Orange Bowl

#4 Oklahoma 31
#6 Nebraska 24

Jan. 1, 1979 • Miami Orange Bowl, Miami

1 2 3 4 T
Nebraska 7 0 3 14 24
Oklahoma 7 7 17 0 31

Oklahoma Leaves Fumbles in Lincoln, And Hearts in Hands of the Pollsters

David Clark recovers fourth quarter fumble. THE WORLD-HERALD

MIAMI — True to their word, Oklahoma’s Sooners left their fumbles in Lincoln, proved their Big Eight superiority in neutral territory and made their own bid for the national championship with a 31-24 triumph over dogged Nebraska in the Orange Bowl Monday night.

The Sooners, who had been portrayed as a bunch of girl-crazed bumblers in the pre-game buildup here, hugged the football like it was a bikinied beach bunny this time after losing six of nine fumbles in Nebraska’s 17-14 initial go-round. Only once did Thomas Lott, Billy Sims, Kenny King et al put the ball on the ground for the Huskers to retrieve.

And that came with Oklahoma perched safely on a 31-17 lead with 8:07 remaining. By then, the 66,365 in attendance and NBC’s national television audience was off in drowsy land since the Sooners had systematically clicked off 31 points to Nebraska’s 3 following an opening Husker touchdown drive.

Those who remained saw the Huskers recapture a healthy measure of self-respect by rallying from a 31-10 deficit after three quarters. Nebraska scored the game’s last two touchdowns — the final coming as time ran out — and came within 6 yards of a third.

Yardage Edge

For the record, Nebraska also outyarded the Sooners 437-339, but Oklahoma was much more efficient in packing the pig all the way into the end zone.

The Sooners were perfect in converting their scoring opportunities, Lott scoring from the 3 and 2 and Heisman Trophy winner Sims from the 3 and 11 and Uwe von Schamann adding a 26-yard field goal.

Nebraska tallied on the first series with a spectacular 21-yard pass from Tom Sorley to split end Tim Smith and on the last play, 2 yards from Sorley to tight end Junior Miller.

In between, Husker Billy Todd missed field goal tries of 44 and 46 yards before clicking from 31, and Rick Berns punched over from the 1.

But Nebraska came away with a mere 3 points after reaching the Sooner 27, 29, 9 and 6-yard lines.

Offensive Show

“We played hard, but not well at times,” was Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne’s analysis. “We didn’t get the ball in when we should have. The way to beat Oklahoma is to stop them and score when you get the opportunity. We didn’t do either when we had to.”

Across the way, Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer said it was a game in which “neither defense could stop the other’s offense,” which was fitting since the unique rematch pitted the nation’s top two offensive teams.

And with Alabama, Southern California and Oklahoma apparently in the running for the national championship, Switzer put in this plug: “I don’t know who deserves to be No. 1, but we are as good as anybody in the country.”

No arguments from the Huskers.

Nebraska monster back Jim Pillen said, “We played as hard as we could, but Oklahoma has outstanding players, and they beat us this time.”

The 45th Orange Bowl halftime extravaganza was billed as a “Spectacular of Lights,” but the brightest light this night was Sooner Sims, who lost none of the glitter off his Heisman award. He slashed and muscled for 134 yards on 25 carries. Most of the gains were against the left side of the Husker defense while riding off the blocks of guard Greg Roberts, who did nothing to tarnish his Outland Trophy as the nation’s premier lineman.

But Sims and quarterback Thomas Lott, who chipped in 74 yards — 38 in one dash en route to the third touchdown — had the lowest rushing averages in their versatile wishbone backfield. Sims and Lott averaged 5.3 yards apiece. King 5.9 and David Overstreet 6.3, while the Sooners outgained Nebraska by 292-217 on the ground.

NU Balanced

The Huskers, forced to pass more than they wished after falling far behind, displayed near-perfect balance. Sorley completed 18 of 31 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns while the infantry totaled 217. Berns was one yard shy of 100 yards, and I.M. Hipp gained 66.

But a couple of key injuries to the NU running corps hampered the Husker cause when it most needed a healthy backfield. Fullback Andra Franklin, who gained 65 yards against Oklahoma last time, did not play after the second quarter because of a sprained ankle, leaving with 9 yards. Osborne shuttled Berns and sophomore Jim Kotera in as fullback replacements.

In the final 9 minutes, Berns also was on the bench with an ailing shoulder, as was Kotera with a similar injury. Junior Tim Wurth and sophomore Craig Johnson were called on to run when Nebraska was mustering a late threat.

And safety Jeff Hansen, a substitute most of the season who played so well against the Sooners last time that Switzer voted for him on the All-Big Eight team, left in the second quarter and took 20 stitches above his right eye after a touchdown-saving tackle of pass receiver Steve Rhodes.

Nebraska set the tone early, driving the ball 80 yards in 15 plays from the opening kickoff, overcoming huge obstacles along the way. Such as a 15-yard holding penalty. Sorley neutralized that one with a 28-yard pass to Miller.

Such as fourth-and-2 from the OU 26. This time, Sorley faked deftly into the middle and option-pitched to wingback Kenny Brown for 6.

Such as third-and-11 from the 21. Sorley threw deep to Smith, who had a step on Basil Banks. Smith made a leaping catch, then dropped a foot just inside the right boundary for the opening touchdown.

The Sooners punted for the first of only three times on their first ball possession, then warmed up quickly. Sims started the 70-yard catchup drive with a 17-yard sweep and finished it from the 2.

Nebraska made it to the Oklahoma 11 moments later, only to see a clipping penalty wipe out the play, and Todd missed from 44.

Oklahoma, which did not complete a pass in the first encounter, completed two this night, the first setting up the touchdown that carried the Sooners to halftime with a 14-7 lead. Lott passed deep to Steve Rhodes for 38 yards after defender Andy Means fell down.

Hansen Hurt

The pass was doubly painful to the Huskers. It carried to the NU 3, and Lott raced in from there. And safety Hansen was bloodied on the stop.

Both teams threatened in the final moments of the first half. Oklahoma reached the Nebraska 36 with 47 seconds left with help from a pass interference penalty, but end George Andrews stopped Lott for no gain on fourth down.

Nebraska came out swinging in the few remaining seconds, and Sorley passed his team into Sooner territory before Mike Babb intercepted.

Oklahoma ruled the third quarter with two touchdowns and a field goal on its three possessions, taking only five plays and 1:30 to stretch the lead to 21-7. Lott, who had been effectively shackled through six quarters by the Blackshirt defense, finally shook loose for a 38-yard run to the Nebraska 11. Sims blasted on through reserve safety Russell Gary at the goal line on the next play.

The von Schamann field goal and another 60-yard drive, ending with a 2-yard keeper by Lott, gave the Sooners a 31-10 bulge after three quarters.

The Huskers, meanwhile, were floundering in confusion while Oklahoma’s offense was its deadliest. Nebraska drove to the Sooner 9 in the third quarter and faced fourth-and-2. Timeout was called after the field goal team went on the field.

When play resumed Sorley was mustering his forces for a first-down attempt. But he signaled for another timeout when he noticed he didn’t have a split end on the field. The refs said it was illegal to take consecutive timeouts and assessed a penalty for delay of game.

Osborne fumed, then sent Todd out to kick the field goal.

Down 21 points entering the final period, the Huskers stuck out their jaws and charged 72 yards to Berns’ touchdown.

Then came the long-awaited Oklahoma fumble. Andrews messed up the exchange in the backfield, and David Clark recovered on the OU 42.

By then, however, the subs were in the backfield, and soph Johnson got the call on fourth down from the 6. He failed to make the necessary yard into the middle.

Only 4:24 remained then, and with that failure, the Huskers’ slim comeback hopes evaporated.

But they gamely struck back for a final 58-yard scoring drive as time ran out, Sorley completing five passes. The last one came following a 5-yard pass interference call that put the ball 2 yards form the goal on fourth down and the clock showing :03.

Sorley pitched over the stacked line to Miller, and Todd converted to pull the Huskers within 7 points and beat the oddsmakers’ point spread, which had the Sooners pegged by 10 or more.


More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)

Box score (PDF)

Game stats

Opp NU
Penalties-Yards 8-96
Rush yards 292 217
Rush attempts 53 54
Yards per carry 5.5 4.0
Pass yards 47 220
Comp.-Att.-Int. 2-3-2 18-31-0
Yards/Att. 15.7 7.1
Yards/Comp. 23.5 12.2
Fumbles 1 0

Series history

Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.

See all games »

1978 season (9-3)

Alabama Sept. 2
California Sept. 9
Hawaii Sept. 16
Indiana Sept. 30
Iowa State Oct. 7
Kansas State Oct. 14
Colorado Oct. 21
Oklahoma State Oct. 28
Kansas Nov. 4
Oklahoma Nov. 11
Missouri Nov. 18
Oklahoma Jan. 1

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