Nebraska Scores Sooner, Stops Oklahoma Later, 7-3

Times Staff Writer

Long-suffering Nebraska shrugged off all that talk about Sooner Magic, not to mention the kind of weather that gives ice ages a bad name, and beat Oklahoma, 7-3, Saturday.

This was a surprise development in that the Cornhuskers hardly ever beat the Sooners these days, and certainly not in Oklahoma. But especially so in that they have the reputation for folding in the fourth quarter.

Yet, the fourth quarter is when the Huskers stiffened most heroically, after allowing Oklahoma a blocked punt and a second chance.


Mindful that the Sooners have outscored the Huskers, 119-41, in the fourth quarter over the last 17 seasons (in which Oklahoma went 13-4 against them, statistics that are repeated like Scripture in these parts), they hardly quivered.

With Oklahoma taking the ball at the Nebraska 48-yard line with 1:45 left, Nebraska actually rolled them back 4 yards in 4 plays to preserve the victory.

“Sooner Magic,” linebacker Broderick Thomas sniffed, “a whole lot of nonsense.”

Nebraska (11-1) thus won the Big Eight championship and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl, where it must play Miami. Oklahoma (9-2) goes to the Citrus Bowl. Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, 0-3 against Miami, sounded almost upbeat about the Big Eight’s division of labor. Of his own bowl bid he said, “Miami won’t be there, will they?” No, only Clemson. He sighed.

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne’s assignment is the tougher of the two, but it does offer the Huskers a chance, a remote one as of the moment, to win the national championship.

Noting that top-ranked Notre Dame was only a missed point after touchdown better than Miami, he said, “If everybody loses, and we beat Miami, then we certainly deserve that consideration. If you beat Miami on their home field, and if everyone else has lost. . . . “

But that’s another dream. It’s remarkable enough that Nebraska has realized this one, which was beginning to look like the impossible dream. The Oklahoma victories, their sheer number aside, have become increasingly bitter pills for Nebraska to swallow in that this game hardly ever means as much to Oklahoma as it does to Nebraska. It’s all the more galling when Oklahoma simply takes it in stride. And when the Sooners do consider this rivalry, it is in growing terms of disparagement.


Emboldened by last year’s result, when Oklahoma came from behind to defeat then-top ranked Nebraska, Sooner quarterback Jamelle Holieway was quoted in the off-season as saying Nebraska always chokes in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Nebraska, this was almost impossible to argue. All the more galling.

Nebraska determination was thus at an all-time high for this game. And even Osborne could sense that. Noting that the weather, low 30s with winds gusting in the 30s and a constant drizzle that made Owen Field a big sponge, was unfavorable to football, he said, “I think this kind of weather favors the team that’s most dedicated, and our players were the most dedicated today.”

About 75,000 fans were equally dedicated, most of them staying to the fog-shrouded conclusion. Outfitted in orange and yellow slickers, looking like an arena version of fall foliage, they hung in to see what they thought would be an eventual Oklahoma victory.

But they were quickly alarmed when Nebraska marched to a touchdown on its first possession, while Oklahoma players were fumbling twice on their first. This didn’t hold up as a trend, but it turned out that quarterback Steve Taylor’s touchdown, representing one of his 115 yards of offense (more by 17 than Oklahoma had rushing), was the only one that mattered.

It quickly developed into a defensive struggle, with Nebraska appearing to improve as the game wore on. Oklahoma’s vaunted wishbone, which usually springs the quarterback for large gains, was completely contained. Charles Thompson had a run of 28 yards on a quarterback draw but could break no gain longer than 7 on his options. He could account for no more than 39 yards rushing. Nebraska would outgain Oklahoma, 313 yards to 137, the Sooners’ lowest output in 6 years.

But Thompson would have worse luck than a bad game. The sophomore broke his right leg on the Sooners’ last offensive play and was carted off the field and out of the season.


As usual, Oklahoma’s problem was Miami. The only team the Sooners can’t beat contributed in this game, too, it turned out. It seems Osborne took a page from Miami’s defense, a slight modification that works particularly well against the wishbone.

“We’ve worked on it Mondays and open dates since August,” he said of the scheme, which moves the middle linebacker around a little bit. They saved it for just this occasion.

“We couldn’t move the ball,” said Switzer, who may not yet know why. “Our ineptness on offense gave us no opportunity to compete. We didn’t do anything other than Charles Thompson’s big plays, and the big one was called back, (a holding penalty stalling Oklahoma’s one sustained drive).”

“If anyone told me before the game we would hold Nebraska to 7 points,” he said, “I would have said we would have won the game. On the other hand, if anyone had told me would score only 3 points, I would have said they would beat the hell out of us.”

Which is to say Oklahoma’s defense--2 interceptions and a fumble recovery by Scott Garl--was pretty good, too. Not as good, but pretty good.

Some of the Nebraska players downplayed the importance of any secret defense. “Our plan,” Thomas revealed, “was just stop it, stop it all. Just stop it.”


In the fourth quarter, that’s about as sophisticated as it looked. With the rain putting a glaze of ice on the fans and players alike, the Nebraska defense warmed up, just when Sooner Magic appeared to be materializing in the late-afternoon mist.

With John Kroeker punting with just 1:45 left in the game, Oklahoma’s Jason Belser rushed in and tipped the punt, Oklahoma recovering on the Nebraska 48. But Thompson was sacked on the first-down play, completed a 3-yarder, then was forced to throw incomplete, and finally was sacked, painfully it turned out, on the fourth-down play.

So, Nebraska, which hasn’t had much to crow about, crowed a little bit. Thomas, who was irrepressible last year and lived to regret it, waited until after the game to say I told you so this time. Noting that the seniors had taken a lot of knocks in this series, he said: “Getting the last laugh is more important.”