LINCOLN — Blinded by flashbacks and the luster of a youngster called Buster, Nebraska gulped hard and swallowed yet another stunning setback by Oklahoma Saturday.
The Sooners, working into a south wind that had decidedly favored the downwind offense to that point, cooked up an 80-yard touchdown drive that carried into the final minute and topped off a stirring 21-17 victory.
With a one-yard touchdown sweep by freshman halfback George “Buster” Rhymes in the final 56 seconds, another great depression settled over Huskerland.
The majority of a boisterous Memorial Stadium turnout of 76,322 had gathered to cheer on a Cornhusker team that both sides agreed was more talented. A first outright Big Eight championship since 1971 and a trip to the Orange Bowl awaited. The sidelines and end zones were littered with oranges, the result of a blizzard that accompanied Nebraska’s early 10-point advantage.
Security personnel were busy working on a plan to save the goal posts. They had decided that to resist the crowd would be useless.
Invitations to the great celebration were in the mail when Nebraska quarterback Jeff Quinn sneaked to a touchdown to regain the lead at 17-14 with 3:16 remaining. Good omens? Seventeen to 14 was the final reading in two of the last three games between the championship antagonists.
Nebraska’s rampaging defense had weathered Oklahoma’s downwind cycle in the third quarter, and the offense, after stalling out at the Sooner 36 in the third quarter, and at the 7 and 1 in the fourth, finally scored.
“I really thought we had them when we held them scoreless in the third quarter,” Husker Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt said.
The 30 mile-per-hour wind played no small role this day. It created havoc for the punters and had a crippling effect on the Husker offense, which relied more heavily on the pass. Nebraska won the coin toss and took the wind to open the game; Oklahoma did the same the second half.
Oklahoma, seeking to extend its mastery over the Huskers to nine out of 10 games, set out from its 20 with 3:16 remaining after Kevin Seibel’s kickoff sailed into the end zone. The first play appeared harmless enough — two yards by Rhymes, filling in for injured David Overstreet, Oklahoma’s leading rusher. But Husker defensive end Derrie Nelson was flagged for spearing on the play First down at the 38.
Sooner fullback Stanley Wilson fumbled on the next play. Sooner fortunes remained intact with Wilson’s retrieve.
The third play was the one that caused the dreaded flashbacks for the Husker faithful. Quarterback J.C. Watts wheeled to his right, decked Husker safety Russell Gary and pitched out to Rhymes, who calls himself “Buster, the man with luster.” Rhymes sailed 43 yards to the Nebraska 14.
Was it only coincidence that Rhymes was wearing No. 4, the same number worn by Elvis Peacock, who was on the receiving end of the celebrated flea flicker play and who scored the winning touchdown with 38 seconds left in a similar drive into a similar breeze during a 20-17 shocker in 1976?
Rhymes and Peacock scored winning touchdowns on similar runs into the right corner.
“It seems like somebody put a spell on us. Maybe we’re not supposed to beat Oklahoma. It’s unbelievable,” lamented Husker cornerback Andy Means.
Before Rhymes reached the end zone, Sammy Sims had shoved halfback Chet Winters back to the 14 to set up a third-and-10 play. Watts, who had completed only one of six passes to that point, threw a strike to diving Bobby Grayson along the right sideline at the 1.
“He ran an outside cut. I had him man-to-man. It was just a great throw and a great catch,” Means said. “Our main objectives were to stop the long pass first, then stop the long run. We did one but not the other. The long run sunk us. But it wasn’t just one play.”
Van Zandt said, “Our defense played super in the third quarter and most of the fourth, except for that last drive. But Oklahoma has a great offense That’s why they’re second in the nation in rushing. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for us. Maybe the Man Upstairs wanted us to go to the Sun Bowl.”
The Orange Bowl and Sun Bowl berths will not be decided until next week when Oklahoma ends its season at home against Oklahoma State.
The Sooners, 8-2, can sew up an unbeaten Big Eight championship and a fourth straight trip to the Orange Bowl with a victory while Nebraska will move on to the Sun Bowl in El Paso to meet Mississippi State.
The Huskers, finishing the regular season at 9-2, would tie for the championship and represent the conference in Miami with a Cowboy upset.
Nebraska hopes soared in the opening moments when it crawled off its goal line following a punt that was downed at the 1 by Scott Dawson. Husker I-back Jarvis Redwine put the Huskers on top in one 89-yard gulp.
Redwine took a pitch to his right, waved off Steve Haworth’s tackle attempt and sailed down the right sideline. Suddenly, near the Sooner 20, Redwine turned in flight and pointed back at pursuing Ken Sitton, a la Sooner Billy Sims’ gesture toward Means here two years ago.
The officials were not impressed and assessed Nebraska 15 yards on the following kickoff for unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting an opponent.
The Huskers, however, were not nearly as adept in trying to imitate Sooner finishes.
Nebraska went up 10-0 in the first quarter on Kevin Seibel’s 47-yard field goal, but the Sooners rode the wind 68 yards to a Watts three-yard touchdown scamper and 55 yards to another touchdown from the same distance by Winters for a 14-10 lead at intermission.
With passing reduced, the game became a duel between the nation’s No. 1 (Nebraska) and No. 2 (Oklahoma) rushing offenses.
Nebraska, with Redwine toiling 21 times for 152 yards, and fullback Andra Franklin working the middle 20 times for 122 yards, outdistanced the visitors 314-249 on the ground. Sooners Wilson gained 91 yards on 19 carries, Watts 73 on 25 and Rhymes 85 on 10.
Quinn completed seven of 13 passes for 76 yards, and his final desperation pass to the end zone was intercepted. Nebraska totaled 390 yards to Oklahoma’s 275.
“We did a great job of holding them,” Van Zandt said, “but the biggest statistic is 21-17.”
Nebraska Linebacker Coach John Melton shook his head and muttered: “The whole season...11 games...eight points. Eight points cost the best coach in the nation the national championship.”
Melton referred to NU Coach Tom Osborne and the point difference in losing to Oklahoma and 18-14 to Florida State.
Redwine, coming off a foot injury for his top rushing output since a 189-yard outing against Penn State in the third game, said, “It’s not Coach Osborne’s fault; he did a fine job of play selection. We made it hard on ourselves. We stopped ourselves.” Nebraska was penalized seven times for 70 yards, while the Sooners had five penalties for 31 yards.
The only other time this season Nebraska was penalized for more yardage was in the 21-7 victory over Penn State. In that game, 10 Husker penalties resulted in 141 lost yards.
And Oklahoma’s defense, maligned early in the season, was at least partly responsible for the Nebraska frustration.
Nebraska threatened Oklahoma’s 14-10 lead in the third quarter when it drove to the Sooner 35, aided by a third-down pass interference penalty. On fourth-and-three, Redwine tried a sweep right and was dropped for a loss by tackle Keith Gary and linebacker Mike Reilly.
Early in the fourth quarter, after Husker tackle Henry Waechter recovered a Watts fumble at the OU 36, Nebraska chugged to the 7, mostly on a 21-yard burst by Franklin. On fourth-and-two, Redwine tried the middle and was stopped for no gain by linebacker Mike Coast and end Daryl Goodlow.
With the wind at his back in the fourth quarter, Quinn completed passes of 15 and 13 yards to wingback Anthony Steels, the first coming on a razzle-dazzle double handoff from Quinn to Redwine to Quinn.
From the 13, Franklin tumbled, and Sooner cornerback Darrell Songy outwrestled Quinn and guard Randy Schleusener for the ball a breath away from the goal.
“The ball got stripped. A guy went for the ball. He didn’t go for me. It just came out. I thought we got it back,” Franklin said.
The Huskers received a fresh chance moments later when OU punter Mike Keeling tested the wind and managed only a 14-yard boot out of bounds. Redwine picked up the first 10 on an option pitch before Quinn sneaked the final yard to regain the lead at 17-14 with 3:16 remaining.
“I know how he (Keeling) felt,” said Nebraska punter Scott Gemar.
Gemar averaged a mere 27.7 yards on seven punts. Early in the third quarter, he muffed the snap, avoided Songy’s rush and punted for minus five yards to the Husker 20. Nebraska survived that challenge when Watts was wild on a pitchout attempt, and Toby Williams recovered the fumble.
Gemar put the pressure on the defense again on his next punt, which traveled 15 yards to the Nebraska 42. The Blackshirts held, and OU was forced to punt after Nelson tackled Wilson for a six-yard toss.
Gemar’s third punt of the third quarter bounced 26 yards to the Oklahoma 38. Nebraska was treated to favorable field position when Waechter recovered a fumble by Watts at the 36.
“It was an empty feeling,” Gemar said of his problems punting into the wind. “If there is a worse feeling, I’d hate to be in that position. Only one good thing, Oklahoma didn’t score after those kicks.”
Of the Sooners’ winning touchdown, Husker linebacker Brent Williams said, “It wasn’t the drive; it was one play (Rhymes’ 43-yard breakaway). We were shutting them down the second half. We had a breakdown, they capitalized on it, and that was the game.”
Osborne said, “We had some tough things happen to us. We thought it would be tough for them (Sooners) to go 80 yards. That was the only score against the wind. The wind was a big factor, but it blew on both teams. They were able to overcome it.”
With a dim Orange Bowl hope still present, Brent Williams said, “I’m not figuring on the Orange Bowl. We had our chance.”
Center Dave Rimington summed it up for the Huskers: “It’s depressing. I wouldn’t even want to guess how they do it.”
|Yards per carry||4.0||5.4|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Penn State||Sept. 27|
|Florida State||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Mississippi State||Dec. 27|
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