LINCOLN — How does the Nebraska football team spell Miami?
With two capital I’s — one each for I-backs Calvin Jones and Derek Brown.
The Huskers gave the ball to those two on 28 of 40 second-half plays Friday to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit and dump Oklahoma 19-14 to earn a share of the Big Eight title and their first Orange Bowl trip since 1988.
Jones finished 10th- and 11th-ranked Nebraska’s comeback with a 15-yard touchdown dash with 2:57 to play — the longest rushing touchdown of the five scored against No. 16 and 19 Oklahoma all season.
It came one play after the Huskers turned down a 36-yard field-goal attempt that would have put them ahead.
Instead, they gambled on fourth-and-one at the OU 19 with 3:08 to play, a decision that the players said NU Coach Tom Osborne left up to them.
Jones, the redshirt freshman out of Omaha Central also converted on that play, gaining 4 yards on a sweep.
In the second half, Jones carried 10 times for 75 yards and Brown 18 times for 73 yards.
They finished with the two highest rushing totals against OU’s 10th-ranked defense this season. Jones had 17 carries for 118 yards and Brown 24 for 98.
“It made no difference who was in there at the end,” Jones said. “Derek could have made the same plays.
“We’re just two great backs who love to compete.”
It also made no difference which Husker you talked to after the game if you were in search of a smile.
“I couldn’t have written a better ending to my last game here,” senior offensive guard Erik Wiegert said. “I couldn’t have diagrammed it any better in my dreams.”
Johnny Mitchell, whose 137 yards on seven catches was an NU tight end record, had one complaint.
“It bothers me that we have to share the championship with Colorado — the luckiest team in America,” he said. “But I’m happy with the outcome. The state of Nebraska deserved it.”
NU and CU are Big Eight co-champions at 6-0-1. But the Huskers earned the Orange Bowl bid with a better overall record and higher national ranking than the Buffaloes, 8-2-1 and No. 14 and 15.
The season-high Memorial Stadium crowd of 76,386 hollered loudly through downpours, drizzle and light hail on a 32-degree day.
The fans really cut loose after the Blackshirt defense, which allowed a season-low 187 total yards, stopped OU’s last possession at the NU 44.
Then when the clock hit 0:00, they tore down the goal posts for the fifth time in history. The previous four also were after wins over Oklahoma in 1959, 1978, 1982 and 1989.
Not all fans got good marks, though.
Osborne stopped the game early in the third quarter to chew out “100 to 200 hammerheads” for throwing oranges.
He used the referee’s field microphone to suggest penalties against NU if the unsportsmanlike conduct continued, calling it “a lot of baloney.”
But he had nothing but praise for his team, which stretched NU’s string of seasons with at least nine victories to 23.
“I feel very proud of this team,” Osborne said. “This is one of the more enjoyable,” — then he paused before saying — “probably the most enjoyable team I’ve coached. They have come about as close to being as good as they can be.
“We’ve seen steady improvement, excellent character and guys who have really pulled together. If you don’t have that kind of attitude and spirit, you don’t win a game like this one.”
The game appeared to be getting away early.
Nebraska committed three first-quarter turnovers after giving the ball away only once in the previous four games combined.
Quarterback Keithen McCant lost two fumbles and saw a pass bounce off split end Jon Bostick’s hands for an interception.
Oklahoma used one of those bobbles and Brown’s muff of the opening kickoff for the field position necessary to jump to a 14-0 second-quarter lead, which the Huskers could shave by only three points before halftime.
“Early on,” Osborne said, “the turnovers made it awfully tough. Yet, I guess I didn’t feel totally panicked, and I don’t think the players did.
“We have come from behind before. We don’t even worry anymore. We consider ourselves a good fourth-quarter team. That served us well today.”
To start the third quarter, Oklahoma Coach Gary Gibbs chose to give the ball to Nebraska and take the 11-mph north wind.
Osborne said it wasn’t bad strategy.
“He felt the strength of his team was his defense,” Osborne said. “He was hoping they would hold us.”
But the Huskers took it as an affront.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Wiegert said. “We got all fired up because we wanted to make them pay for that.”
The price for the Sooners was extremely high.
The Huskers held the ball for 11:46 against the wind and outgained OU 121 yards to minus 1 in the quarter while closing to 14-10 on McCant’s 5-yard touchdown run.
Brown carried eight times for 42 yards on that 10-play drive, and seven times for 26 yards on a later surge that stalled on fourth-and-goal at the Sooner 1.
The Huskers got a 33-yard field goal from Byron Bennett to close the gap to 14-13 with 12:20 left in the game.
Then after an OU punt, which looked ready to die inside the NU 5 but was carried into the end zone by sliding Sooner Mike Coats, the Huskers started at their 20 with 7:08 to play.
Jones carried the first six plays:
» 21 yards left on a fake reverse.
» 3 yards up the middle.
» 17 yards on a draw that he cut right.
» 6 yards up the middle.
» 5 yards on a pitch left.
» 5 yards on a counter sweep left.
After fullback Omar Soto gained 2 yards, Jones ran off left guard for 2 more to set up fourth-and-one at the OU 19.
Nebraska called time with 3:08 to play. The whole offense went to the sideline to discuss it.
Osborne asked the players for suggestions. Some wanted to try a field goal.
But senior center Bill Ziegelbein, whose vision had been blurred in one eye since the third quarter, saw fit to go for it.
“I don’t know if I talked him into it,” the former walk-on said, laughing. “I’m just a loudmouth.
“Maybe we should have kicked the field goal. But the offense didn’t want to come off the field without finishing the job.”
With that decided, all that was left was to pick a play.
Twice earlier in the game, Nebraska had been foiled in short-yardage situations.
In the second quarter on third-and-two at the Sooner 5, McCant tried to drop back to pass.
Osborne said the primary receiver was open. But guard Will Shields, in retreating to block, stepped on McCant’s foot and sent him sprawling backward for a 3-yard loss. NU had to settle for Bennett’s 22-yard field goal to cut the gap to 14-3.
In the third quarter on fourth-and-goal at the Sooner 1, Osborne said he declined to call a pass because of the earlier miscue. Instead, he sent Brown straight ahead, but OU tackle Stacey Dillard broke through on a slant and hammered him for a 2-yard loss to preserve OU’s 14-10 lead.
“So we were in a bit of a quandary,” Osborne said. “When a couple of bad things happen in short yardage, you start second-guessing yourself.”
This time, Osborne called for a 49 pitch, a toss sweep left to the I-back.
A stunned Jones said he muttered, “Oh, man.”
“I’m coming back on the field saying, ‘They’re going to give me the ball to get the first down and this is the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, ‘ “ he said.
“But the way it was blocked, I couldn’t help but make the first down.”
He gained 4 for the first down and 15 on the next play for the touchdown with 2:57 left. A failed two-point conversion pass left the score 19-14.
Then the Blackshirt defense took over.
Oklahoma made three first downs, driving to the NU 44. But four straight incompletions from there ended OU’s hopes with 53 seconds to play.
OU’s 187 total yards was the lowest by an NU opponent in 18 games.
“We proved some people wrong today,” defensive tackle John Parrella said. “This is a great feeling. And I feel great about going to Miami to play Miami.”
So does Wiegert.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” he said. “We plan on winning that game, too. They’re not unstoppable.”
|Yards per carry||3.2||4.3|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Utah State||Sept. 7|
|Colorado State||Sept. 14|
|Arizona State||Sept. 28|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Oct. 19|
|Iowa State||Nov. 16|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Nov. 29. See them all »
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