LINCOLN — This one didn’t fizzle. It was a championship bout that lived up to expectations. It had it all.
There were big plays, too many to count. There was pizazz, a trick play that will go down in Cornhusker lore as the Bounceroosky. Both defenses had to fight for their lives against two major league offenses.
In the end Friday, delirious fans swarmed the field and the Memorial Stadium goal posts were uprooted. Nebraskans love to celebrate their victories over Oklahoma.
Nebraska was a 28-24 winner, the Big Eight Conference champion for the second year in a row and headed for the Orange Bowl again because the Cornhusker defense came through where it had sometimes failed in the past.
This time, there was no miracle finish for Oklahoma.
“Our defense did a great job of stopping Oklahoma late in the ball game when they had to,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “That’s an area where, at times, we’ve been deficient.”
Penn State beat the Cornhuskers earlier this season 27-24 on a touchdown with four seconds remaining. In 1976 and 1980, Oklahoma pulled out victories here with long drives and touchdowns in the last minute. The Sooners had opportunities to do it again Saturday. Their magic ran out.
“We didn’t get the job done at Penn State in a similar type situation,” Osborne said. “We’ve had other times when we’ve had Oklahoma in the same situation and they’ve been able to make the big play, and today they didn’t.”
The big play at the end this time came from Husker defensive end Scott Strasburger, a sophomore from Holdrege, Neb.
The game, watched by 76,398 spectators and a national television audience, wasn’t decided until Strasburger intercepted a screen pass attempt by Oklahoma quarterback Kelly Phelps and returned it 22 yards to the Sooner 1 with 26 seconds left.
The enthusiasm of Nebraska’s fans gushed forth following Strasburger’s interception. Hundreds poured on the field to celebrate.
Unfortunately, the game wasn’t over, and the Cornhuskers were tagged with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Osborne was upset by the mob scene, and the throwing of oranges.
Osborne said orange throwing “is one of the most idiotic customs I’ve ever seen. And then, to run out there on the field and get us penalized. We were down there about the 2-foot line.”
Osborne said the wild celebrating by the fans was the only disappointment of the day.
“You try to discipline your players, and you try to run a solid program, and then that kind of thing detracts from it.”
After the field was cleared, Nebraska ran out the clock with one more play. Quarterback Turner Gill took the snap and touched his knee to the ground, and the fans poured on the field again.
Strasburger made his way through the mass of humanity, hugging the ball he intercepted. “I’m taking it home,” he said.
Strasburger was an unlikely hero. He hadn’t played much this season. He did against the Sooners as a third defensive end, who was stationed as a linebacker in a special defense put in for the game. He was lined up at the end in the Huskers’ normal 5-2 defense when he made the interception.
“We worked on that play all week,” Strasburger said. “They let the defensive linemen go in. I saw the fullback coming, and I knew right away what the play was. I just wanted to grab the ball. I didn’t know whether to fall down, or run. I kept running.”
Strasburger’s interception will be one of the most remembered plays of this game. Two others will be the Bounceroosky, and OU freshman Marcus Dupree’s 86-yard touchdown on the third play of the second half.
The Bounceroosky led to a Husker touchdown after the Sooners had taken a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
The play started with a lateral pass from Gill to Irving Fryar. The throw was a one-hopper off the turf to Fryar, who threw a 37-yard pass to tight end Mitch Krenk.
The reason the ball is bounced is to make the defense think it’s an incomplete pass.
“It’s a little deceptive because when the ball hits the ground, people tend to relax,” Osborne said. “As long as it’s a lateral pass, he can pick it up and throw it. It was a great catch by Mitch Krenk.”
Krenk made a one-handed grab, and was stopped at the 14. Two plays later, fullback Doug Wilkening scored on a 2-yard run to give the Cornhuskers a 14-10 lead.
Osborne said the play’s name is the “bounce pass.” Bounceroosky was the more popular term in the press box because it fits with some famous Nebraska trick plays of the past.
There was the Bummeroosky, a fake punt play for a touchdown against Missouri in 1976. In 1979, guard Randy Schleusener scored against Oklahoma on an intentional fumble play – the Fumbleroosky.
No trickery was needed on Nebraska’s next touchdown. The Cornhuskers stormed down the field on a seven-play, 62-yard drive to Wilkening’s second touchdown – a 14-yard burst up the middle that put the Huskers ahead 21-10 with 7:03 left.
The Huskers held that 11-point advantage at halftime, although it could have been bigger. Cornerback Allen Lyday intercepted a Phelps pass and returned it 29 yards into Sooner territory. The Huskers failed to score when Kevin Seibel’s 41-yard field goal was wide.
Dupree, the Sooners’ star freshman, dispelled any notion that Nebraska might make this game a laugher with his run to open the third quarter.
It was the longest touchdown in the conference this season, and proof that the Cornhuskers will have their hands full with Dupree the next three seasons.
Dupree finished with 149 yards on 25 carries. Junior Mike Rozier was Nebraska’s top rusher with 96 yards on 15 carries. Rozier started the game, but lasted only a few plays into the third quarter before the ankle he sprained against Iowa State two weeks ago became too painful for him to continue.
“I think that losing Mike Rozier at the half hurt us some,” Osborne said. “I thought Roger Craig picked up the slack and did a good job.”
Craig scored the touchdown that proved to be the winner, a 3-yard run. It put the Huskers ahead 28-17 with 6:25 left in the third quarter. A key play on that drive was an 11-yard scramble by Gill on third and 14. Another 15 yards was added because of a face mask penalty on the Sooners.
A key series for the Husker defense was the next time the Sooners got the ball after Dupree’s long touchdown. Oklahoma took possession at the 50 following an 18-yard punt return.
The Huskers stopped the Sooners from adding to their momentum by holding them without a first down. Defensive back Dave Burke threw Dupree for a 4-yard loss on third and 6 in the big play of the series.
“Hopefully, people will give the defense a little credit today because Oklahoma has got a great offense,” Osborne said. “Even though they scored 24 points, I hope they realize the effort those defensive players gave.”
The defense played without starting tackle Toby Williams, sidelined with a knee strain. “It was a patchwork defense, and I thought they did a tremendous job,” Osborne said.
Most of the defense’s best work came after Oklahoma fullback Stanley Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left in the third quarter pulled the Sooners within 28-24.
The fourth quarter dripped with suspense, but no scoring.
Oklahoma got a break when Wilkening fumbled and Sooner defensive end Kevin Murphy recovered at the Sooner 39. Nebraska’s only other turnover in the game was a fumble in the second quarter by Craig that led to a 24-yard field goal by Michael Keeling and the Sooners’ 10-7 lead.
“The two turnovers we had really hurt us,” Osborne said. “It was almost the difference in the game.”
Following Wilkening’s fumble, the Sooners drove to a first down at the Husker 38.
Husker cornerback Burke then made one of the key defensive plays of the game when he broke up a third-down pass from Phelps that was intended for Sooner David Carter at the goal line. Phelps’ fourth-down pass was knocked down by Husker safety Bret Clark.
The Sooners’ next chance came when Campbell shanked a 14-yard punt out of bounds that gave them possession at the OU 34. Phelps directed another march into Nebraska territory – with help from a pass-interference penalty called on Lyday that produced a first down at the Husker 39.
After a 4-yard run by Dupree, Phelps tried three straight passes that were all incomplete, and another threat died.
Phelps completed six of 19 passes for 115 yards, but misfired on his last 10. The Sooners entered the game ranked last among major college teams in passing.
“At times they passed well,” Osborne said. “I don’t think they like to throw as much as they had to today.”
The Sooners were still alive when Nebraska was forced to punt, and they got the ball at their 28 with 46 seconds left. “I thought we were in for some trouble,” Osborne said. They weren’t. Phelps threw two incompletions before Strasburger made his interception.
“We told them on the sidelines to watch the screen,” Osborne said. “Strasburger just made a good play. He seems to be in the right place at the right time a lot.”
Not all the big plays came late. They started almost as soon as Gordon MacRae, who once played the starring role in the movie Oklahoma, finished singing the national anthem.
The first was a fumbled punt by Sooner Scott Case after the OU defense held the Huskers to 6 yards on the first three plays after the opening kickoff.
With new life, Nebraska drove to a touchdown – a 14-yard run by Gill.
Gill’s touchdown came on a fourth-and-1 play. The Huskers also went for a first down on fourth and 1 from the 23. Rozier picked it up. If Osborne had elected to go for field goals on those two calls the game’s outcome could have easily been different.
The game was an even match in all the significant statistics except the final score. Nebraska had the edge in total offense, 409 yards to 399; in rushing, 298 to 284. Oklahoma got more yards passing, 115 to 111.
Nebraska’s average gain per play was 5.2 yards to 5.1 for the Sooners. Ball control gave NU a mere 30:18 to 29:42 edge.
Nebraska, 10-1 and ranked third, has one game remaining at Hawaii next Saturday before heading to Miami to face LSU on New Year’s Night in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners, 8-3, will close their season in the Fiesta Bowl.
The win was Nebraska’s second straight over the Sooners. Osborne and several players said afterward that they hoped all the talk of an Oklahoma jinx would die.
‘I think we have a jinx on them now,” Husker defensive end Tony Felici said. “I don’t know if anybody knows that yet.”
|Yards per carry||4.9||4.9|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
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