Norman, Okla. — In a game of big plays, Nebraska made the biggest. In a game of come-from-behind, Nebraska came from behind and won it.
The Cornhuskers defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 28021 Saturday, wrapping up a third straight undisputed Big Eight Conference championship and the school's first unbeaten and untied regular season since the 1971 national championship team.
Twice, Oklahoma took the lead. And both times, Nebraska came right back to score. NU wingback Irving Fryar said there's no reason why the Huskers struck back the way they did.
"We had a lot at stake here," Fryar said. "We were 11-0, and we weren't going to let anybody beat us without a fight."
It was a fight all right. And it didn't end until cornerback Neil Harris batted down a Danny Bradley pass for split end Buster Rhymes with 32 seconds left to play.
"I had the ball," Harris said. "I should probably have picked it off. But you can't knock the way things worked out. We got the oranges.
Nebraska had an Orange Bowl trip guaranteed before Saturday's game, but the Cornhuskers didn't relish the idea of making the trip without their perfect record and the national championship at stake.
Nebraska, rated No. 1 all season, will go after that national title the night of Jan. 2 against the University of Miami.
The Huskers will do it against a 10-1 Miami team coached by Howard Schnellenberger, who watched the Cornhuskers' comeback victory from the Owen Field press box.
"I've got a great deal of admiration for both teams," Schnellenberger said. "But particularly for Nebraska. To have the confidence and poise to come back after falling behind two times on a day like this proves how great they are as a football team. Not many teams could come to Norman, Okla., and win like that."
Oklahoma took leads at 14-7 and 21-14, and both times the Huskers responded with scores. And then the Husker defense held on after Mark Schellen's 17-yard touchdown put the Huskers ahead for good with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska never gave Oklahoma a chance to enjoy its leads. The Sooners went ahead 14-7 on a 73-yard pass from Bradley to Rhymes with 2:11 remaining in the half.
But the Huskers tied it before intermission when Mike Rozier scored on a 3-year run with 42 seconds left.
Quarterback Turner Gill made Rozier's tying touchdown possible with a 40-yard scramble to the Sooner 18.
"We had some big plays," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "Mike Rozier made a big run, and Turner scrambled for one and hit a couple of key passes before halftime."
Rozier's big run followed an incredible 18-yard touchdown by Oklahoma's Spencer Tillman to give the Sooners a 21-14 lead with 6:22 left in the third quarter.
Tillman finished his run by diving from the 5-yard line over a pile of Huskers to the end zone.
But on the Huskers' first play from the 35 after Tillman's touchdown, Rozier broke 62 yards to the Sooner 3.
Two plays later, Gill scored on a sneak to tie the game at 21-21.
"I think it hurt us, momentum-wise, when Nebraska came back so quickly and scored on us," OU's Tillman said. "It didn't give the psychology time to work on either side."
Rozier pitched in 205 yards on 32 carries. He boosted his seasons yardage total to 2,148, becoming the second back in NCAA history to go over the 2,000-yard mark in a single season. Marcus Allen of Southern Cal is the all-time leader with 2,341 yards in 1981.
Rozier also set the Big Eight career yardage record, finishing with 4,780. He broke the record of 4,582 by Terry Miller of Oklahoma State on his first carry of the day, a 13-yarder.
In addition, Rozier's 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter gave him 29 for the season to tie the NCAA record set by Lydell Mitchell of Penn State in 1981. He just missed breaking the record when he lost his balance and ran out of bounds at the 3-yard line after a 62-yard run in the third quarter.
"When our team gets behind, they take it in stride," Rozier said. "This was not my best game, but one of my best. The biggest will be the Orange Bowl."
Rozier, Gill and Fryar are the Husker heroes every week. This game produced several more.
"It took everything we had," Osborne said. "Any time we play a real good team, we can't say the offense won or the defense won. It takes everybody."
It took something else — taking care of the ball on a rainy day. At times the rain fell in torrents. But there was only one turnover in the game, an Oklahoma interception of a Gill pass.
Nebraska also won because its defense made a lot of plays like the one Harris made at the end.
In fact, the Cornhuskers made three in a row after the Sooners struck deep into NU territory with time running out.
Bradley got the Sooners within range of an upset with a 27-yard pass to Derrick Shepard that carried to the Husker 11. On the next play Earl Johnson ran nine yards to the Husker 2.
On the sidelines, Osborne prepared for the worst.
"We were talking about our two-point defense," Osborne said. "I thought that's what it was coming down to — a two-point play."
A touchdown and a two-point conversion would have given the Sooners a 29-28 victory.
Mistakes plagued Oklahoma all-season. It would happen once more.
On the player after Johnson ran to the 2, the Sooners were called for an illegal motion penalty.
"If it weren't for the illegal motion penalty, we get the ball on the 1-yard line with two downs to get it in the end zone for the touchdown," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer said.
Instead, the Sooners ran their next play from the seven. Huskers defensive end made matters worse when he dropped Bradley for a three-yard loss on a keeper.
That gave the Sooners two more chances from the 10. Bradley tied two passes, both in the direction of Harris.
He intended the first, a slant pass over the middle, for wingback Derrick Shepard. Harris and Shepard collided, and the Sooners said officials should have called pass interference.
?"I thought if there was going to be a flag, it might have been on him," Harris said. "I had the inside position on the play."
Harris said he expected Rhymes to run a slant or an out pattern on the final play. At no time during the final drive, Harris said, did he think the Sooners would score.
?"We've got a lot of pride in ourselves," he sad. "At times this season things have been tough for the defense, but there's no way we felt we were going to go down."
Osborne said he felt the tension.
"The nerve-wracking thing in a game like this is that no matter how well you prepare or play, it still can come down to a break or two. It did. If they hadn't gone in motion at the end of the game and had gone for two, they might have won the game.
"On the other hand, if we had kicked the field goal, the game would have been over. I don't think they could have beat us."
Nebraska's Scott Livingston missed a 47-yard field goal with 5:50 remaining that would have given the Huskers a 31-21 lead.
Missed field goals hurt both teams. Oklahoma's Tim Lashar misfired on a 37-yarder and a 47-yarder in the second quarter.
"The kicking game was important," Osborne said. "We had a couple of punts we didn't get handled that hurt us. They had a couple missed field goals that were really important. We did a much better job of returning kicks than they did. And the fake field goal was big. It enabled us to go in and score."
Nebraska's big trick play, seemingly an annual ritual against the Sooners, led to the Huskers' first touchdown.
On its first drive of the game, Nebraska lined up for a field goal after reaching a fourth-and-three at the Sooner 15.
The Huskers had tried only three field goals in their previous 11 games. They didn't try one this time, either.
Gill took the snap and threw a shovel pass to Tim Brungardt, who had lined up as a blocking back behind the right end. Brungardt took the pass while sweeping to the left and gained 8 yards to the Husker 7.
Schellen scored the first of his two touchdowns in the game from the 7.
Schellen finished with 40 yards on eight carries. Fullback starter Tom Rathman gained 48 yards on five carries
For a whole in the first half, it appeared the game might be a battle of two defenses slugging it out. Then both offenses quickly exploded to life.
Oklahoma stunned Nebraska with a pair of lightning touchdowns in the second quarter to take its 14-7 lead.
They came on a 39-yard run by Tillman with 4:05 left in the second quarter and the 73-yard pass from Bradley to Rhymes.
Tillman, a redshirt freshman from Tulsa, enjoyed his best day as a sooner with 134 yards on 16 carries. Earl Johnson, another Sooner freshman, ran for 84 yards on 26 carries.
The two teams battled to almost a dead heat statistically. Nebraska gained 424 yards and Oklahoma 420. The Sooners entered the game as the nation's No. 5 defense and the No. 2 team against the rush.
Twice in the game Nebraska found itself in trouble after failing to catch Sooner punts.
The first time, a 68-yarder by Darren Atyia bounced over Fryar's head, and the Sooners downed it at the Husker 1.
Oklahoma kept the Huskers pinned near the goal and forced them to punt. The Sooners got the ball at the Husker 43, and Tillman's 18-yard touchdown gave them a 21-14 lead.
Nebraska also started a fourth-quarter drive with poor field position when the Sooners downed another punt by Atyia at the Husker 2.
Cornhusker tackle Doug Herrmann figured in a momentum-shifting play for the Nebraska defense that contributed to the game's winning touchdown.
With the scored tied 21-21 and Oklahoma starting its possession at the Husker 19, the Sooners attempted some trickery.
Bradley handed the ball to Shepard on a reverse. Shepard faded to pass, but Herrmann tackled him for a 12-yard loss to the Sooner 7.
Herrmann said cornerback Harris read the play and called a reverse.
Nebraska forced Oklahoma to punt from the 10 and got the ball in OU territory at the 41. Eight plays later, Schellen scored the winning touchdown.
After the game, Herrmann struggled to describe the emotions he felt after the victory. "It's tough to put into words," he said. "This is the reason I came to Nebraska, to have a chance to win the national championship.
|Yards per carry||4.2||6.4|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
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