Dale Klein's field goal attempt in the third quarter starts with a low trajectory, arrow... Craig Sundberg holds for the 23-yard try that hit the upright and failed to score. The game was tied at 7-7 at the time. Mel Evans/World-Herald
Lincoln—At 2:25 p.m.Saturday, the portable lights at Memorial Stadium clicked on in preparation for the shootout between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 6 Oklahoma.
The Sooners then spent the next three hours turning out the lights on the Cornhuskers’ national championship hopes.
Nebraska moved the ball into Oklahoma territory on six of seven possessions in the second half, but came away empty each time—including once at the 1-yard line—as the Sooners pulled out a 17-7 win before 76,323 fans.
“I think this is maybe about as disappointing a loss as we’ve had,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We’ve had some over the years that have hurt, but this probably hurts as bad as any of them.”
Orange Bowl representative Stan Marks wasn’t feeling too good himself.
Besides seeing No. 1 Nebraska fall, he also learned that No. 2 South Carolina was embarrassed by navy, 38-21. The Orange Bowl committee had been hoping for a national championship battle between the Huskers and the Gamecocks on New Year’s night.
“Somebody mentioned last night how lucky we were to have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in our bowl,” Marks said.
“I just told him that it’s a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse. And this proves it.”
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both 5-1 in the Big Eight, will meet next week, with the winner gaining the Orange Bowl bid. Only a tie game between those teams would let Nebraska, 6-1, game trip to Miami since the Orange Bowl has voted to give the berth to Oklahoma State in case the Cowboys tie Nebraska for the conference title.
A series of near misses virtually knocked the co-Big Eight champion Huskers out of Orange Bowl contention.
Nebraska missed three field goals in 3 minutes of the second and third quarters when the game was tied 7-7. One was a 23-yard Dale Klein knuckleball that rattled off the left upright and bounced back to the end zone.
Cornerback Neil Harris just missed intercepting a halfback pass by OU’s Patrick Collins on the first play of the fourth quarter. That would have prevented Tim Lashar from kicking a 32-yard field goal that gave Oklahoma a 10-7 lead.
And on NU’s next possession, quarterback Travis Turner was nearly down on an option play when he fumbled, stopping a Nebraska drive.
But the biggest miss of all came with 5:32 left in the game and Oklahoma clinging to that 10-7 lead.
The Huskers, behind backup quarterback Craig Sundberg, had moved 88 yards after a punt to get to the Sooner 1-yard line.
An ABC television audience that included 80 percent of the nation missed the first 10 plays of that 12-play drive when the network lost its picture.
What the people in the stands saw was a near work of art.
I-back Doug DuBose and fullback Scott Porter started the drive with runs of 9 and 12 yards.
Sundberg kept the ball for a 1-yard gain, then missed split end Robb Schnitzler with a pass to set up a third-and-nine at the NU 33.
The Huskers stayed alive when split end Scott Kimball caught a Sundberg pass for an 18-yard gain to the OU 49.
DuBose lost a yard on a sweep. But on the next play, the sophomore drifted out the backfield, floated over the middle, took a dump pass from Sundberg and turned on the juice.
DuBose eluded three tacklers, cut to the east sideline and raced 42 yards to the OU 8 before Sonny Brown pushed him out of bounds.
On first and goal, I-back Jeff Smith got 3 yards around left end. Sundberg followed that with 4 yards on a keeper.
Then came another near-miss. Porter was stopped just short of a touchdown on a fullback drive.
“It couldn’t have been more than half a foot,” guard Harry Grimminger said.
That left Osborne with a decision—kick a field goal for a tie, knowing that would still earn Nebraska the outright league title, and a trip to the Orange Bowl, or go for the lead?
Pitch Doesn’t Work
“I told the coaches upstairs that if we were short on third down by any substantial margin that we would kick a field goal,” Osborne said. “There was enough time left that it might force Oklahoma into a desperation-type game.”
But with just inches to go, Osborne tried for a touchdown with a play the Huskers have used countless times—the pitch sweep to the I-back.
Smith took the pitch and sprinted left, but OU defensive back Brian Hall met him at the 1 and stopped him.
“We thought about that last play a lot,” Osborne said. “We felt they would stack up the middle, so we thought we might be able to run a pitch, which is basically an off-tackle play.”
“We have been having some success on them with it, but it didn’t turn out to be a good call.”
Sundberg said he thought briefly about calling an audible, then decided the play would work.
“Especially with our wingback coming in motion to give us an extra blocker,” he said. “I really don’t know what the breakdown was.
Sets Off Celebration
Nebraska looked like it would get the ball right back in good field position after holding Oklahoma at the 6-yard line.
Smith fielded Mike Winchester’s 57-yard punt, but fumbled on the return. Jeff Hake recovered for OU at the NU 43 with 3:43 remaining.
Six plays later, Oklahoma quarterback Danny Bradley set off a wild Sooner celebration by scoring on a 29-yard run with 56 seconds to play.
Senior split end Buster Rhymes grabbed Sooner Coach Barry Switzer, put him up on his shoulder and gave him an airplane spin at the 45-yard line.
That sight burned deep into the hearts of Husker fans who remember Rhymes for scoring a late touchdown to give OU a 21-17 win over Nebraska in 1980—the last time the Huskers lost a conference game.
That 27-game streak wasn’t the only one broken Saturday. NU’s 21-game winning streak at home, which began after a 30-24 loss to Penn State in 1981, also ended.
The missed scoring opportunities puzzled NU coaches and players.
“I guess I just didn’t do a very good job of getting us into the end zone,” Osborne said.
Mistakes Prove Costly
Quarterback Turner said, “There was no specific reason for it. It just seems like we always had a breakdown or something.”
Bur more than near-misses plagued Nebraska. Turnovers (three lost fumbles and an interception) and penalties also hurt.
“We just weren’t good enough to overcome those mistakes,” Osborne said. “The teams were very evenly matched, and given those factors, it was going to be very hard to win the game.”
The first Nebraska mistake came barely three minutes into the game, and led to an Oklahoma touchdown.
Turner couldn’t handle the snap from center Mark Traynowicz and Oklahoma linebacker Paul Migliazzo recovered at the NU 26.
Seven plays later, Bradley sneaked in from the 1. Lashar kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
Late in the first quarter, a clipping penalty wiped out Smith’s 25-yard punt return.
The offense appeared to be on the verge of overcoming that by starting an 11-play drive. But on first-and-10 at the OU 29, cornerback Jim Rockford intercepted a Turner pass.
Nebraska tied the game on its next possession behind Sundberg, DuBose and split end Schnitzler.
Sundberg hit wingback Shane Swanson with an across-the-field screen pass for 14 yards. DuBose added runs of 9 and 15 yards to get Nebraska across midfield.
Then Sundberg hit Schnitzler on a deep post pattern for 38 yards to the OU 2. Two plays later, Smith scored from the 1, Klein converted and the game was tied at 7 with 5:34 left in the half.
Klein tried a 49-yard field goal just before half but it fell short, leaving the score tied.
Through its first four possessions, Nebraska discovered why Oklahoma is first in the nation against the rush. The Huskers gained just 8 yards in 8 attempts.
For the game, Nebraska had its lowest rushing total of the year—137 yards. The previous low was 154 in the loss to Syracuse.
It also marked the first time since the 1982 Penn State game that the Huskers had more yards passing than rushing.
Turner, who played on eight possessions, and Sundberg, in on five series, combined for 236 passing yards. In that Penn State game, NU had 239 yards passing and 233 rushing.
In the third quarter, Nebraska missed two more scoring chances on its first two possessions.
Linebacker Mark Daum intercepted a Bradley pass and returned it to the OU 30. But a clipping penalty forced the Huskers to start from their own 47, and they eventually had to punt.
Two plays later, defensive end Bill Weber stripped Bradley on an option play and tackle Jim Skow recovered the fumble at the OU 1.
On first down, Porter got 5 yards, but smith was stopped for no gain and Turner’s third-down pass for Brian Hiemer was knocked away.
Klein came in for a 23-yard field goal try that started out low and banged off the upright.
Two series later, with about three minutes left in the third quarter, Turner had Hiemer wide open over the middle at the OU 20 but overthrew him.
’Not Blaming Kickers’
When the drive stalled two plays later, Scott Livingston tried a 46-yard field goal that drifted wide left.
Osborne said he wasn’t blaming the loss on the kickers.
“Two of them were really long, and we don’t have great range in our kickers,” he said.
“The short one hurt, but there were a lot of things that hurt us. I can’t point to that.”
In the fourth quarter, a Turner fumble recovered by OU’s Troy Johnson stopped the drive after the Lashar field goal.
Then came the goal-line stand.
“Everybody wanted to go for the touchdown,” Turner said.
But the Huskers didn’t get it. And the next time they got the ball, they were down 10 points with less than a minute to play.
Osborne praised the No. 1-in-the-country Husker defense, which held Oklahoma to just 201 total yards.
“Our defense played very well,” Osborne said. “They had one or two breakdowns, but they gave us good field position and opportunities that we just didn’t take advantage of.
“I felt anxious after missing some of those early opportunities because sometimes that turns on you.”
Osborne isn’t turning on his players.
“I’m still proud of them,” he said. “They’ve played hard and played up to their ability.
“I’m pleased they came as far as they did.”