The vibrant strains of "Oklahoma," the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune, echoed through the Orange Bowl here tonight, a proud fanfare heralding the University of Oklamona football team as it avenged its only defeat of the season by whipping Nebraska, 31-24 in the 45th Orange Bowl football game.
Led by Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims, the leading rusher in Oklahoma's potent four-pronged running attack, the Sooners had too much infantry for the Cornhuskers, and did not betray themselves with fumbles as they had in a regular-season showdown.
Sims was the game's leading rusher with 134 yeard in 25 carries.
Both teams were "up" for the game, even though the national title that Oklahoma had eyed most of the regular season and Nebraska envisioned briefly in November was not at stake. It had been decided earlier in the day when Alabama -- which had whipped Nebraska in its seasion opener, 20-3 -- bumped previously unbeaten Penn State from its No. 1 perch, 14-7, in the Sugar Bowl at New Orleans.
But Oklahoma was eager to erase the one blot on its 1978 record -- a 17-14 loss to Nebtaska in frigid Lincoln on Nov. 11 that knocked the Sooners from the No. 1 spot they had occupied since the beginning of the season.
The Nebraska team, coaching staff and fans, having beaten archenemy Oklahoma for the first time since their national championship season of 1971, were initially outraged at being paired against their Big Eight cochampions again in a rare bowl rematch.
Nebraska came out of its upset victory over the Sooners at Lincoln surprisingly ranked No. 2, ahead of Alabama, and dreamed of meeting Penn State for the national title in Miami.
Such reveries ended one week later when the Cornhuskers lost their regular season finale to Missouri, 35-31, and tumbled to No. 6 in the ranking. Finding out they had to play Oklahoma -- 10-1, and ranked No. 4 -- again in the Orange Bowl felt like having iodine poured on an open wound.
But gradually, after hearing constant chatter from the direction of the Corn Belt that the first result was a fluke because of Oklahoma's nine fumbles and six turnovers, the Cornhuskers warmed to their task. By game time they had decided that once was not enough.
The game started 25 minutes late because the Orange Bowl's celebrated pageantry -- which included an audience participation light show at half-time -- ran long. Even the invocation was delayed. After the minister was introduced, there was a long pause, then a public address announcement: "We're waiting for a signal from NBC." Apparently even God waits for TV these days.
But when they finally started, Nebraska was sky-high. It was six degrees below zero back in Lincoln, 74 above on a balmy, breezy night in Miami. The Cornhuskers were glad to be here.
Nebraska moved 80 yards in 15 plays on its first possession, holding the ball for 6:31 and scoring on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Tom Sorley to split end Tim Smith, who ran a simple sprint diagonally to the left corner of the end zone and beat Oklahoma cornerback Basil Banks cleanly.
Rick-Berns, the fullbacks who gained 113 yards in the first game against Oklahoma, was the workhorse in this drive, carrying the ball on Nebraska's first six rushes. Then junior I.M. Hipp took over, getting six critical yards around left end as the Cornhuskers went for a first down on fourth-and-two at the Sooner 26. Sorley's touchdown pass to Smith came two plays later.
Oklahoma was contained on its first possession, Sims being stopped on third and one. But two of the next three times they got the ball, the Sooners drove for touchdowns.
Oklahoma tied the game with seven seconds left in the first quarter, Sims taking a pitch out from quarterback Thomas Lott and racing two yards around right end to climax a 69-yard drive in 13 plays.
Sims, who came into the game as the leading collegiate rusher in the nation with 1,762 yards, a 7.6-yard average, and 20 touchdowns started this drive which a twisting 17-yard scamper around left end and carried eight times in all for 44 yards.
Nebraska stopped the Sooners on their next possession, and with Berns bulling, Sorley passing 22 yards to Smith and then getting roughed on the next play, marched to the Oklahoma 32. An end around by Frank Lockett got the Cornhuskers to the 12, but tackle Tom Ohrt was detected clipping on the play, moving the ball back to the 40. Three plays later, Billy Todd's 46-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right.
Oklahoma took over and rolled 73 yards in seven plays to go ahead, 14-7, with 6:22 left in the half. On the last three plays, Sims ran for 15 yards, Lott -- throwing only his second pass -- hit Steve Rhodes for a 38-yarder to the three, and then swept the right end on a keeper for the touchdown.
Sims and Lott each scored another touchdwon as the Sooners opened a 31-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.
After Lott went to the Nebraska 11 on a 38-yard run, Sims scored an 11-yard touchdown with 13:30 left in the third quarter.
Darrol Ray intercepted a Sorley pass and returned it 36 yards to Nebraska's 27 on the next series. Uwe von Schamann kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 24-7 Oklahoma.
Sorley completed a 20-yard pass to Smith and a 13-yard pass a Kenny Brown to set up a 31-yard field goal by Billy Todd, but Koklahoma came back on its next possession with a 60-yard drive which began with a 28-yard run by Sims.
Lott scored from two yards out on the ninth play of the drive, with 16 seconds left in the third quarter. Sims entered the fourth quarter with 124 yards on 22 carries.
Oklahoma, which fumbled nine times in the earlier loss to Nebraska, had not fumbled going into the last quarter.
But Nebraska did not concede anything.
Sorley brought them 85 yards in 16 plays early in the fourth quarter, with battering-ram Berns -- who sat out most of the third period -- going over from the one. Todd kicked the point after touchdown to make it 13-17.