LINCOLN — Nebraska's first shutout of Oklahoma in 53 years has given the top-ranked Huskers a chance to play for a second straight national football championship.
The NU defense not only got its second shutout of the season but also scored two touchdowns—just the second time that has happened in Tom Osborne's 23 years as head coach—in Friday's 37-0 win over the Sooners before 75,662 fans at Memorial Stadium.
"Oklahoma hasn't been in sync or moving the ball," Osborne said. "So it wasn't terribly surprising that we shut them out. But still it was a great effort defensively.
"Overall, it was a solid performance. Maybe not inspired or spectacular. But solid."
The victory earned Nebraska (11-0 overall, 7-0 in the Big Eight) a bid to the Jan. 2 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.—against a yet-to-be-determined opponent—and capped a third straight undefeated regular season.
Oklahoma (5-5-1, 2-5) finished with a second straight non-winning season for the first time in 34 years. Friday's shutout, which followed a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 11, marked the first back-to-back blankings of the Sooners since 1965.
Nebraska's strong defense was important because the Husker offense, ranked first nationally in scoring and second in total offense, didn't produce a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
"That's OK. We were happy to help," Nebraska defensive tackle Jason Peter said. "It makes up for all the times the offense has covered for us.
"People always say that defense wins championships. We just wanted to show we're ready to do our part."
Strongside linebacker Jamel Williams' 36-yard interception return in the first quarter gave Nebraska a 10-0 lead.
Then midway through the third quarter with Oklahoma down 13-0 but driving, Husker free safety Tony Veland picked up a fumble caused by rush end Jared Tomich and weakside linebacker Terrell Farley and scurried 57 yards for a touchdown.
"I wanted to go out with a bang, and I guess I did," said Veland, a fifth-year senior out of Omaha Benson playing in his final home game. "They had a little momentum going there. But that put them in a big hole."
Osborne said the play boosted his comfort level.
"I really never felt we were going to get beat," Osborne said. "But it took a lot of the pressure off to go ahead 20-0.
"The way they were moving the ball, it didn't look like 20 points was something they were going to be able to overcome."
Oklahoma finished with 241 total yards (51 rushing, 190 passing).
The defensive touchdowns were Nebraska's fifth and sixth of the season—the most ever under Osborne. All-time school records in that category haven't been researched. The only other time the defense has scored two TDs in a game under Osborne was in 1985 against Illinois.
Offensively, Nebraska's spotty production might have damaged quarterback Tommie Frazier's Heisman Trophy hopes.
Frazier, by most speculation in a virtual dead heat with Ohio State tailback Eddie George, finished with 163 yards of total offense (128 passing and 35 rushing). He threw one interception, and his only hand in a touchdown was a 38-yard scoring pass to wingback Jon Vedral with 14:12 left in the game.
Frazier said he wasn't pressing to play well in front of an ABC national television audience.
"I was playing the game like I usually play it," he said. "They were doing some things to catch us off guard.
"I'm not going to say I had a bad game. We struggled at times. But when we hit the Fiesta Bowl, this will really help us, not hurt us."
Even with the offense's difficulties, the 37 points and and 407 total yards were enough for Nebraska to establish school records. The 1995 team's final averages of 52.4 points and 556.3 yards a game top the marks set in 1983 of 52.0 and 546.7.
Though bowl bids can't be offered officially until Dec. 3, Osborne appeared at his postgame press conference wearing a sticker from the Fiesta Bowl, which has the first two choices in the College Bowl Alliance draft.
John Junker, executive director of the bowl, was wearing a red-and-white Nebraska sweatshirt under his bright yellow blazer.
"He put it on in the third quarter," Osborne joked.
Junker promised that a phone call would be made from Tempe to Lincoln on Dec. 3.
"We'll be waiting for it," Osborne said.
Nebraska looked ready to romp early Friday as the offense and defense both scored on their first appearances.
Kris Brown kicked the first of his three field goals—a 31-yarder—on the game's first series. Then Williams returned his interception off OU quarterback Eric Moore for a 10-0 lead.
But the Huskers didn't score again until there was one second left in the first half on Brown's 27-yard field goal.
"We knew the strongest part of Oklahoma's team was their defense, " Osborne said. "So offensively we knew there would be a lot of second-and-eights and third-and-sixes early in the game."
NU All-America center Aaron Graham said Oklahoma's speed at linebacker made running the option play a chore.
"Ordinarily, myself or one of our tackles is able to cut off a linebacker flowing to the option," Graham said. "But there was no way in heck we were able to catch them. Tommie Frazier and Lawrence Phillips wouldn't have been able to catch them, either."
Early in the third quarter, Nebraska drove to the OU 30, but Frazier threw an interception.
Osborne said he never considered replacing Frazier with backup Brook Berringer.
"I didn't think Tommie was pressing," Osborne said. "A couple of times, he had people in his face. On the interception, he couldn't see where he was throwing."
Oklahoma moved 27 yards in three plays after the interception. But then Tomich and Farley stripped Sooner tailback James Allen of the ball, and Veland ran it in for a touchdown and a 20-0 lead with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
Oklahoma, which snapped the ball just three times in NU territory in the first half, never got closer than the Husker 20 in the second half.
Third-team fullback Joel Makovicka's 17-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left created the third-biggest margin of victory for Nebraska over Oklahoma ever. NU won 44-0 in 1921 and 44-6 in 1928.
Osborne said his team reacted calmly to winning a fifth Big Eight championship and earning a third straight trip to a bowl in which the national championship could be decided.
"I can remember a few times when we've gone through the Big Eight undefeated and there was a huge amount of emotion," Osborne said. "They're certainly not real quiet, but on the other hand it's kind of like something they expected they would do.
"I think the real measure and real focus now is the whole ball of wax."
|Yards per carry||1.7||4.8|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 31|
|Michigan State||Sept. 9|
|Arizona State||Sept. 16|
|Washington State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 4|
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