LINCOLN — Before the largest crowd in Nebraska home football history, NU Coach Tom Osborne suffered what he said might be his most disappointing loss.
Second-ranked Oklahoma, playing without its top two running backs, hammered the No. 1 Huskers 17-7 Saturday in a game the 76,663 fans at Memorial Stadium and a national television audience knew could have been much worse.
“I don’t know what to apologize for, but I feel halfway apologetic,” Osborne said. “This was billed as a great game. I thought we had a chance to win it. But we didn’t come that close.”
It was hardly sniffing distance.
Nebraska’s first-in-the-nation offense gained 235 yards, nearly 300 below its 524-yard average.
“Talk about Sooner magic we didn’t need it today,” said Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, whose team rallied for fourth-quarter victories over Osborne-coached teams in 1977, 1980, 1984 and 1986.
“We dominated from start to finish. This was a dominating win.”
In 15 possessions, the Huskers moved into OU territory just three times. One of those was in the game’s final possession when the Sooners were in a prevent defense. After Keith Jones’ 25-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, NU went 26 minutes to the 5:40 mark of the third quarter without a first down.
The NU defense, eighth in the country before the game, gave up 444 total yards, nearly 200 above their nine-game average of 249.1 yards.
Three OU backs rushed for more than 100 yards. Halfback Patrick Collins ran for 131, including a 65-yard touchdown that gave OU the lead for good with 1:39 left in the third quarter. Freshman quarterback Charles Thompson, filling in for the injured Jamelle Holieway, gained 126. Fullback Rotnei Anderson, replacing the injured Lydell Carr, ran for 119.
In 14 possessions, Oklahoma entered Nebraska territory 12 times.
What kept the score close was three lost fumbles, two missed field-goal attempts and an interception.
“It was one of those old-time rear-end shots,” NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. “You know what I’m saying? It was a butt-kicking.
“In simple terms, they are a better football team than we are on both sides of the ball. There isn’t any question.”
Osborne didn’t argue.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot I can say, except we just got whipped,” he said. “They played better than we did by a fair margin.”
By playing better, Oklahoma won its third straight outright Big Eight Conference championship and earned a fourth straight Orange Bowl trip. The Sooners, who will play 9-0 Miami, finished the regular season 11-0 overall and 7-0 in the league.
Nebraska, 9-1 and 5-1, accepted a Fiesta Bowl bid after the game.
Regardless of the outcome of this week’s game at Colorado, the Huskers will play New Year’s Day in Tempe, Ariz., against Florida State, 9-1 and ranked No. 4.
By game’s end, the OU rooting section boomed cheers of “Who’s House?” and a sing-song chant of “Brod-er-ick, Brod-er-ick,” taunting the NU defensive end who said the Sooners would never again get into “Our House” Memorial Stadium to win.
All the Huskers could do was stand there and take it.
“They played a lot better than they looked on film,” NU senior fullback Micah Heibel said. “And it was a fair game. It wasn’t like they tricked us or anything.
“We were really confident. I really thought before the game that we had a chance to beat them pretty good. But it didn’t happen.”
The loss meant the 30 seniors introduced before the game leave Nebraska without ever dressing for a victory over Oklahoma.
“That’s hard,” Heibel said. “But it’s even harder when you get abused like we did today.”
In some respects, Saturday’s game resembled 1984. That year, Nebraska moved into the No. 1 spot the week before playing OU like this year, was favored over the Sooners like this year and lost 17-7 in Lincoln like this year.
But in 1984, Nebraska moved the ball into OU territory six times in the second half without scoring. This year, the Huskers had trouble moving past the line of scrimmage.
“We had so many plays we couldn’t run that I couldn’t believe it,” Heibel said. “Personally, I couldn’t block their defensive ends either one of them.
“At first, I thought we had them. But they are good players. It was hard to cut them and hard to pass-block them.”
Things looked good for Nebraska early as the Huskers zipped 84 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on their second possession.
Jones and quarterback Steve Taylor handled the ball on nine of the 10 plays.
Taylor hit wingback Richard Bell with an 11-yard pass. Then Taylor bolted 16 yards on a quarterback draw and 11 yards on a double-reverse pass that broke down, moving the ball to the OU 31.
A holding penalty shoved Nebraska back to the 41. But Jones more than made up the difference.
On first and 20, he raced 16 yards on a draw play. With the Sooners still panting, Jones romped right on a sweep, cut behind a block from All-America guard John McCormick and scored from 25 yards.
Chris Drennan’s extra point gave the Huskers a 7-0 lead with 1:28 left in the first quarter.
The touchdown was the first scored on Oklahoma in the first quarter this season. It also was just the second time all season OU had trailed. The first was 3-0 against Texas.
But after that drive, Nebraska’s possessions until its next first down went three plays and punt, three plays and punt, three plays and punt, one play to the end of the half, interception, three plays and punt, three plays and punt.
“Our inability to establish anything consistent really hurt us,” Osborne said.
“I was trying everything, but I couldn’t seem to come up with a solution. It probably comes down to individual people just not getting blocked.”
Thanks to an Anderson fumble at the NU 8, Lashar’s field-goal miss from 44 yards, another Anderson fumble at the NU 25 and Jeff Tomjack’s interception at the NU 10, the Huskers led 7-0 at halftime.
It was hardly a secure 7-0.
“I felt at half that unless we got something done offensively that we were going to have trouble holding them,” Osborne said.
“They weren’t going to turn it over all day.”
He was right. OU struck early in the third quarter.
On the third play of the half, Taylor’s pass deflected off wingback Dana Brinson and OU defensive back Derrick White into safety Rickey Dixon’s hands. Dixon ran it back 24 yards to the NU 13.
Two plays later, halfback Anthony Stafford scored on an 11-yard run. Lashar’s extra point made it 7-7 with 12:48 left in the quarter.
Three possessions later, Collins broke his 65-yard run down the west sideline, with little-used fullback John Green providing the key block. Lashar’s point made it 14-7 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Lashar added a 27-yard field goal with 7:40 left in the game to clinch the victory. OU could have doubled its margin in the closing minutes, but Collins lost a fumble at the NU 5 and Lashar missed a 35-yard field goal.
“I was really disappointed in the way we moved the ball,” Osborne said. “We put the defense on the field too many times.
“Defensively, we generally played pretty well until we got worn down.”
Taylor struggled on offense. He rushed for 54 yards in 18 carries and completed 6 of 18 passes for 58 yards with three interceptions, two of which were tipped.
Osborne said Taylor didn’t pressure himself to back up pregame predictions of a Nebraska victory.
“Steve felt confident before the game that he could play well,” Osborne said. “He didn’t seem to be worried about all the talk.
“He did all right. But when you go against a good defense and you’re not controlling the line of scrimmage, it’s very difficult to play quarterback. We had too many third-and-eights and second-and-nines.”
Osborne said he’s ready to accept his share of the blame.
“I guess I’ve got to look at myself as a coach,” he said.
“Apparently, I didn’t get them that well prepared to play.
“I thought we were ready. I thought we had a good scheme offensively and defensively. But apparently it wasn’t good enough.”
The question now is what scheme Nebraska can come up with to bounce back in time to play Colorado.
“We gambled when we took the open date last week,” Osborne said.
“We felt that would help us and we hoped we would be able to win this game and then beat Colorado. Now, it’s a question of how we react.
“We’ll be ready and I’ll feel good about our chances to win. But we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did today. We’ll have to really crank it up. And I am a little concerned.”
|Yards per carry||6.0||4.3|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Utah State||Sept. 5|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|South Carolina||Oct. 3|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 17|
|Kansas State||Oct. 24|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 13 games on Nov. 21. See them all »
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