Flash, flair and the greatness of Billy Sims carried Oklahoma to a 17-14 victory over third-ranked Nebraska today to earn the Sooners the Big Eight title and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
With Sims rushing for 247 yards in his final home game, the Sooners came up with enough big plays in the clutch to ruin Nebraska's bid for an 11-0 season.
Oklahoma, also 10-1, won for the eighth time in its last nine meetings with Nebraska and will play undefeated Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska, which also lost an undefeated season in this stadium in 1975, will face the Southwest Conference champion in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Sims, the 1978 Heisman Throphy winner, broke runs of 53 yards and 71 yards, the second one setting up what proved to be the winning touchdown. The OU defense held in the clutch at the end to give Coach Barry Switzer his seventh straight Big Eight title, four of them outright.
"This is the greatest performance by an Oklahoma team that I've ever been associated with," an elated Switzer, dripping prespiration, said when it was over. "We had the worst field position possible against the best defense in America and got nearly 500 yards (482).
"What can I say about Billy Sims? He's the greatest player in America.
We'll never see the likes of him again."
Almost from the first play today, Sims showed the 71,187 at Owen Field that this brisk fall day was going to belong to him.
On Oklahoma's fourth play from scrimmage, he burst through a hole on the left side, ducked two tacklers and was gone, 68 yards into the end zone. But as Sims dashed into the end zone, wide receiver Freddie Nixon overzealously clipped safety Andy Means at the 15-yard line. Sims was a good 10 yards in front of Means at the time.
"It was a clip," Switzer confirmed. "The kid just got overeager. But, heck, I'm sort of glad that happened. This way the score's closer. That makes it hurt more."
At the moment it happened, however, Switzer wasn't so delighted. Two plays after the ball was placed on the 30, Watts tried to hit Nixon in the end zone and Means intercetped, ending OU's first threat.
Oklahoma scored first, however, getting a 31-yard field goal from barefoot freshman Michael Keeling with 11:33 left in the half. By that time, Sims had already rushed for 119 yards on 10 carries.
With tailback Jarvis Redwine, who did not start because of a sore left ankle, in the game, Nebraska then put together a 57-yard drive. The two big plays were a dash up the middle for 25 yards by quarterback Jeff Quinn to the Oklahoma 10 and a Quinn-to-Redwine swing pass on the next play for the touchdown. That put the Huskers up, 7-3, with 7:36 left in the half.
Oklahoma blew another second-quarter opportunity. The Sooners used 13 straight running plays to move from their 22 to the Nebraska 21. But they bogged down when Watts missed a wide-open Valora and Sims was smacked for his only loss of the day, a six-yarder by defensive end Derrie Nelson. Keeling missed a 35-yard field goal with 34 seconds left before intermission and the Oklahoma fans began to get nervous.
It didn't take the Sooners long to get in the end zone. However, it did take some luck.
On OU's first possession of the second half, Nebraska lost defensive backs to injuries on consecutive plays. First, Ric Lindquist went out, then Means, on a stretcher with a broken leg. Into the game came Paul Letchey.
On the next play, Watts moved as to run an option play left and Letcher bought the fake. He came up to meet him, but Watts dropped back and found Valora open by 15 yards. The tight end, OU's leading receiver with 11 catches, went 58 yards for a 10-7 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter. 1
Nebraska looked ready to at least tie the game on its next series. After picking up a fourth and one at their own 31, the Cornhuskers drove to the Oklahoma 18, but stalled. All-Big Eight kicker Dean Sukup then missed a field goal from 35 yards and the momentum began to swing toward oklahoma.
But it seemed to swing right back on the next play when Sims fumbled on his won 25 and Mark LeRoy recovered for Nebraska. "Just a good defensive play," Sims said. "That guy (Rod Horn) stripped the ball."
But with the crowd alive, Nebraska could not take advantage of the break. On third and five at the 20, the Huskers were caught holding and ended up punting the ball away from the 35.
That defensive stand ended the third quarter with Oklahoma leading, 10-7. Early in the fourth, Nebraska punter Tim Smith got off a 61-yard punt, putting OU in a hole at its six.
Enter Sims. After the Sooners had punched the ball out to the 20, Sims took a handoff, broke off right tackle slid away from two tacklers, faked another and was gone down the left sideline. He was dragged down 71 yards later at the eight by Russel Gary when his left knee, banged on the fumble play, gave out.
Sims came out for a play, then carried to the three on second down. On third down, Watts was stopped at the two and, with 8:04 left, Switzer had a decision to make.
"I wanted the seven," he said. "Even if we didn't make it, they still had to go 98 yards to score. A field goal would still make a touchdown enough to win."
Using Sims as a decoy, Watts optioned left and scored untouched for a 17-7 Oklahoma lead with 7:55 left. The field was pelted with Oranges.
But Nebraska was a long way from being dead. With quarterback Quinn finally finding the range, the Cornhuskers quickly moved to the OU 11. But a sack gave them third and 14 from the 15. At that point, Coach Tom Osborne called a play he had seen high school teams use -- the guard around.
Quinn took the snap and put the ball on the ground -- technically a fumble. Guard Randy Schleusener picked it up and ran past the surprise Oklahoma defense into the end zone and it was 17-14 with 4:43 left.
Nebraska held on the ensuing series and got the ball back with 2:59 to play at its 30. But on fourth and two, at the 38, Quinn tried to hit Tim Smith on a crossing pattern. Instead, he threw right to Oklahoma's Mike Babb. It was all over.