LINCOLN — The happiest man in Memorial Stadium Thursday may have been Larry Lacewell, the Oklahoma assistant coach in charge of defense.
He was hoping he would see a rerun of a crucial situation that dictated the outcome of Nebraska's epic 35-31 victory the year before in Norman, Okla.
The situation that developed Thursday during Oklahoma's 17-14 vindication was close enough for Lacewell.
A year earlier, his team had been protecting a 31-28 lead late in the game when Nebraska pulled it out with a 74-yard, 12-play march.
Thursday, Lacewell's team held a 17-14 lead when Nebraska tried to start scoring drives three times in the last eight-and-a-half minutes. The Sooners forced a punt on the first series and settled the issue with two interceptions by junior cornerback Kenith Pope.
"There aren't many moments like this in a lifetime," gushed Lacewell, moments after the clock ran out. "After last year when they stuck it right down our throats, we talked about it a thousand times.
"I knew that if we could get Nebraska for one more chance like last year, with six or seven minutes left, we could stop the rush, and we did.
"We knew we could stop the rush, but we had to stop their passing game. The difference this year was in the three-man rush. We were dropping everyone else off (to protect against the pass).
"I think we've got the three best down linemen (Raymond Hamilton, Lucious Selmon and Derland Moore) in the country. We were rushing only three guys, and they still put more pressure on Humm (Husker quarterback Dave) than he's had all year."
Oklahoma's strategy of dropping off eight defenders into the zone pass coverage was perhaps the major factor in the Sooners' upset victory.
Humm had his poorest passing day, hitting only 10 of 33 passes for 104 yards and had three intercepted.
In a game that saw the Sooners rebound from an almost unheard of shutout at the half and overcome a 14-0 lead, Oklahoma stepped to the front of the Big Eight class before 76,587.
The Sooners, who finish against Oklahoma State Dec. 2, will take a 9-1 record (5-1 in the Big Eight) into their finale. Nebraska closed out its regular season and looked forward to Miami and Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska has an 8-2-1 record, 5-1-1 in the Big Eight.
Both coaching staffs had predicted the game would go to the team that made the fewest mistakes. They proved to be good prophets.
The Huskers fumbled three times and lost each one. They also suffered three interceptions, two when Humm was trying to rally his team from 14-17 and recreate the dramatic conclusion of 1971.
Oklahoma played in much the same fashion, losing all of its four fumbles, helping the Huskers to build a 14-0 cushion in the third quarter.
It came down to which team made its mistakes at the most crucial time. The word "mistakes" is only a matter of viewpoint, however. On the Oklahoma side of the field, the two interceptions by Pope in the fourth quarter were superb defensive plays, which they were.
Pope had been battling a case of frustration before his crucial pair of thefts. He was the only member of the Sooner starting pass defense corps that had not intercepted all season. That included defensive backs, linebackers and end who drop off to help in pass coverage.
Interception No. 1 came after Nebraska had forced Sooner punt that Johnny Rodgers returned eight yards to the Nebraska 33. Score: 17-14, Oklahoma. Time remaining: 4:56. Now or never.
Humm set the stage nicely by passing 11 yards to Rodgers on the first play. An incompletion and a Dave Goeller two-yard gain later Humm let fly for Frosty Anderson. The ball bounded around among several players before Pope claimed it.
He must have liked the feeling.
Nebraska finally got the ball back with 39 seconds left and 85 yards to the Sooner goal. Humm threw long for Rodgers. Pope came up with the ball.
With that second interception, Oklahoma presented Coach Chuck Fairbanks with his 50th victory and a sweet tuneup for the Sugar Bowl against Penn State.
For Devaney, the loss was only his 20th in 11 years. His victory figure stuck on 100. He has tied two.
For 17 graduating seniors, it was only the second loss in three years. The home-field winning streak died at 23 games.
Almost lost in the shuffle of the titanic defensive struggle was the Heisman Trophy battle between flanker Rodgers and Sooner halfback Greg Pruitt.
Rodgers won the personal duel by default as Pruitt, never able to perform effectively after suffering an ankle injury the previous week, carried only twice for seven yards before retiring for good on the last play of the first quarter.
Rodgers, who has never received such rude treatment in three years, rushed four times for seven yards, caught three passes for 41 yards, fielded only one punt for seven yards and returned two kickoffs 44 yards.
His big chance to dazzle the national television audience went for naught when a 43-yard apparent touchdown pass play was nullified because Rodgers had stepped out of bounds while running his pass route.
That play may have been crucial. Nebraska was leading 7-0 just before the half and a two touchdown lead may have given the Huskers helpful momentum.
Then again, it may have just forced the Sooners to go their passing game sooner. Those who say wishbone-T teams can't play catchup should have seen the Sooners wipe out Nebraska's 14-0 lead in the third quarter.
Husker cornerback Zaven Yaralian had to wish he hadn't seen it. The California junior college transfer drew the high-pressure assignment of playing the wide receiver man-to-man.
For the second year in a row, the Huskers had few answers for stopping the Oklahoma passing game. Sooner quarterback Dave Robertson, maligned as a poor substitute for graduated Jack Mildren, had much the better of his competition with celebrated soph Humm.
Robertson completed 10 of 22 passes for 186 yards.
On the ground, Oklahoma nearly doubled Nebraska's production, 141-77.
With Pruitt out, the bulk of the work went to fullback Leon Crosswhite, who responded with 95 grueling yards on 29 carries. Freshman Joe Washington, who played much more than starter Joe Wylie, gained 41 on 16 attempts.
Substitute tailback Dave Goeller was Nebraska's ground leader with 63 yards. Another chief factor in the outcome was Humm's 38 yards in losses. On two of those sackings when he was attempting to pass, he fumbled.
The second one, with 10 minutes left in the game, led to Rick Fulcher's eventual winning field goal. Humm was blindsided by Derland Moore, and Lucious Selmon recovered the loose ball at the Husker 27-yard line.
On fourth-and-eight, Fulcher, a senior from California who had earlier missed from the 45 and 41, barely cleared the north crossbar with 8:44 remaining.
Nebraska played at its opportunistic best while building its 14-0 lead. The defensive set up both touchdowns and was handling the Sooner rushing game with ease — but that was before Oklahoma was forced to pass.
Strangely, it was Pope, the eventual hero, who got things rolling for Nebraska. He bungled a fair catch attempt and Jeff Moran recovered for the Huskers at the OU 49.
Humm, enjoying his best series of the afternoon, completed third-down passes of 15 yards to tight end Jerry List and 12 yards to I-back Goeller to put the ball in position for fullback Bill Olds to score on a perfectly-executed draw play from the 14.
Olds had a gaping hole and easily evaded a diving attempt by linebacker Rod Shoate at the line of scrimmage before romping in.
The two old rivals slugged it out in a superb defensive matchup until the middle of the third quarter when Wylie returned Rich Sanger's 51-yard punt.
The tackle was made by List and Marvin Crenshaw and List recovered 24 yards from the Sooner goal.
Goeller did the major damage on this six-play drive when he ripped 16 yards on a delayed handoff. He also made it a two-touchdown lead when he followed Olds between Crenshaw and Mike Beran on an isolation shot to the right side from the one with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
At that point, Nebraska's lead appeared safe. With 6-4 split end John Carroll sidelined earlier with injury, Oklahoma's passing game should have been ailing.
But such thinking would mean overlooking backup receiver Tinker Owens. That would be easy to since Tinker is only a freshman and a skinny 6-0, 168.
But he comes from class football stock. Older brother Steve was the Sooners' Heisman Trophy winner in 1969.
Young Owens ended up burning Yaralian for five receptions and 106 yards.
A 38-yarder started the comeback late in the third quarter. Robertson hit tight end Al Chandler for 16 yards and Owens for 13 in a 76-yard drive that took 11 plays.
It was fourth and one when Washington took a pitchout to his right, eluded Joe Blahak's game attempt to catch him behind the line and stepped into the end zone.
Fulcher's kick made it 14-7 with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
Oklahoma had good field position early in the fourth quarter when Wylie returned a punt 11 yards to the Husker 36. Again Owens was the main culprit.
He caught a sideline pass, slipped a Yaralian tackle and was downed by Dave Mason at the 10 after a 22-yard gain.
Two plays later, the only penalty of the game put Oklahoma a yard from the goal. Yaralian was found guilty of interfering with Owens in the end zone.
Substitute halfback Grant Burget scored from there, and Fulcher got the tying point and later the winner.
Oklahoma took home all the prizes when Robertson and Pope were named the game's outstanding offensive and defensive players.
|Yards per carry||2.4||1.5|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 28|
|Iowa State||Nov. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 18|
|Notre Dame||Jan. 1|
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