LINCOLN — Victimized repeatedly in the past by "Sooner Magic," Nebraska used some trickery of its own Saturday to make Oklahoma's 20-game winning streak disappear.
The third-ranked Huskers sealed their 20-10 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma with quarterback Eric Crouch catching — not throwing — the decisive 63-yard touchdown pass that stunned the Sooners, not to mention just about everyone else in the 246th consecutive sellout crowd, of 78,031, at Memorial Stadium.
True freshman Mike Stuntz, recruited as a quarterback but converted into a receiver before the season, fired the ball to Crouch with 6:17 to play, completing a throw-back pass called "Black 41 Flash Reverse" that had been inserted into the Huskers' repertoire just this week.
"They talk about all the trick plays that NU and OU have run through the years, and we even talked about them during meetings this week," Stuntz said. "They showed us some highlight tapes of the 'fumbleroosky' and things like that.
"They kept showing some of those plays during the game (on HuskerVision). I thought to myself, 'What if this one is shown up there years from now?'"
Rest assured that it will, Mike. The play will long be remembered as a Husker equivalent to "Sooner Magic," the phrase coined by former Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer to describe the series of big plays and tricks that have produced OU wins and broken the hearts of Husker players and fans throughout the years.
Saturday, Stuntz and an inspired Nebraska defense broke Oklahoma's nation-leading winning streak as well as its grip on the No. 1 spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The teams had entered the game ranked 1-2 in the BCS, with 9-0 Nebraska undoubtedly set to move past the Sooners when the second standings are announced Monday.
"This one pretty much puts us in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl," said Crouch, referring to the site of this season's national championship game. "We just have to make sure we win the rest of our football games."
The Huskers might find themselves needing another win over the Sooners to guarantee a trip to the Jan. 3 Rose Bowl. The win, the Huskers' nation-leading 20th straight at home, left Nebraska 5-0 in the Big 12 North Division. Oklahoma dropped to 7-1 and 4-1 in the South Division.
If the two teams win out in league play — Nebraska against Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado and Oklahoma against Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — they would meet in the Dec. 1 conference title game in Dallas.
"We're not out of anything," Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith said. "We could wind up playing these guys. You never know what might happen."
If the teams do meet again, Nebraska will hope to duplicate the defensive effort that limited Oklahoma to its lowest point total in 42 games, dating back to a 10-9 win over Texas Christian in the second game of the 1998 season. The Huskers intercepted two passes, sacked Oklahoma quarterbacks Jason White and Nate Hybl three times and held the Sooners scoreless in the final 30 minutes.
The Sooners outgained Nebraska 339-329, but ran 16 more plays than did the Huskers. Ten of Oklahoma's 15 possessions ended in punts, two with turnovers and one on downs.
"In order to slow those guys down, you need a pretty good defensive football team," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "Our defense rose to the occasion. Yards don't really matter to us if we're keeping them out of the end zone. It was a great defensive effort by our team today."
After a scoreless first quarter that featured a total of nine punts and interception, Oklahoma took a 7-0 lead on Hybl's 4-yard pass to Smith with 10:27 left in the half. Nebraska countered with an 80-yard drive, with Dahrran Diedrick crashing over from the 2-yard line. Nebraska then took a 10-7 lead when Oklahoma native Josh Brown kicked a 27-yard field goal with 2:36 left in the second quarter.
Nebraska kept the Sooners out of the end zone just before halftime after the Sooners had driven from their 20-yard line to a first down at the Huskers' 2-yard line. Two Quentin Griffin runs lost 1 yard, and Hybl threw incomplete on third down, leaving the Sooners to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Tim Duncan that produced a 10-10 halftime time.
The Huskers regained the lead early in the third quarter on Brown's 26 - yard field goal. The kick capped a 55-yard drive that began with a 39-yard run by Thunder Collins, a play that took on added significance later in the game. Collins, flanked to the right of the formation, had come in motion toward Crouch. The quarterback took the snap and handed the ball to Collins as he sprinted parallel to the line of scrimmage.
As he cleared the tackle, Collins broke up field until he was tackled on the sidelines after the 39-yard gain.
After Brown's second field goal, Nebraska gained a total of 20 yards on its next three possessions. Oklahoma also had trouble sustaining its possessions until midway through the final quarter when the Sooners moved from their 30-yard line to a first-down at the Nebraska 39-yard line.
Hybl twice threw incomplete, then completed a 3-yard pass to Mark Clayton to leave Oklahoma facing fourth and seven. The Sooners faked a field goal, with Duncan taking the center snap and pooching a punt to the Nebraska 4-yard line.
Crouch got Nebraska out of the hole when he ran 19 yards — his longest gain of the day — on a second - down play. Crouch finished with a season-low 21 yards rushing but completed 10 of 18 passes for 102 yards.
"In my mind, that might have been the biggest play of the game," said Solich, referring to Crouch's 19-yard sprint. "It gave us a chance to do something that we normally wouldn't have tried to do if we were backed up against the wall. The last thing you want to do when you're three points up is to have a turnover deep in your territory or to have to punt from your end zone."
Oklahoma appeared to have put Nebraska in a punting situation three plays later when Crouch, on a third-and-two play, was dropped for a 7-yard loss. The play was nullified when defensive end Cory Heinecke was called for an incidental face-mask penalty, giving Nebraska a first down at its 37-yard line and sending Solich reaching into his bag of tricks for the next call.
"I was surprised," said offensive tackle Dave Volk, raising his eyebrows when recalling Solich's decision to go with a trick play the Huskers had worked no more than eight times in practice. "We all kind of looked at each others. But he's the coach, and it worked.
"If we would have stayed on the ground and not gotten it done, he would have been an idiot for not trying something else. If we had stayed on the ground and we had gotten it done, he would have been a genius for that. As long as something worked, you guys (reporters) would have been nice to him."
The play started with Collins running in motion as he did on his 39-yard run.
"I set it up well," Collins said. "I ran that flash the first time and saw them bite. I knew they would bite on it again."
Before the Sooner defense could close in on him, Collins flipped the ball back to Stuntz on a reverse. Stuntz, who had been flanked to the right of the formation, took the ball on the dead run, pulled up and launched a left-handed spiral toward Crouch, who had sneaked behind the Oklahoma defense and was streaking down the sideline in front of the Nebraska bench.
Crouch was four steps behind the nearest Oklahoma defender, defensive tackle Kory Klein, when he caught the ball. Shifting into high gear, the Nebraska quarterback easily outraced Klein and cornerback Derrick Strait to the end zone.
On the Oklahoma sideline, Sooner Coach Bob Stoops was caught wondering what might have been. Oklahoma had tried a similar play in the second quarter, but Hybl, who was wide open, slipped and couldn't make the catch.
"On our reverse throwback, our guy fell down and we couldn't complete it," Stoops said. "Theirs went for a touchdown, and that's the game. It's a swing of 14 points. There's more to it than that, but when I saw him running down the sideline, I almost had to half chuckle to myself. Their's worked, and ours didn't."
To the delight of the Husker faithful, many of whom had seen Oklahoma snatch victory from the jaws of defeat repeatedly in the past. This time, it was Nebraska's turn to pull out a win with a gutsy call near the end of the game.
"It's difficult to call that play to some degree," Solich said. "At that point, when you're up by three, your tendency is for ball control. But Oklahoma is such a great defensive team that if you don't take a few chances, if you don't make a few calls, you're not going to move the ball at all.
"You have to be willing to run them. Sometimes they'll make you look pretty good. Sometimes they'll make you look pretty bad."
Saturday, "Solich Magic" made the Huskers look like winners.
|Yards per carry||3.6||3.7|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
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