Stillwater, Okla.—Monte Kiffin and his Nebraska Blackshirts had a good laugh late Saturday afternoon. They had pulled a 28-20 escape from Oklahoma State, and that ache way down in the pit of their stomachs had begun to subside.
The Cowboys had every intention, and appeared to have all the ability, of stealing the last laugh in the final minute with a raucous crowd of 48,500 stirring Lewis Field into a frenzy.
Oklahoma State had taken advantage of a bad center snap on a Cornhusker punt and punched the ball down to within two yards of the Husker goal with 49 seconds remaining. The Cowboys, out of time outs, went with their best—Terry Miller—on sweep left, then sweep right.
Nebraska countered with a guess and a gamble to stop the first one when cornerback Chuck Jones swept in to tag Miller for minus three yards.
“I’m on the sideline signaling for a Tiger defense, and we’ve got out goal-line people in the game,” Kiffin said. In the Tiger, the Huskers use three tackles with no safety. In the goal line, it’s two middle guards.
“When they go without a huddle, it’s an automatic Tiger,” Kiffin said.
But Clete Pillen, an astute young man who calls defensive signals, noticed sub middle guard Jeff Pullen in the game and called goal line.
And there was a good har-har-har all around.
On the previous play, Kiffin knew it was time for something drastic. Miller had bruised this defense for 90 yards and three touchdowns, and the pitch outs had been especially painful.
“We gambled and had Jones coming, and we guessed it would be to that side. It was the same play we used in the Sugar Bowl with Jimmy Burrow,” Kiffin said. Burrow stopped Florida’s James Richards at the Husker 1-yard line to set up a winning comeback.
“I don’t think anybody was doubting that we would hold the,” said defensive tackle Mike Fultz. “But I think everybody’s stomach was hurting.”
But Husker coach Tom Osborne had his doubts.
“The only thing I kept thinking was 28-28 (which would have been the score if O-State had scored and made the two-point conversion),” Osborne. “We (coaches) were talking about what we were going to do on the two-point play because the way they were moving the ball…”
Kiffin said it was “the best defense I’ve ever seen in the last 30 seconds, or in the last 10 yards. We’re talking championships, and you don’t win championships with ties. We stopped the, but I’m staying home the next time we come to Stillwater.”
“If that’s their third-string quarterback, I’d hate to see the first two,” said Nebraska assistant coach John Melton.
While the Blackshirts took the final bows, it was the Husker offense that took the most. The offense displayed a relentless ground game that accounted for 254 yards of the 394 in total offense and kept the Pokes at bay each time they threatened to get back in it.
Monte Anthony regaining his starting job from John O’Leary at I-back, gained 229 yards on 29 carries for his finest day of the year. Fullback Tony Davis was next with 15 for 56.
And Ferragamo chipped in 140 more yards by completing 10 of 16 passes.
The Huskers came out with some new tricks, like wingback Curtis Craig running at I-back in the power-I formation, two wide receivers to the same side of the field and a reverse by split end Bobby Thomas that gained 13 yards and led to the first touchdown.
And Vince Ferragamo, who started on the bench and accounted for all four Nebraska touchdowns—two by passing, two by running—had a chance to show off his hoofing style. He kept the ball for 19 yards after faking the popular wingback counter and set up the second touchdown.
Ferragamo passed eight yards to I-back John O’Leary for the first touchdown and run up the middle four yards for the second.
Less than 12 minutes had been played, the Huskers had a 14-0 lead and the offense, which also boasted a 43-yard Ferragamo pass to Thomas, had demonstrated more zip than normal.
It was too easy. It didn’t look like a Nebraska-Oklahoma State game. But there were early warning that this game would be no piece of cake.
Then Craig was lost in the first quarter with a bruised thigh. Defensive end Bob Martin, who started despite a badly infected knee, didn’t play at all the second half and his replacement. Dave Redding went out hurt, too.
As he gathered his wounded for the trip home. Osborne lamented the 48-player traveling limitation. “We ended up having to play O’Leary some at wingback,” he said.
But it was the kicking game that was even more exasperating to Osborne.
The proud kick coverage team that had limited five previous victimes to nine return yards, let Clifton Sullivan escape for 20 yards that led to the first Oklahoma State touchdown in the second quarter. That one came on a 5-yard romp by Miller.
The Huskers retaliated by putting together an 80-yard gut-check drive that featured a 22-yard reception by Dave Shamblin a yard from the Cowboy goal. The Cowboys claimed he trapped it.
The Cowboys returned the favor with a fumble at the Poke 27, Ray Phillips recovered for N.U. and Ferragamo’s 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Brad Jenkins followed.
After Burk knocked off a 52-yard run and Miller sprinted for the final 23 on consecutive plays, things started tensing up on the Nebraska bench.
The Huskers watched center Tom Thomas skip his second low snap back to punter Randy Lessman, who had his poorest day, averaging 35 yards a kick. This time it was nearly blocked, and it traveled only 30 yards.
Still, the Cowboys were 85 yards away, and there was an eight-point lead, thanks to missed extra point by OSU freshman Gary Iron.s He tried his first PAT of the season after Abby Daigle was injured kicking the extra point following the second touchdown.
The touchdown was suddenly Nebraska’s ball on the 20, thanks to Nebraska’s choice of that situation or allowing OSU to retain possession after a 15-yard penalty, whichever the Huskers liked better.
Then late in the fourth quarter, with eight points looming larger, Nebraska punched away from its 4-yard line out to near midfield, where Lessman was again called to punt.
Thomas, who by this time had sailed three snaps off the Astro Turf, snapped it high. Lessman had to run or get it blocked. He was nabbed at the Husker 22 with two minutes left.
“You snap one bad one and you get to thinking about it, and before you know it, you’ve got another one,” Osborne said. “We got a bad snap on the field goal (on the first drive, holder Luck was forced to run, then passed into the end zone to Tony davis. The touchdown was nullified by an ineligible receiver downfield).
“It’s like your golf swing. You hit the first one bad, and you try to compensate, and then everything goes bad for you.”
In summation, Osborne said:
“What can I say. I’m awfully pleased we won the game. I have to give a great amount of credit to Oklahoma State.”
“At the half, I thought we had them put away. We came out had held them on their possession, but the turning point came when Bobby Thomas fumbled the punt. We had them on the ropes, but the fumble changed that.”
|Yards per carry||4.4||4.2|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Arizona State||Dec. 26|
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