LINCOLN, NEB. -- As Games of the Century go, this one was a dry hole. What it proved, fairly awesomely, is that the only person in the Oklahoma football machine who can get seriously injured and not be replaced in a hurry is the coach.

Moments after the Sooners had buried Nebraska's big talkers early last evening in the latest Poll Bowl, Barry Switzer was hobbling along the sideline. A yard or so from his path lurked a famous turncoat, and Switzer was giving him what-for.

"I said you can't go by comparative scores," yelled Switzer, smiling, but not totally happy. The traitor was none other than the quarterback of his 1977 team, Dean Blevins, who had bet $5 on Nebraska.

Blevins tried to slink away, but one of Switzer's buddies made certain his embarrassment would last just a while longer.

"I got his money, coach," Robert Mitchell yelled.

By a 17-7 score that could have been 27-7 or even 37-7 had the Sooners been more careful with the ball, Oklahoma regained No. 1 and taught Nebraska a lesson in arrogance.

Nobody talks trash with the Sooners.

The Miami gang Oklahoma will meet in the Orange Bowl, very possibly for the national title, has a meaner streak. Jimmy Johnson would gouge every possible point against a CYO team.

If it's possible to strut with class, the Sooners do it. They all but announce their intentions before each kickoff: to run and run and run right over anything stupid enough to get in the way.

Curiously, fatally it developed, Nebraska managed to outmouth the Sooners this week. Quarterback Steve Taylor said the Cornhuskers were better, and they surely seemed to justify being four-point favorites.

Defensive end Broderick Thomas kept calling Memorial Stadium "Our House" and said nobody could get in and steal a victory. Not even Houdini, he brayed.

Days before the game, the clever parents of Oklahoma safety David Vickers created a large, Sooner-red key. Somebody on the offense cut a key out of cardboard that tight end Keith Jackson waved to the sullen crowd during the final few minutes.

The keys to snatching another national championship from Tom Osborne were: the force provided by Vickers and the defense and the solid blocking of Jackson and the offensive line.

In the stands just before the final gun was a sign that read: "Hey, Steve Taylor. A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot."

It had been a very satisfying finish to a very frustrating couple of weeks, the human key holding the snazzy one near his locker verified.

"Everything that had happened, being dropped to No. 2 in the polls {even though Oklahoma had not been beaten} and playing bad the last week {against Missouri} added to our concentration," Vickers said. "We wanted this one.

"I said all week {after reading and hearing sassy quotes from Nebraska players}: 'It ain't working. All it's doing is making us work harder.' We had our best practice in I don't know how long. Maybe next year they'll learn not to talk."

If we were to believe the electoral college that determines the weekly polls, Oklahoma was fielding what amounted to a replacement team these last two-plus games. The regular quarterback, Jamelle Holieway, and regular fullback, Lydell Carr, were sidelined with injuries.

Little wonder the Cornhusker chorus of confidence began getting louder the closer the teams to collision. Normally, Osborne would grab a roll of tape off the training table and stuff it each player's mouth. This week, he didn't.

"I think he'd secretly like to say some of those things himself," a Nebraska official said.

Those of us who ventured to the sideline Saturday when matters were getting out of hand could measure the performance of the Sooners by watching Holieway's crutches.

Only Manute Bol perched on a small mountain might be able to see over lots of Oklahoma players. So mortals kept an eye trained toward Holieway as his mates dashed unseen down the field. If his crutches were waving, Oklahoma had control.

This stat is why the crutches seemed almost painted high in the chilly air: from the final 88 seconds of the first quarter until the final six minutes in the third, Nebraska got no (that's zero, nada) first downs.

The backup quarterback, Charles Thompson, couldn't hit the state line with his passes. Nevertheless, he would do wonderful things such as running 18 yards on third and 12.

These were no ordinary opponents Oklahoma was grinding into the ersatz turf. Nebraska, after all, had clobbered top-10 UCLA and beaten quite good South Carolina and Oklahoma State.

Nebraska fans were catching confidence from the players, even though the Sooners had won the last three games and 11 of the most recent 15. From a motel balcony early Saturday morning, a husky fellow bellowed: "Hail Mary, full of grace; Oklahoma's in second place."

Not by dusk.

Sooners players dashed onto the field before the game and made it a point to point toward the Cornhuskers.

"We wanted to let 'em know we were worthy of being No. 1 while we were," running back Anthony Stafford said. "We were telling 'em to forget all the talk."

After the whipping, defensive tackle Curtice Williams had an Orange Bowl decal pasted on his cheek; Vickers yelled to an assistant coach: "Wish we'd play somebody this year."

The most important plays for the Sooners were the ones that didn't get away. For them, the nickname also seems to mean: sooner or later, we'll fumble. Mostly, five times Saturday, they find a way to recover the loose footballs.

That is why somebody wrote in enormous letters on Oklahoma's blackboard: "Big 8 Champs." Typically, somebody added in smaller script: "Soon to be national."