NORMAN, Okla. — In the face of an unprecedented defensive surge Saturday, Oklahoma’s “Sooner Magic” against Nebraska went “Poof!”
The Huskers, using a defensive wrinkle installed in August but saved until Saturday, limited the 438-yard-a-game Sooner wishbone to 137 total yards in stuffing OU 7-3.
The victory gave 11-1 Nebraska its first outright Big Eight championship since 1983 and its first trip to the Orange Bowl since losing the national title there against Miami the same season.
“Our players were really dedicated to this proposition all year long,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “They really worked hard to be Big Eight champions.”
Oklahoma fans in the Owen Field crowd of 75,004 — hanging in through a driving rain and a 30-mph north wind that dropped the wind chill to 9 degrees — gave up hope with 50 seconds to play.
That was when NU linemen Willie Griffin and Lawrence Pete crunched OU quarterback Charles Thompson for a 1-yard loss at the Sooner 48 on fourth and 15.
On the tackle — Nebraska’s 14th of the day behind the line of scrimmage — Thompson suffered breaks in both bones of his right leg.
Oklahoma’s 137 total yards was the Sooners’ lowest mark against Nebraska in the 27-year Bob Devaney-Osborne era. The previous low was 201 in 1984.
The Sooners’ 98 yards rushing on 47 carries also was their lowest since installing the wishbone in 1970.
Osborne, who heard biting criticism of his defense after it gave up 42 points to Oklahoma State and 41 to UCLA, bit back after the game.
“I’ve heard these call-in shows where people have been complaining about our defense and our defensive coaches,” he said, rain dripping down his face and red rising up it. “I don’t know what they’re looking at.
“This is as great a defensive coaching job as I’ve ever seen. This belongs to our players on defense and our assistant coaches.”
To earn their trip to Miami to play Miami, the Huskers used a Miami defense.
“We took a page out of Miami’s defense and worked on it a little bit all year on Monday’s,” Osborne said. “We were fortunate we were able to save it to today.
“We had it ready to go against Colorado. And when it’s 7-0 late against Colorado, you’re tempted to use it. But we saved it and came up with some big plays.”
Osborne said the new defense — called Husker — “isn’t anything special.”
“It’s a little like a 4-3 with a middle linebacker,” he said. “Oklahoma has had some trouble with it.
“We penetrated a lot with it. We came up with a lot of big plays, so it was a good scheme.”
Oklahoma penetrated inside the Nebraska 25-yard line just once.
That was in the third quarter when the Sooners scored their only points on a 29-yard R.D. Lashar field goal. OU cornerback Scott Garl set up the score by recovering I-back Ken Clark’s fumble at the NU 30.
On the possession before, OU tried to throw deep from the NU 35, but cornerback Lorenzo Hicks intercepted for the Huskers at the 3.
Nebraska scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game on quarterback Steve Taylor’s 1-yard run.
So the Huskers led 7-3 entering what has been their own personal hell against OU — the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Nebraska in 1966, 1967, 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1986.
But not in 1988.
In 13 plays in the final 15 minutes Saturday, Oklahoma netted minus-11 yards.
“There has been a lot of talk about Oklahoma ‘Magic, ‘ the fourth quarter and choking and all of that,” Osborne said. “But we talked a lot today about how we would play in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not saying Oklahoma couldn’t have won it. They might have had a big play. But our defense flat stuffed them.”
NU defensive tackle Kent Wells set the tone by thumping OU halfback Mike Gaddis for a 4-yard loss on the Sooners’ first play of the fourth quarter.
Hicks then nailed halfback Anthony Stafford for a minus-5 yards before outside linebacker Jeff Mills sacked Thompson for a 3-yard loss.
Twice more in the period, the Sooners went three downs and out.
But with 1:45 to play, Oklahoma threatened to pull another rabbit of its helmet.
Freshman defensive back Jason Belser flew up the middle to partially block John Kroeker’s punt. The ball traveled just 7 yards, giving OU one last chance at the NU 48.
Osborne, who hopped out on the field to argue, said he thought Nebraska had recovered the ball after a Sooner touched it beyond the line of scrimmage.
But he could have saved his breath because the Blackshirts, NU’s first-team defense, stood tall one more time.
On first down, Wells pounded Thompson for another 8-yard loss. On second and 18 from the OU 45, Thompson completed a 3-yard pass. On third and 15 from the 48, Thompson threw incomplete.
And on fourth and 15, the Huskers broke the wishbone for good as Griffin and Pete sandwiched Thompson for a 1-yard loss.
“We wanted to come after those ol’ boys,” NU outside linebackers coach Tony Samuel said. “The defensive line knew it all started with them.
“The guys up front — Wells, Willie and Pete — played the game of their lives. The outside linebackers were great. Everybody was great.”
The last sack set off a Nebraska sideline celebration.
Wingback Dana Brinson danced. Cornerback Charles Fryar flashed oranges at the cameras of CBS-TV, which named the entire NU defense as its Husker player of the game.
And All-America outside linebacker Broderick Thomas offered hugs all around. Later, Thomas showed up at the post-game press conference with clock around his neck on a chain.
“This means it was time for a new Big Eight champion,” he said.
Nebraska led 7-0 at halftime, and might have had much more if not for penalties that killed two drives and an end-zone interception that ended another.
The Huskers took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in nine plays through the wind for a touchdown.
Taylor bootlegged right for 9 yards on the first play, then Clark ripped off 33 yards two plays later to the OU 38.
The Sooners bounced back to nail Taylor for a 7-yard loss. But two plays later, Taylor kept the drive alive with a 30-yard strike to wingback Richard Bell for a first down at the OU 11.
Taylor rolled right for 10 yards, then scored from the 1 on a quarterback sneak. Gregg Barrios’ conversion kick put NU up 7-0 with 11:06 left in the first quarter.
“We thought coming in that we could move the ball,” Bell said. “We knew their defensive personnel wasn’t as good as in the past.
“And when we moved all the way in for a touchdown on the first drive, we knew we could move it any time we wanted.”
Oklahoma came out playing dropsy.
Stafford, after a hit from NU’s Hicks, fumbled on the first play, but Gaddis recovered for the Sooners.
On the next play, Gaddis bobbled a pitchout out of bounds for a 2-yard loss.
When Pete and Griffin buried Thompson for a 5-yard loss on third down, it marked the first time in six games the Sooners had failed to score a touchdown on their first possession.
Osborne said OU’s early bobbles didn’t give him any extra hope because Nebraska didn’t recover them.
“We expected to see the ball on the ground some, but we expected to get it more often,” he said. “We ended up with three turnovers and they had one.
“I felt before the game that if the turnovers were that way, we’d lose the game. I thought we had to come out even or better.”
Nebraska surged right back into OU turf on its second series.
Clark raced for 14 yards to the Sooner 43. Then on third and seven from the 40, Taylor rolled left before bouncing back to the right for 18 yards.
A bobbled snap cost NU 5 yards before Clark gained 13 to set up third and two from the 14.
Clark motored to the 7-yard line for an apparent first down, but Nebraska was knocked back 10 yards for holding. After an incomplete pass, Barrios tried a 41-yard field goal into the wind that was long enough but drifted wide left.
Oklahoma gained one first down, but had to punt again. And again, Nebraska powered into Sooner territory.
Taylor converted another long third down with an 18-yard pass to Bell to the NU 46. Clark punched it across midfield with runs of 5 and 4 yards.
Then on fourth and one at the 45, Nebraska appeared to convert on a quarterback sneak. But an illegal-procedure penalty just before the snap forced the Huskers to punt.
“We could have had 14 or 17 points,” Osborne said. “But the penalties hurt us.”
After three plays gained just 3 yards, Oklahoma’s Todd Thomsen kicked 28 yards into the wind, setting Nebraska up at the OU 43.
Clark, who finished with 167 yards on 24 carries, ran for 12 yards on fourth and one at the 34. But two plays later from the 19, an off-balance Taylor threw deep under a heavy rush and Garl stepped in front of Brinson to intercept in the end zone.
Garl intercepted Taylor again at the OU 32 and ran it back 19 yards to the NU 49 with 50 seconds left in half.
Oklahoma got a 16-yard burst from Gaddis and an 8-yard Thompson pass to tight end Adrian Cooper to get to the 25.
On the next play, Gaddis took a pitch and slowed to throw an option pass. Cooper broke free deep, but Thomas smothered Gaddis for an 8-yard loss with 11 seconds left.
As the clock kept running, OU scrambled to line up for a field goal. Scrapping that, Thompson tried to kill the clock by throwing out of bounds. But the half ended, leaving the score 7-0.
Bell said the missed scoring opportunities caused some frustration at halftime.
“But Coach Osborne gathered us around and told us to keep our heads up,” he said. “We were stopping ourselves, they weren’t stopping us.”
That was the exact reason Osborne wasn’t discouraged.
“I was tremendously proud of the fact that we controlled the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We moved the ball and they didn’t get very close.”
The Huskers now will take two weeks off before starting preparations for Miami, while 9-2 Oklahoma will head for the Citrus Bowl to play Clemson.
Osborne said he talked with Switzer before the game about possibly playing the Hurricanes on their home field.
“We both said the winner today had a heck of a job ahead of them,” he said. “But we’re glad to get a chance.”
|Yards per carry||2.1||4.9|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Texas A&M||Aug. 27|
|Utah State||Sept. 3|
|Arizona State||Sept. 24|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 15|
|Kansas State||Oct. 22|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
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