Big 12 championship
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nebraska waited seven years to get back to the Big 12 championship game and needed all of 48 seconds to see that its return might not go so well.
The Huskers committed their first of five turnovers on the first play from scrimmage Saturday night, setting up Oklahoma for a 21-7 win before 80,031 at Arrowhead Stadium.
What NU gave away combined with what Oklahoma took — a 99-yard scoring drive at the end of the third quarter — put the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl and relegated the Huskers to the Cotton Bowl. According to a Cotton Bowl official late Saturday, Nebraska will play Arkansas in the Jan. 1 game in Dallas.
A nice consolation prize, but not exactly what Nos. 18 and 19 NU had in mind as it chased its first Big 12 title since 1999.
"We just couldn't answer when we had to answer," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "We spotted them an early score, and we never did get back from that deficit."
Nebraska (9-4) tried a reverse that failed on the opening kickoff — shades of some common trickery by the Huskers — and started from its 9-yard line. Quarterback Zac Taylor completed a short first-down pass to Maurice Purify, but the receiver fumbled and OU safety Reggie Smith returned the football to the 2-yard line.
When tailback Allen Patrick scored on the next play, the Sooners had a 7-0 lead — and the fastest score in the history of the Big 12 title game.
Nebraska's trouble would build with Paul Thompson's 66-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Kelly later in the first quarter, and it would peak with OU's 11-play, 99-yard drive in the third. That length-of-the-field accomplishment survived only because Thompson converted a third-and-10 play from the 1, throwing 35 yards to freshman tight end Jermaine Gresham.
"Drive of the year," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "Without question."
Nos. 8 and 10 Oklahoma (11-2) takes an eight-game winning streak to a meeting with Boise State in Glendale, Ariz. The Sooners also claimed their fourth Big 12 championship in the past seven seasons.
That's four more than NU, which might be inclined to spend the coming days wondering what could have been had it made more of its chances Saturday night.
The Huskers traveled into OU territory with all six second-half possessions. Those ended with two punts, two Taylor interceptions and two failed fourth-down plays.
"We had the short field several times, and their defense was just too stingy," Callahan said. "They're a good defense. We just couldn't get it done."
Taylor threw three interceptions, only one fewer than the senior had thrown in 12 regular-season games.
He said the way Oklahoma disguised its coverage played a big role in his problems.
He finished 23 of 50 passing for 282 yards in his final game against the team he had grown up idolizing.
The damage might have been done long before any of Taylor's interceptions, however, with the 7-0 hole.
"That was real big," Thompson said. "We got the ball in great position, and we were able to take it in on them, so that was big for momentum."
Behind 14-0, Nebraska had punted on five straight first-half possessions before answering in the bitter cold. After safety Andrew Shanle intercepted Thompson, Taylor connected with tight end Hunter Teafatiller for a 14-yard TD pass that pulled the Huskers within a touchdown, 14-7.
Neither team established a first-half running attack in a game between teams that had relied on the run through the regular season. Nebraska attempted 18 passes in the second quarter — 12 straight during one stretch — and called pass plays on 21 of 23 snaps before halftime.
Oklahoma threw 24 first-half passes while running just 10 times (for 13 yards). After taking the 14-0 lead, the Sooners sputtered through the second quarter with three punts, an interception and a failed fourth-down play.
Clinging to the 14-7 lead, OU started third-quarter possessions from its 15, 8 and 1. On the last of those, it produced the 99-yard march.
Before his completion to Gresham, Thompson had gone through a stretch in which he was just 2 for 12 for 9 yards. He followed with five other completions, including the touchdown on a 3-yard pass to Kelly.
"We were pretty aggressive in our front coverage, and they hit us with a play-action pass for a huge gain," Callahan said. "It kind of took the wind out of our sail right there. We had them backed up, but we just couldn't make a play."
It was tough to see for an NU defense that played well enough for the Huskers to win.
"Obviously, that play was huge," defensive end Jay Moore said. "We had them right there. I think that really changed the way the second half went."
NU kept coming at OU to start the fourth quarter but couldn't dent the lead.
Taylor threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 play from the OU 16 when Demarrio Pleasant broke up a pass intended for Teafatiller. On the Huskers' next drive, Taylor was intercepted by a diving Nic Harris in the end zone.
NU was finished when Taylor was picked off by Smith on the Oklahoma 4-yard line with 5:31 to go. The Huskers' fifth turnover set a Big 12 championship game record, and started sending a chilled crowd for the exits.
Not long after, OU started celebrating a championship that seemed unlikely for much of the fall. Thompson took some of the greatest satisfaction as the quarterback who replaced Rhett Bomar after Bomar was kicked off the team in August.
"This is crazy, man," he said. "It's a dream come true. I definitely wanted to be in this situation, be the leader of this team, and lead us to a Big 12 championship. That's what we did today."
|Yards per carry||1.5||4.0|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Louisiana Tech||Sept. 2|
|Nicholls State||Sept. 9|
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 23|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 14|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 28|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 11|
Nebraska has played 3 games on Dec. 2. See them all »
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