LINCOLN — In the massive scrapbook of Husker-Sooner epics, where 20-year-old kids earn legendary status with one moment, one play, Saturday's tussle will surely get buried beneath Sims and Selmon, Rozier and Rodgers, Tom and Barry.
Few will remember 2005 like the NU-OU slugfests of '71, or '78, or '86. Few will remember unranked foes whose rivalry has withered like a corn shuck in the wind.
Zac Taylor will.
When the Norman, Okla., quarterback trades NU-OU memories with his Sooner dad years from now, he'll shake his head: two plays . . . two throws that might have turned a 31-24 OU win in Nebraska's favor.
The Huskers, down a touchdown with less than two minutes to play, had the ball at their 27-yard line. Taylor scrambled on second down and found a streaking Nate Swift deep in the middle of the field.
"I thought that was going to be right on the money," Swift said.
Had the wide-open freshman receiver caught it in stride, he likely would've tied the game. The pass sailed with the wind and landed three steps beyond Swift.
"I think that play will probably haunt me the rest of my life," Taylor said.
Taylor already had one regret. Two quarters earlier, down 14-3, he tried to hit Swift on a short out route in the final minute before halftime. Oklahoma cornerback Chijioke Onyenegecha jumped in front of Swift and raced 63 yards untouched for a touchdown.
"That's another play I'd like to have back," said Taylor, who finished 25 of 45 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Taylor's two mishaps proved costly, but there was enough blame to go around.
A porous offensive line relinquished a school-record nine sacks and couldn't jumpstart a ground attack. In the opening half, the West Coast offense barely budged in the gusty Midwest winds, and the Blackshirts couldn't tackle a resurgent Adrian Peterson.
As a result, Oklahoma led 24-3 early in the third quarter. The Huskers have fallen behind by at least 18 points in each of their three losses.
"It's frustrating we couldn't start better than we did," said linebacker Bo Ruud. "You're playing catch-up the rest of the game. It makes it just too hard on the whole team."
Oklahoma could've started the game with the ball but chose to move downwind, putting immediate pressure on Nebraska's offense to move into southerly gusts that topped 30 mph.
"When that thing's howling, it's hard to launch it and do what you want to do," NU coach Bill Callahan said.
The Huskers didn't move the chains and punted after three plays, the first of five straight possessions without a first down — NU gained 19 yards on 15 first-quarter snaps. OU took over at its 49-yard line and scored three plays later on Peterson's first carry, a 36-yard burst.
The sophomore back, who finished second last year in the Heisman Trophy voting, had rushed just eight times for 6 yards the past three games because of a gimpy right ankle. He was splendid against NU, gaining 119 yards in the first half.
"He was healthy. I was hoping his ankle would be a little tweaked still, but it wasn't," NU defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "We had him bottled up a few times, but he got out of it. Once he gets in the open field, he's hard to bring down."
At halftime, Nebraska honored the 1995 national championship team, rolling out the Big Red carpet for a procession of 30-year-olds who have lost a lot of hair but little pride. The latter may have rubbed off on the current Huskers.
On NU's second possession after the break, Taylor led the Huskers 80 yards into the wind in 16 plays. The next possession, Taylor led another touchdown drive of 48 yards in six plays.
"Even when we were down 21-3 at half, we knew when we came in all we needed was a little spark," Ruud said. "We've come back before."
Meanwhile, the Blackshirts stiffened. The Sooners had piled up 240 yards by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, they had 245.
But just as NU's sellout crowd smelled OU vulnerability, coach Bob Stoops got tricky. The Sooners lined up for an apparent 40-yard field-goal try into the breeze early in the fourth quarter but faked it.
Kicker Garrett Hartley scampered for a first down against a Husker defense fixed on the block. OU scored the next play, all but ending NU's chances.
For the second straight home game, fans left quietly. Suddenly, questions about bowl eligibility don't seem outlandish — Nebraska needs to beat Kansas, Kansas State or Colorado.
The Huskers, despite the back-to-back losses, insist they will rebound sooner than later.
"The thing that makes you see the light at the end of the tunnel is how they compete," Cosgrove said. "I'm telling you, there's not many teams that are going to come back when they're down like that."
|Yards per carry||4.0||0.5|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 10|
|Iowa State||Oct. 1|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Nov. 12|
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