MIKE WINCHESTER 1964-2016 | Memorial Fund
Oklahoma 14, Nebraska 37
November 21, 1981 | at Norman | Attendance 75,833
For coach Barry Switzer, Oklahoma's '81 season had been basically a bust. They had begun the preseason as AP's #2 team, but from there, it was downhill. First came a disappointing 28-24 loss against #1 USC, which was followed by a 7-7 tie against Iowa State, a team the Sooners had beaten 19 years in a row. Next was the rivalry game against #3 Texas, and after getting pounded 34-14, the Longhorns jumped to the top and for the first time ever, Switzer and Oklahoma were not even ranked in the Top 20. They rebounded and reeled off four wins in a row, climbing back to #15, but then came a 19-14 loss at Missouri, losing to the Tigers for the first time in a dozen years, and it brought the Sooners' 18-game unbeaten streak in the conference to an end. It also marked the first time in his nine years that a Switzer team had lost three games in one season, but more importantly, it was the first time they would not be playing for a conference championship. Now, they had a chance to somewhat salvage some pride.
Against Nebraska in Norman, Oklahoma would face their first ranked opponent in six games, and entered the game with a 5-3-1 record, while coach Tom Osborne's Huskers (8-2) came in ranked fifth in the country. Nebraska represented the 41st time in Switzer's coaching career that he faced a team ranked in the AP Top 20, posting a 29-8-3 record, but this was the first time he would send an unranked Sooners' team out onto the field in those games. But it usually did not seem to matter, as Switzer had faced Osborne nine times, and only once did he come across a loser, and the Huskers had not won at Owen Field since the epic '71 game.
Nebraska, already Big Eight champions with a 7-0 record, was a talented team, but there had been several personnel changes as Osborne tried to find the right combination on offense. Quarterback Mark Mauer's erratic play earlier in the year, in which the team got off to a 1-2 start, their worst in 21 years, had led to sophomore Turner Gill, a Texas high school player that Oklahoma had lost a recruiting battle for a few years earlier and guided the freshman team in '80, taking over in the Huskers' fourth game of the season. He got his first start the following game and responded by completing nine of 14 passes for 178 yards and a school record-tying four touchdowns, guiding the offense to 719 total yards and an NCAA record 42 first downs in a 59-0 romp over Colorado. Five more straight wins followed under Gill, but after suffering a leg injury in their previous game that seemed to worsen, now it was Mauer filling in for Gill.
And then there was sophomore I-back Mike Rozier, who after transferring from Coffeyville (KS) Community College had started far down on the Huskers' depth chart at the position, but by the fifth game he was alternating with junior Roger Craig as the starter, and it was a dangerous tandem that was approaching a collective 2,000 yards gained. At least the defense was a little more stable, with defensive ends Jimmy Williams and Tony Felici, tackle Henry Waechter, linebacker Steve Damkroger, the team's leading tackler, and safety Jeff Krejci.
The Sooners received the opening kickoff and began from its own 20. From there, it looked like a familiar script when they marched 80 yards down the field in six plays, capped by Buster Rhymes 20-yard touchdown run. Michael Keeling kicked the extra point, and the Sooners were up 7-0.
After a 38-yard Eddie Neil field goal cut the lead to four, Oklahoma was moving again, but was stopped when they lost a fumble. From this point until halftime, it was all Nebraska, as they scored touchdowns on each of their next three possessions. First came a 19-yard run by Craig, which sent him over 1,000 yards for the season, and then early in the second period fullback Phil Bates rambled across from 16 yards out, and then it was Mauer who fired a six-yard pass to tight end Mitch Krenk, and with kicker Kevin Seibel's successful extra points on each, the Huskers enjoyed a commanding 24-7 lead at intermission.
Oklahoma was able to cut the lead to ten points when senior quarterback Darryl Shepard, who came into the game off four straight 100-yard rushing performances, scored from a yard out, but again, it was all Nebraska from here. Neil kicked a 37-yard field goal and Bates went across from two yards out, and then in the fourth, Neil's 24-yard field goal closed the scoring. The Huskers had erased years of frustration with a convincing 37-14 win on the Sooners' home turf. It gave Nebraska their first outright Big Eight title in nine years, and it sent them to the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Much maligned early in the season, Mauer had completed 11 of 16 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, and he directed a Husker offense that racked up 462 total yards and out-rushed the vaunted Oklahoma wishbone for the second straight year, 314-277. Rozier gained 105 yards and Craig was right behind with 102.
Among the few bright spots for Oklahoma was Stanley Wilson, who carried 21 times for a 164 yards, the fourth-best Sooners rushing mark against Nebraska in the long series, and allowing him to go over 1,000 yards for the season. Now, the Sooners have one game remaining against Oklahoma State and if then a probably date in the Sun Bowl.
Source: Jeff Linkowski