LINCOLN — Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer tells a lot of funny stories about his team's passing game.
Like this one: "We completed a pass in practice one day. We called off practice and gave the practice ball to the receiver."
Or this one: "You can always tell when we're going to pass. Our split end comes out laughing."
The Sooners had tried to pass only twice in the previous two games. Both were incomplete. And they went 56 minutes and 30 seconds before daring to try one against Nebraska Friday.
It was complete, of course. Then they tried another. It, too, was complete.
The two successful aerials accounted for 79 of the 85 yards the Sooners strung together for a final-minute touchdown that turned Nebraska's long-awaited victory celebration into another wake.
Oklahoma's sickly passing game became a 20-17 sick joke for the Huskers, who saw the Orange Bowl, a share of the Big Eight championship and an end to the Sooner jinx all vanish on two wholly unlikely plays.
Iowa State Coach Earle Bruce, a tense press box viewer, had said earlier: "If Oklahoma has to throw, I'm going home because I know we've got it won."
By "we" he meant the Huskers and Cyclones. A Nebraska victory would have put N.U. in the Orange Bowl and Iowa State in the Astro-Blue Bonnet Bowl.
As it turned out, the Cyclones will stay home during the bowl season, and Colorado will represent the Big Eight Conference in the Orange Bowl, thanks to the Sooners.
Nebraska will try a little sunshine in its next two games to soothe the ache of Friday's shocking fourth-quarter. The Huskers will leave Thursday for Saturday's meaningless game in Hawaii and finish up on the beaches on the gulf near Houston, where they will play in the Bluebonnet Bowl Dec. 31.
But the sun isn't expected to help much.
"It's going to take a long time to get over this one," said N.U. quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who finished the game on the bench with a painful back injury when he was decked on the second play from the end.
"I'll never forget it. We gave it all we had. We probably deserved to win. The guys were so enthused and excited. And it just caved in on us."
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne called it "the most disappointing loss since I've been head coach."
Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator said, "It just ain't right. I believed so much we were going to win. You just can't come much closer than that."
Bob Lingenfelter, the mammoth offensive tackle, shook his head and mumbled, "If we could have gotten just one more score. We had 'em. We had 'em."
Nebraska had come out storming in the second half and had turned a 7-3 halftime deficit into a 17-7 lead after three quarters.
One more touchdown and the Sooners would be forced out of their ball-control ground offense, the Husker theorists said.
The Sooners injected a good measure of drama when halfback Elvis Peacock escaped via a timely Tom Lott pitchout for a 50-yard touchdown sprint early in the fourth quarter, but the Huskers stopped him on a two-point conversion run. So it was 17-13, Nebraska.
Then came two crucial short-yardage plays. The Huskers had reached the Oklahoma 37 with 5:20 left. On fourth-and-one, fullback Dodie Donnell got nothing.
Oklahoma fullback Kenny King gave it right back on a fumble, and Nebraska drove to the 15, where it came up fourth-and-two. A sharp defensive play by free safety Zac Henderson knocked Dave Shamblin loose from Ferragamo's pass.
That was where Oklahoma started its desperate final bid with 3:30 left.
Reserve halfback Woodie Shepard angled off to his right with a pitchout. He started to throw once, ran a little more, then winged it 47 yards to split end Steve Rhodes, who out-wrestled Ted Harvey for it.
Two straight losses put the ball on the Husker 34 with third and 20 to make. Peacock made 32 when he accepted a lateral from Rhodes, who had taken a short pass from sub quarterback Dean Blevins.
Peacock sailed around right end the final two yards for his third touchdown with 38 seconds remaining, and the Sooners had completed the stunning turnaround that made it five straight years of sending the Huskers home empty.
"It's a beautiful ending to a frustrating season," said Switzer, whose team will take an 8-2-1 record and Big Eight tri-championship to Phoenix to meet Wyoming in the Fiesta Bowl.
"Holy cow, I can't believe it. I can't believe we completed those passes in those situations.
"All of our halfbacks have worked on that pass, but Rhodes (a freshman from Dallas) is our best passer. We'd worked on the lateral play the last two weeks. We were getting some things ready in desperation," he said.
After the Huskers had gone on top, 17-7, by suddenly finding its missing running game in the third quarter, Switzer called Lott, the sophomore quarterback, aside.
"I told him it looks like Nebraska is going to score again, and if they scored, I was going to put Dean Blevins in. As long as we were within 10 points and there was enough time, we'd stick with Lott," Switzer said.
Larry Lacewell, Oklahoma's defensive coordinator who had dubbed his defense the New York Life team because of numerous injuries, was rewarded with a shower by his players afterward.
"You don't beat Nebraska. You outluck them," Lacewell said. "To beat them five straight years is just flat lucky."
It was apparent that neither team was going to play it cozy on this cold, blustery day with the wind howling out of the north at 30 m.p.h. and 76,247 shivering in the stands and a national television audience enjoying it in comfort.
Besides its two late passes, the Sooners pulled off a fake punt by Mickey Hatcher for a first down in the second quarter, but Nebraska escaped when Uwe von Schamann's field goal attempt hit the upright.
Then, at the end of the third quarter, Switzer disdained a field goal from the Husker seven with his team trailing, 17-7. Linebacker Clete Pillen stopped Lott for no gain.
Osborne couldn't be accused of calling a conservative game for the Huskers. Consider these instances:
— Nebraska passed up a field goal try into the wind from the OU 19 on fourth down. Ferragamo's pass was dropped by Bobby Thomas.
— At the OU 31 on fourth-and-seven, the Huskers went for it instead of punting, but Shamblin juggled the ball out of bounds.
— After Oklahoma had taken a 7-0 lead on a 69-yard drive, Ferragamo passed for the end zone on third and two from the Oklahoma 33. The ball was just off Chuck Malito's fingers.
— After a 33-yard Al Eveland field goal and Curtis Craig's touchdown made it 10-7 in the third quarter, the Huskers took over via a fumble at the Oklahoma 32. A double reverse went from Ferragamo to Rick Berns to Thomas and back to Ferragamo, who passed 22 yards to tight end Ken Spaeth. Berns scored from the four.
Nebraska gambled for the first down five times and failed each time. One was on a fumble by Monte Anthony when it appeared he had made the first down.
Oklahoma was stopped on fourth and one on the Husker seven yard line when Clete Pillen nailed Lott.
"I can't think of anything Nebraska did wrong except get beat. They did everything about perfect," Switzer said.
Osborne said the stiff breeze "probably was harder on our passing game than on Oklahoma's running game."
Oklahoma won the toss to start the game and took the wind. Ferragamo completed the first quarter with one completion in seven attempts and finished with a sub-par 9-for-21 for 143 yards. Randy Garcia finished up on the last play with an incompletion.
Ferragamo finished with four of eight with the wind and five of 13 into it.
Both of Oklahoma's passes were with the wind.
Osborne said he decided to go with the wind in the third quarter instead of saving it for the fourth because "I'm afraid we would be so far down we'd be out of it by the fourth quarter. We were behind (7-3), and I, thought we'd better get something done."
Nebraska tried a number of new defenses that were designed to put pressure on Lott and force fumbles. The Sooners cooperated by losing three of five.
But Oklahoma continually popped long-gainers with their triple option offense and wound up with 357 rushing yards, the most the Blackshirts have given up in a 7-3-1 season.
The outcome assured Osborne of his poorest record in four years as head coach.
"We needed to get another touchdown in there someplace, and we didn't get it done," Osborne said.
"The players really had their hearts set on going to Miami. I'm really sorry."
|Yards per carry||5.5||3.6|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Texas Tech||Dec. 30|
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