The second-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, sometimes referred to as the Big Red of the North, traveled south to this dusty, brown town a few days ago with hopes of winning their 10th consecutive game of the year, capturing the Big Eight title and walking away with an Orange Bowl berth against No. 1 Penn State.
They figured that getting by Oklahoma today at Owen Field would mean nothing less than a national championship, and they said so all week long. But what they did not count on was being kicked in the teeth by the fifth-ranked Sooners, who did it before 75,008 and a national television audience. And did it like this: Oklahoma, 27. Nebraska, 7.
"This was our day," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer rejoiced in the locker room. "It's as simple as that. This was Oklahoma's day."
There were more than a few crates of Florida oranges thrown onto the field during and after the game, and all by the hands of people who love their Oklahoma football. Celebration certainly was in order, as the Sooners, in winning an invitation to play Penn State in the Orange Bowl, raised their record to 8-1 and 6-0. Nebraska, which will play in the Fiesta Bowl, fell to 9-2, 6-1.
"We just got a good kicking," said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne. "We knew before we came down here that they were a great football team, and I saw nothing today to change my mind. They are probably the best team in the country right now."
The beating the Cornhuskers suffered was so severe that their only score came on a freak turnover with 26 seconds left in the game. Oklahoma's Don Maloney, a reserve halfback, bobbled a handoff, and defensive tackle Chris Spachman took advantage of the poor rookie's miscue. Spachman picked off the ball in midair and lumbered 76 yards for the Cornhuskers' lone touchdown.
That spirited jaunt down the sideline, however, did not add up in the final offensive statistics for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska gained a measly 224 yards (161 rushing, 63 passing), compared with the 461 yards (423 rushing, 38 passing) put together by the Sooners, who, in victory, clinched at least a share of the conference title. They play at Oklahoma State next week.
The Sooners opened the scoring in typical big-bang style when tight end Keith Jackson took a reverse off the wishbone option, turned the corner and ran 88 yards for a touchdown with 11:21 left in the first quarter. Jackson went on to lead the team in rushing with 136 yards and joke that he deserved the Heisman Trophy for pulling off such a feat.
"The coaches put in that tight end reverse this week," he said, "and it's usually run with the split end. This week, the coaches said, 'Hey, Keith, we've got a play for you.' I thought it might go for a first down, but never did I think it would go all the way for a touchdown. When I turned the corner, I looked left and right, and all I saw was our red jerseys. So I said, 'Goodbye.' "
That score was followed by freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway's stunning 43-yard touchdown run off the option keep. As Oklahoma moved ahead, 14-0, with 5:52 left in the first quarter, it was apparent that the Nebraska defense would spend most of the afternoon trying to figure out a way to stop the talented rookie quarterback and his wishbone offense. Kevin Parsons, a linebacker for the Cornhuskers, conceded when it was over that the wishbone, with Holieway behind center, "had the inherent quality to give them 20 big yards in one play, then 80 the next."
Said Holieway, who rushed for 110 yards, second only to Jackson: "I was nervous before the game, but once I got out there, it was just another game on the way to the Orange Bowl. I knew things were going to come easy today. But I wouldn't have dreamed we could have made over 400 yards against Nebraska. But when our line blocks and our backs run, nobody can stop us."
The Cornhuskers might have pulled close early in the second quarter, after quarterback McCathorn Clayton -- one of three quarterbacks to play for Nebraska today -- engineered a drive that moved all the way down to the Oklahoma five before meeting its end. The Sooners' defense, led by linebacker Brian Bosworth, defensive end Kevin Murphy and nose guard Tony Casillas, put up a wicked front that pushed the Cornhuskers back a couple of yards to the seven. Faced with fourth and goal, Osborne sent out Dale Klein to try a field goal from 23 yards out. The kick sailed wide right.
"I'm not too proud of the way we played today," Osborne said. "I think we were a little uptight. We tried as hard as we could, but we weren't able to dominate the way we have a lot of others. It was their defense that dominated this game."
The Sooners scored on their last possession of the first half after Jackson -- who stands 6 feet 4, weighs more than 240 pounds and runs with an eye out for bodies to plow over -- took another tight end reverse and rambled 29 yards. Tim Lashar came on to kick a 36-yard field goal and put Oklahoma ahead, 17-0.
The next time Lashar saw action -- with 9:23 left in the third quarter and an Oklahoma runaway clearly in the works -- he was good from 34 yards, giving his team a 20-0 lead. That score was set up by the wizardry of Holieway, whose speed running the option frustrated and embarrassed the Nebraska defenders.
Said tackle Jim Skow: "Holieway was like a field mouse. He stops and starts and darts all over the place."
Again, it was Holieway who put the Sooners up by 27-0 with 2:26 left in the third quarter. After sending backs Leon Perry and Spencer Tillman into the clenched fist of the Nebraska defense and moving deep into enemy territory, Holieway optioned left, tucked the ball and cut into a big empty space for a 17-yard touchdown run. Not a single glove touched him on his sprint to the end zone.
"We did not tackle well," Osborne said. "I gotta believe we're better tacklers than that, but then again, their talent had a lot do with it, too. That Holieway is hard to get hold of."
Nebraska came awfully close to scoring midway through the final period but bumbled the opportunity after getting as close as the Oklahoma one-yard line. Freshman quarterback Steve Taylor mishandled a snap from center, and the ball dribbled into the hands of Bosworth, who was later seen sitting at his locker and declaring: "This year, people, the future is in our hands."