Stillwater, Okla. — So much for the red carpet.
You know, the one Nebraska's first five opponents had been rolling out for the Cornhuskers. And, remember how they were wearing it out while trampling every defense in sight?
Everyone was getting the impression it was a magic carpet, and Nebraska would ride it all the way to the Orange Bowl and a national championship.
Saturday afternoon the top-ranked Cornhuskers almost tripped over it. Or should we say that Oklahoma State almost pulled the rug from under the team some were calling college football's greatest ever.
Either way, Nebraska survived the fight of its 1983 life for a 14-0 victory at Lewis Stadium.
"Those guys are real good," said I-back Mike Rozier, the nation's leading rusher who finished with his toughest 146 yards of the year on 25 carries. "If you ask me, they should be ranked No.1 instead of us."
Sorry, Mike. It probably won't happen. Nebraska, ranked unanimously No. 1 in both wire service polls the last two weeks, will almost certainly stay there.
But it may not be unanimous anymore. And the Cowboys may have quieted the talk by some about Nebraska's invinvibility — and the unstoppable offense.
Nebraska's offense looked only slightly better than Oklahoma State's as the Cowboys held the Huskers to 417 yards and, more importantly, just 14 points.
Restricting the Huskers to two touchdowns in a quarter was about par for opponents in Nebraska's first five games as the Huskers piled up an average of 57.8 per game.
"It was two great defenses playing out there today," Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill said. "They both showed it. They've got a good defense and we've got got a good defense. That's what won the game."
Fortunately for Nebraska, the Cornhusker defense was up to the test. It overcame a five-turnover performance by the more celebrated unit of the team.
"It showed we play as a team. If the offense can't do it, the defense will," said linebacker Mike Knox, who did his part with a first-quarter interception — his fourth of the season. The interception thwarted an OSU drive that had reached the Husker 18.
"We showed we're more of a team than most people think," Knox said. "It's not just the offense."
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne seconded Knox's motion to give more credit to the Husker defense. It would have passed in the Husker locker room by voice vote.
"If anything, this points up the fact that there's no such thing as a one-dimensional football team," Osborne said. "There's no offense that can't be stopped, or stop itself. And, there's no dense that can win without an offense. It took both today."
In the end, it took an interception by safety Bret Clar on the final play of the game in the Husker ed zone to guarantee it would be a Nebraska victory — an not the most stunning upset of the college football season.
The Cowboys, 4-1, entered the game unbeaten, but were 27-point underdog.
Avoiding the upset also took a 32-yard touchdown pass from Gill to second-team tight end Todd Frain with 9:53 left in the third quarter.
It stood as the winning touchdown and Frain as the unlikely hero on the team with a gallery of offensive stars.
The catch was just his second touchdown, sort of a Frain refrain.
"I'm not surprised," Frain said. "They were keying on Turner, Mike and Irving. That left me wide open."
Actually, Irving Fryar had been forced to the sidelines by a knee strain by the time Frain scored. Frain was open.
The touchdown wasn't his last contribution of the day. He made a key catch on a time-consuming drive late in the fourth quarter that cost the Cowboys' valuable possession time when they finally got the ball back.
Nebraska took over with 4:16 remaining at its 33 and didn't surrender the ball until Gill fumbled with 35 seconds remaining. Mark Moore recovered for the Cowboys at the 37.
Nebraska kept its last drive alive with Gill passes to tight end Monte Engebritson and Frain after the Huskers were called for a procedure penalty and got just 4 yards from Rozier on the next play.
From second and 11 at the 32, Gill completed a 6-yarder to Engebritson and an 8-yarder to Frain for the first down.
"I knew I had to catch it," Frain said. "Turner said before the play, 'watch the under because you're going to be wide open,' which I was."
The next crucial play was a 10-yard pass from Gill to split end Ricky Simmons for 10 yards on the thrid and 4 from the OSU 48.
The Huskers kept the ball four more plays before Gill was caught in the backfield and lost the fumble, giving the Cowboys their final chance.
It was a long shot for the Cowboys to win, but it not so long to keep Osborne from worrying.
"The thing I was most concerned about was a pass interference call, somebody getting 40 to 50 yards," he said.
Charlie McBride, Nebraska's defensive coordinator said the Husker strategy was to play zone and not give up the deep ball.
"Every play was critical. Every play was a crisis," McBride said. "I thought our players reacted with great concentration and great effort."
Quarterback Ike Jackson threw three incompletions before hitting Malcolm Lewis with a 21-yard gain to the NU 42 with 8 seconds left.
Jackson's next pass was deep to the end zone intended for Jamie Harris, who was surrounded by three defenders. It was overthrown.
One second remained. Jackson looked for Harris in the end zone with another bomb. Clark made sure there would be no tipped pass for a game-winning touchdown with his interception.
Clark's interception was Nebraska's third of the game. It was the second week in a row the Huskers have picked off three.
The final turnover count Saturday was in Oklahoma State's favor, three to the Huskers' five. Nebraska lost four of five fumbles, and Gill had one pass intercepted.
Gill said the close call would benefit the Huskers.
"I know we're going to be a different team next week," he said. "We're going to take care of the football. We just can't have that."
The Cornhuskers have now fumbled 28 times this season and lost 11.
"They were getting hit hard," Osborne said. "The ball was wet. There was a little lack of concentration. We weren't taking care of the ball today, no question about it."
The turnovers were particularly costly because they all wiped out good chances to score.
The turnovers in succession:
— Fullback Mark Schellen's fumble at the Oklahoma State 21 in the first quarter.
— Rozier's fumble after a 17-yard run just before he crossed the goal line in the third quarter. Rozier fell on the ball in the end zone, but it squirted away and Cowboy Rodney Harding recovered for a touchback.
— A pass interception by OSU's Roderick Fisher of a Gill pass at the Cowboy 1 with 13:01 left in the fourth quarter.
— Gill's fumble as he pulled back with a snap. David Webb recovered at the OSU 16 with 8:50 left.
— The final fumble by Gill, who was caught running in the backfield on a fourth-and-3 play from the 31. Moore recovered at the 36.
The late turnovers produced a spine-tingling finish, but this game had suspense throughout.
"I had a lump in my throat the whole game," Frain said. "I'm just glad we pulled it out."
Oklahoma State's defense had much to do with the lump in Frain's throat and the lumps taken by the Cornhusker offense, particularly in the first half.
Nebraska, which entered the game with nation-leading averages of 420 yards rushing and 586 yards in total offense per game, was held to 42 yards rushing on 23 attempts and 135 yards in total offense in the first half.
Oklahoma State outgained the Huskers in the first half, 227 yards to 135. Nebraska finished with 417-312 advantage for the game.
The Cowboys' biggest play was a 64-yard run by Shawn Jones in the second quarter from the OSU 8, to the Nebraska 28. Jones, who finished with 125 yards on 27 carries, was from behind by cornerback David Burke.
"I called a blitz on that," McBride said. "They did a good job of audibling. I had both linebackers blitzing from the outside."
McBride said he quit calling blitzes at that point.
"We just decided we'd go play them football," he said. "We were going to stand in and play out type of defense."
Jones' big run left to the first points of the game — a 26-yard field goal by Larry Roach with 9:32 left in the second quarter.
Nebraska retalieated quickly with a 62-yard touchdown pass from Gill to Fryar that caught the Cowboys in a blitz.
"I didn't think they'd come out blitzing," Osborne said. "But they blitzed a lot. I thought after Minnesota (an 84-13 victim), nobody would blitz us. They made a liar out of me."
The Cowboys became the first team to lead Nebraska at halftime this season when Jackson found Harris in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
Harris got behind NU cornerback Neil Harris, who slipped when he went for an out move.
"When a receiver runs that kind of pattern, the defensive back has got to make a decision to do something," McBride siad. "And Neil broke for the out. The guy ran up, and he fell down. But that's what I want him to do. I want those guys to take a chance once in ahwile. If you don't you play too catious."
Osborne said his halftime speech focused on adjustments. But then he reminded the players of how they would feel if they lost.
"I told them what they had to adjust and that they had a long time, the rest of their lives, to think about this next half if they didn't get the job done."
They did, partly because the offense played better with the exception of the turnovers, partly because of the defense and partly because of the kicking game.
"The kicking game won it," Knox said. "We won the kicking game."
Punter Scott Livingston was a big reason. He had one first-half punt downed at the 8 and one in the fourth waurter at the 1.
Jeff Smith helped the Huskers to an 84-9 advantage in pint return yardage with a 42-yarder late in the third quarter.
Osborne said after last week's 63-7 win over Syracuse he was worried because the Huskers haven't been pressed. Now they have, and they take a 6-0 record and the nation's leading winning streak of 16 games to Missouri Saturday.
"It will be interesting to see how our team responds to this," Osborne said. "We had so many things that were just almost unbelievable being said about us. I think this puts things in a little better perspective. It might serve us well."
|Yards per carry||3.6||4.2|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
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