November 23, 1973
It was Nebraska against Oklahoma, and with two of the best teams in college football playing, it was being billed as "Shootout Three". Two years earlier, #1 Nebraska had squared off against #2 Oklahoma in the "Game of the Century" on Thanksgiving Day, and while the Sooners had twice erased 11-point deficits, it was the Huskers who came from behind to score a late fourth quarter touchdown to win, 35-31. They went on to claim a second straight national championship, while the Sooners finished ranked second in the final AP poll. In '72, #5 Nebraska took a 14-0 lead in the third quarter over visiting #4 Oklahoma, only to have the Sooners rattle off the final three scores to win, 17-14. Again, Oklahoma finished ranked second in the final AP poll behind USC, while the Huskers were ranked #4.
For '73, the mantle to carry on the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry had been passed along to a new pair, as both teams had new head coaches walking the sidelines. The Huskers had longtime assistant Tom Osborne taking over for Bob Devaney, whose resume included the two national titles in his 11 years in Lincoln. Osborne was a soft-spoken minister's son who had starred in three sports at Hastings (NE) High School and in football at Hastings College, before winding up on Devaney's staff, then elevated to full time assistant in '66.
Osborne had debuted well as a head coach, beating then #10 UCLA in the opener en route to a 4-0 start, the #8 Bruins (9-1) only loss, but Nebraska's 13-12 loss to Missouri and a 17-17 tie against Oklahoma State two weeks later had spoiled his party, before bouncing back to win their last three. Now, tenth-ranked Nebraska (8-1-1) was a team barely hanging on to conference title hopes by a thread, and they needed a lot of help for a team that came in averaging 28.7 points per game and yielding 13.3 points per game.
At Oklahoma, rookie coach Barry Switzer, elevated to the position from offensive coordinator, had inherited a Sooners team that the NCAA had placed on two years' probation for recruiting violations, which included a ban on postseason play. On the field, he had turned the keys to the wishbone offense over to an untested quarterback named Steve Davis and made Joe Washington the featured running back, and the two had blossomed into probably the most valuable pair of sophomores in the country. But it was clear that the rest of the team was also special, and they blew away almost everyone, the lone blemish being a 7-7 tie with then top-ranked Southern California the second week of the season.
To play Nebraska, their fifth ranked opponent, #3 Oklahoma (8-0-1) was in the driver's seat for the Big Eight title and also riding a 16-game unbeaten streak. They were averaging 36.4 points per game and yielding 12.7 points on defense, a little better than the Huskers in each statistic.
On a pleasant Friday afternoon, 62,826 folks came out to Owen Field and millions more watched the nationally televised game, which because of the NCAA sanctions, would be the Sooners' last for two years. On Oklahoma's second possession of the game, which began at its 37, Davis marched the offense down the field. The big play occurred when Washington took a pitch out and darted around right end before cutting back and sprinting 34 yards to the Nebraska six. Two plays later, junior fullback Waymon Clark went over from the two to cap the seven-play, 63-yard drive. Rick Fulcher added the extra point, and the Sooners had a 7-0 lead with 6:55 left in the opening period.
Later, with the first stanza winding down, Oklahoma gained possession at its 44-yard line. Two plays picked up nine into Nebraska territory, and they were faced with a third down-and-one at the 47. Davis started a quarterback sneak off the right side behind junior center Kyle Davis and sophomore right guard Terry Webb, but he broke free and suddenly found himself wide open for a long run and angled for the left sideline, and defensive back Mark Heydorff's desperation dive at the five was to no avail, and Davis was just across on a 47-yard touchdown, his longest run of the season, with just one second remaining in the first. Fulcher's kick made it 14-0, and the Huskers were stunned.
In the scoreless second period, Oklahoma rode a defense that constantly was harassing junior southpaw quarterback David Humm. They carried a 14-point lead into the locker room, and it had permitted the Huskers only three first downs and 63 total yards in the first half.
It was all Oklahoma in the second half. Late in the third, senior linebacker David Smith intercepted a Humm pass at the Nebraska 26. It took the Sooners eight plays, but Davis did the honors by slithering across backwards from a yard out to put the home team three touchdowns ahead. On the subsequent two-point conversion, Davis' pass was incomplete, so they had to be content with a 20-0 lead with 2:37 left in the third.
Later in the period, Nebraska was able to rip off their longest gain of the game. Humm passed to tight end Larry Mushinskie for a 33-yard gain to the Oklahoma 33, their first penetration across midfield all day, but senior defensive back Durwood Keeton plowed into Mushinskie forcing a fumble, and fellow junior back Randy Hughes fell on it. And so ended the Huskers' "threat".
The Sooners continued to ride a dominating defense in the final stanza, and with the game well in hand late, they took over at the Oklahoma 27 after another of Rich Sanger's many punts. Davis methodically guided the offense, and they moved across midfield. From there, he found sophomore split end Tinker Owens for the first time all day, but this strike went for 41 yards all the way down to the Nebraska eight. From there, Davis trotted across for his third touchdown of the game, and 15th of the season, and after Fulcher's kick, Oklahoma had a 27-0 lead with only 2:11 showing on the clock. It also closed out the scoring.
Nebraska had scored in 58 straight games going into the Oklahoma game, since '68 when they had lost to another Sooners team, one short of the all-time Husker record. But the Sooners had flashed #1 credentials to everyone who cared to watch and clinched the Big Eight championship with a 27-0 blanking, securing their second straight Big Eight title on the field.
"They can't take this one away from us," Switzer said, referring to the '72 title that the NCAA made the Sooners forfeit as part of their probation. He also said, "The nation had a chance to see the finest defense in the country. We played the most physical game that we've been involved in this season, and we came out with straight A's."
Thanks to one of the best Oklahoma defenses it had ever seen, Nebraska's offense never snapped the ball inside enemy territory. Osborne said that the Huskers "tired everything, but nothing worked. We hoped to go out and run right at them and make five, six or seven yards on first down. But they're so strong and quick, and what started as long gains would turn into two or three yard runs. We just couldn't hang onto the ball long enough to get anything going.
In all, the Huskers accounted for only ten first downs, 74 yards rushing and another 100 yards passing for one of their lowest offensive productions in years. Humm completed only eight of 20 passes for 77 yards before giving way to senior Steve Runty, who then gave way to freshman Earl Everett, and they combined for only ten-of-30 passing and Oklahoma intercepted a trio of their passes. About the only things on the positive side of the ledger for them were Tony Davis gaining 41 yards rushing on 15 carries and pushing his season total to 1,008 to become the third straight Nebraskan to gain more than 1,000 yards in a season; and Sanger's 48.6 yards per punt average on nine kicks, including bombs of 63 and 65 yards.
The Sooners totaled 368 yards of total offense, with all but 51 coming on the ground. Steve Davis ran for 114 yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns, while Washington raced for 107 yards on 24 carries. And Jim Littrell's punting also came in handy, booting the ball five times for an average of 43.4 yards, with his longest being 55. And about the only negative for Oklahoma was three missed field goal attempts in the second half.
Source: Jeff Linkowski