LINCOLN — Nebraska refused Saturday to let Oklahoma spoil another big moment for Coach Tom Osborne.
The top-ranked Huskers made the team that has been the source of some of Osborne's biggest frustrations over the years his 250th victory, overwhelming Oklahoma in a 69-7 triumph. The 219th consecutive sellout crowd of 75,964 at Memorial Stadium and an ABC regional television audience watched the Huskers hand Oklahoma its worst loss ever.
"We didn't want to let Coach Osborne down," Nebraska's Grant Wistrom said. "He'll be the first guy to downplay the significance of 250 wins and give credit to everyone else. We all know who got the program to this level, and we'd give our heart and soul to the man.
"That's why we went out there and played as hard as we could today. He deserves this. He's the best coach in America, probably one of the best in the history of college football. It would have been a shame to go out there and ruin his day."
Wistrom almost single-handedly saw to it that the Sooners would have no chance to play spoiler Saturday. The All-America rush end put on one of his finest performances, finishing with 10 tackles, four of which produced losses of 23 yards. He recorded two sacks, forced three fumbles and recovered one.
"I think everyone else was out there trying to make a play when Grant didn't," Husker defensive tackle Jason Peter said. "Grant played out of control today. He was unbelievable, making plays left and right. He's a great player, today was a big game and he came through."
So did most of the rest of the Huskers in a performance that might have been their most complete of the season. Offensively, Nebraska piled up 552 yards, averaged 7.6 yards per play and scored on 11 of its 15 possessions. The Huskers got 100-yard rushing days from I-back Ahman Green (105 on 18 carries) and fullback Joel Makovicka (101 on 10 carries), while quarterback Scott Frost rushed for 66 and passed for 107.
Defensively, the Huskers limited Oklahoma to 154 total yards, held the Sooners to an average of 2.6 yards per play and forced four fumbles that led to 20 of their first 27 points. Ten of Oklahoma's 59 plays produced negative yardage.
The special teams kicked in a pair of field goals by Kris Brown, 77 yards in punt returns, a blocked punt (negated by an Oklahoma penalty) and solid kick coverage.
"We played really well today," said Osborne, who evened his career record against Oklahoma at 13-13 with a seventh straight win over the Sooners. "I'm kind of surprised at the outcome."
And relieved. Osborne admitted he was a bit more edgy than usual before Saturday's game. Oklahoma owns more than a quarter of the 49 losses he has suffered in 25 seasons as Nebraska's head coach. Many of the Sooners' wins came in games that decided conference, and sometimes national, championships.
Saturday's win brought a temporary end to the series between the two teams. Nebraska, 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12 Conference, and Oklahoma won't meet again until 2000 because of the league's scheduling format.
"It's going to be sad not to play them for a couple of years just because of the history we've had," Osborne said. "But life goes on, and we have to play Missouri next week."
The surprising Tigers are the next obstacle for Nebraska, which kept itself pointed toward a possible national championship game Jan. 2 at the FedEx Orange Bowl. But the Huskers did pause momentarily Saturday to celebrate the win that made Osborne just the sixth coach in NCAA Division I-A history to record at least 250 wins.
"To win 250 games in 25 years is unbelievable," Frost said. "I don't know if anyone will ever be able to do that again in college football. To be a part of that, to be on the field when he won his 250th, is definitely special to me."
Nebraska conducted a brief on-field postgame ceremony to commemorate the moment. Peter, one of Nebraska's four captains, presented Osborne with a game ball, saying that it was from all of the players who had played for Osborne over the years. The Huskers left the field as fireworks illuminated the early evening sky.
"That was really unexpected," Osborne said. "It got to be quite a production out there."
Osborne thanked the university administration, his coaches, his players and the fans for contributing to Nebraska's success during the past quarter of a century.
"We've had great loyalty from the coaches," Osborne said. "We've had a great work ethic on the part of a lot of the players. Those are the things that win games. And, of course, the fans. We've had sellouts here since 1962.
"A lot of things have gone into what's happened here. I've been a very small part of it - and I really mean that - but it's nice to win that game today."
The victory improved Osborne to 250-49-3 and allowed him to join Paul "Bear" Bryant (323 wins), Glenn "Pop" Warner (319), Amos Alonzo Stagg (314), Joe Paterno (296) and Bobby Bowden (278) as coaches who have posted 250 Division I-A wins.
None reached the plateau quicker than Osborne. Bryant needed 31 seasons to win 250 games, Warner 34, Stagg 42, Paterno 28 and Bowden 30. Penn State's Paterno and Florida State's Bowden, like Osborne, are still active.
In addition to giving Osborne the milestone victory, the Huskers ran their nation-leading home winning streak to 41, won their 36th consecutive conference game and posted their seventh straight win over the Sooners. Oklahoma, which owns a 39-36-3 edge in the series, has dropped the past three games by a combined scored of 179 - 28.
Nebraska's 52-point margin of victory in last season's 73-21 victory had been Oklahoma's worst previous loss. The Sooners, 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the Big 12, contributed to their demise by fumbling on four of their first five possessions.
"You can't cause yourself to make mistakes and turnovers and expect to have a chance," Oklahoma Coach John Blake said. "We hurt ourselves. You turn the ball over that many times in the area where we turned it over, then you're not giving yourself a chance. But Nebraska hurt us, too, by being able to capitalize on our mistakes and score touchdowns."
Wistrom forced three of the fumbles. He recovered one of them when he sacked quarterback Eric Moore, then scrambled to his feet and covered the loose ball.
"He is the best player we faced so far this year," said Moore, one of three quarterbacks used by the Sooners. "I thought that he and Peter would give us problems, but Peter didn't give us as much as he (Wistrom) did."
Wistrom's first big play came three snaps after Green had fumbled on Nebraska's second play from scrimmage. Wistrom crashed into Oklahoma quarterback Justin Fuente as he was about to pitch the football. Nebraska linebacker Octavious McFarlin picked up the loose football near midfield and returned it 43 yards to the Oklahoma 8-yard line.
That set up Brown's first field goal, a 24-yarder that came just 2:11 into the game. Nebraska made it 10-0 on its next possession, needing just a 27-yard drive after freshman Bobby Newcombe's 57-yard punt return. Makovicka got the first of his three touchdowns - a school record for touchdowns by a fullback - on a 5-yard run.
Oklahoma had the ball just two plays before Peter recovered a fumble at the Oklahoma 23. Two incompletions and a 1-yard loss later, Brown came on to kick a 42-yard field goal into a gusty northerly wind for a 13-0 lead. The successful kick was Brown's ninth straight, tying a school record.
Oklahoma's next possession ended at midfield when Wistrom cracked quarterback Brandon Daniels from behind. Daniels, who until two weeks ago was playing strong safety for the Sooners, lost the football, with linebacker Tony Ortiz recovering.
Ortiz's 8-yard return, and a 15-yard face-mask penalty, gave Nebraska the football at the Oklahoma 28. Four plays later, freshman Correll Buckhalter swept left end on a 15-yard touchdown run that boosted Nebraska's lead to 20-0 with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
"We knew they had a tendency to cough up the football," Peter said. "We knew we just had to keep the heat on them and apply pressure. We never really gave them a chance to get anything going."
Wistrom stopped Oklahoma's next possession with his fumble recovery. On the next play, Frost fired a 40-yard touchdown strike to Newcombe. The Huskers then hiked their lead to 34-0 midway through the second quarter when Frost capped a three-play, 54-yard drive with a 12-yard scoring run. The quarterback also had a 24-yard run to start the possession, with Newcombe picking up the other 18 on a reverse.
"He played a great game today," Green said, referring to Newcombe. "He gives us another weapon."
At halftime, Oklahoma had just 86 yards and had run just one play in Nebraska territory.
"I had a dream last week that we won 34-0," Wistrom said. "At halftime, I'm thinking that my dream is going to come true. But then we went right out and scored again after halftime. Chad (Kelsay) told me I must have woke up at halftime."
Oklahoma fullback Seth Littrell ruined the defenders' hopes of notching three straight shutouts for the first time since 1979 when he scored on 2-yard run with 2:05 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by Moore's 40-yard pass to tight end Stephen Alexander.
Nebraska's lead had reached 55-0 by the time Littrell had scored.
Frost engineered a 10-play, 72-yard drive on the Huskers' opening possession of the second half, with wingback Lance Brown getting the touchdown on a 9-yard run.
"Our defense really did a great job in the first half of getting us the short field," Makovicka said. "The one thing we wanted to do after halftime was not relax. We wanted to put some more points on the board."
Makovicka did just that, ripping through the middle of the Sooner defense on scoring runs of 37 and 32 yards that left Nebraska ahead 55-0 with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter. After Littrell scored, Nebraska closed out the Sooners with touchdowns by Buckhalter, on a 5-yard run with 10:21 remaining, and Willie Miller, on a 7-yard run with 3:03 to play.
"We would have liked to have had a shutout for Coach Osborne today," Peter said. "But I think we're real happy with how we played on both sides of the ball today."
|Yards per carry||1.7||6.7|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Central Florida||Sept. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 4|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Texas A&M||Dec. 6|
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