business on the Nebraska 28.
Four carries by Fullback Jon Kennedy, a three-yard burst by Stan Crowder and a deceptive sashay by Cagle for 15 yards placed the ball on the three.
Fullback Larry Brown boomed over his right tackle for the touchdown that put heavily favored Nebraska in a 9-to-0 hole.
Red-capped fans sat there and shivered; they would have regardless of the 39-degree temperature.
Coach Devaney later said the Huskers were “too tight” in the early going because of the pressure of their own ambition.
Apparently the sight of the scoreboard loosened them up at this point.
With Churchich playing the O.U. line from end to end like a harmonica, Nebraska moved 65 yards in 10 thrusts.
There was a motion penalty, a Churchich pass that skipped off Freeman White’s fingertips, an excellent no-gain stop by Gene Ross, Oklahoma’s roving defender.
But Nebraska came off the latter play on the Sooner 29 to score with one of the most wildly cheered runs of its perfect-record season.
The Choo-Choo man, Mr. Winters with the 44 on his broad back, charged through a hole of medium proportions at his right tackle on fourth down.
He was hit but kept moving. He bumped, he battered. He put his 217 pounds in high gear and shook off clutching hands.
Winters wheeled across the goal line, through the end zone and wound up slamming against the padding on an access ramp to the south grandstand.
Hundreds of red balloons rose above the stadium as Larry Wachholtz’s placement brought Nebraska to within two points of the Sooners, 9 to 7.
A deep third-down reverse, Churchich to Wilson to Solich, failed to net an inch as Nebraska’s first threat of the third quarter fizzled after five plays.
The Black Shirts quickly forced an O.U. punt, however, the Churchich and company had a fresh start from the Nebraska 27.
On first down, Ron Kirkland barged for seven. On second down, Wilson took off on one of his most notable runs.
The play started as an end run to the left, but Wilson cut upfield abruptly when he spotted a gap in the line. As he sped into the secondary, End Denny Richnafsky demolished the nearest Sooner with a sharp block.
Opportunity need knock but once for Wilson, who blazed away for the touchdown. The only surprise of the final 40 yards of 66 was that Jim Brown, the 249-pound tackle, was able to provide escort service.
When Wachholtz made it 14 to 9, Nebraska finally was in command. Four minutes 46 seconds had elapsed in the second half.
Moments later, Devaney was briefly stricken with apoplexy when his charge declined a 15-yard holding penalty on a no-gain, first-down play by Oklahoma.
An ensuing fumble by Sooner Kennedy eased the pain of that startling gratuity.
Late in the third quarter, Nebraska found itself on the 50 following a fair catch by Vactor.
A slick draw soon sent Wilson pedaling nine yards to a first down on the O.U. 38. A pair of Churchich passes failed to connect, but the young man, showing his confidence of old, fired again on third down.
The ball dropped out of the sky into the imploring hands of Wilson, who had sped past Safety Mike Ringer. Wilson made the catch near the sideline on about the 12. Goodbye Wilson; hello Wachholtz.
That was the game on the scoreboard.
For the third time in its last four games, Nebraska had come from behind to stamp another victory on its record.
It is that ability under pressure that marks the difference between the infrequent 10-0 clubs and the huge volume of 9-1 and 8-2 notations in the football history book.
Nebraska ran its consecutive-game scoring streak to 44; set school records for first downs in one season, 204; team total offense, 4,040 yards.
Wachholtz, successful on 36 of 39 placements, set a conversion percentage mark of .923.
Wilson became this year’s Husker rushing champ with a total of 672 yards. Kirkland joined Solich in the five-hundred-yard class with 522.
Aside from Bud Wilkinson’s oppressive string of 12 undisputed titles at Oklahoma, there have been only two coaches able to put together chains of three such championships since the origin of the old Missouri Valley Conference in 1907.
That was D.X. Bible of Nebraska in 1931-32-33, and Devaney of Nebraska, whose string is still alive.
|Yards per carry||2.7||6.1|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Air Force||Sept. 25|
|Iowa State||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 13|
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