|MITCHELL SIMON 1919-2014 | WAYMON CLARK
November 26, 1982
The Sooners visited Lincoln, and it had all the markings of the usual Oklahoma-Nebraska match up with an Orange Bowl bid on the line. Barry Switzer's Sooners (8-2) came in ranked 11th, riding seven wins in a row, and the Huskers (9-1) entered the game ranked third, their only loss coming 27-24 at then #8, and now #2, Penn State on consecutive last second and controversial catches, and. In ten previous meetings, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had only come out victorious twice, but the second had come a year earlier.
Oklahoma's offense was under the direction of quarterback Kelly Phelps, whose backfield was full with Stanley Wilson, Steve Sewell and Chet Winters. But the best of them all was freshman sensation Marcus Dupree, whose 154-yard performance against Kansas had finally earned him the starting job in the seventh game against Oklahoma State, and he was coming in off a 118-yard game against Kansas State and his best effort yet, a 168-yard effort in their last game against Missouri. Overall, it was a unit that ranked second in the nation in rushing. The defense was led by end Kevin Murphy, tackles John Blake and Rick Bryan, linebackers Thomas Benson and Jackie Shipp, and back Keith Stanberry.
Nebraska countered with an offense that for the first time in school history was leading the nation in scoring, averaging 43 points per game. They also led in total offense with over 500 yards per game, paced by their potent rushing attack, which was averaging close to 400 yards per game. Senior center Dave Rimington, an All-American and Outland Trophy winner in '81 and again the favorite for both honors and the Lombardi Trophy, in addition to being the reigning Big Eight Player of the Year from '81, was the main horse on the dominating offensive line that blew open holes for the backs. Another superb blocker up front was right next to him, guard Dean Steinkuhler.
But it was three juniors at skill positions that were the stars. Mike Rozier was a dangerous back who was the Big Eight's "Offensive Newcomer of the Year" and first-team all-conference in '81 after rushing for 943 yards, and he was so talented that Osborne had moved last year's rushing leader, versatile 1,060-yard senior Roger Craig, to fullback. With that combination, Rozier had rushed for 1,480 yards and ranked third in the country in rushing. Wide receiver Irving Fryar was one of the fastest players in the country, but the triggerman in this high-powered offense was quarterback Turner Gill, who a few years earlier had picked Nebraska over Oklahoma.
In the Seventies, mobile quarterbacks, like the ones used by Alabama and in Oklahoma's wishbone-option attack, had become the driving forces behind national championship offenses. Osborne began to feel that a heavy emphasis on the passing game wasn't going to get the Huskers where they wanted to be, so in '80 he switched Nebraska's offensive philosophy from a pro-style passing attack to the triple option. Needing a general who could pass, pitch, and, most importantly, run with the football, Osborne found his man in Fort Worth, TX, where Gill was an option quarterback being heavily recruited by Switzer for his wishbone attack.
Many 'experts' had already assumed that Gill would naturally accept the Sooners' offer and follow in the successful footsteps of past black Oklahoma quarterbacks Thomas Lott and J.C. Watts. Nebraska, who had never had a starting black quarterback, was considered an outside contender for Gill, and it was insinuated by opposing recruiters that the Huskers would move him to another position, but Osborne insisted to Gill that his color would have no bearing on either his position or playing time. In fact, Switzer was so confident that Gill was bound for Norman, that he did not travel to Fort Worth, instead the school's baseball coach was sent to obtain his signature on a letter of intent, but Gill stunned the pundits and signed with Osborne to play in Lincoln.
In front of a crowd of 76,398, Oklahoma held Nebraska on its opening drive and forced a punt, however, it was fumbled, and the Huskers recovered on the Sooners' 44-yard line. Nebraska drove down the field, converting a fourth down-and-one from the 25, before moving closer and being presented with another fourth-and-one at the nine. They again converted, and then from the 14, Gill faked a handoff up the middle, rolled to the right like he was going to pass, and then tucked the ball away and went up the middle for a touchdown. With the extra point, it put the home team up 7-0 with 9:39 to go.
Oklahoma took the ensuing kickoff and marched down the field, going 65 yards in 12 plays. Dupree did the honors from two yards out, and after Michael Keeling added the point after, it was a 7-7 game at the 5:04 mark in the opening period. After a Craig fumble, the Sooners took a 10-7 lead on a 25-yard field goal by Keeling to go up 10-7 with 13:43 left in the second quarter.
On Nebraska' next possession after gaining a new set of downs, Osborne pulled out a trick play with the ball resting on their 48, the "Bounce Rooskie". Gill, who had yet to complete a pass in the game, took the snap and stepped back to throw a bounce pass to Fryar, and since the ball hit off the turf, some of the Sooners hesitated thinking it was an incomplete pass, but since Fryar was positioned slightly behind Gill near the left sideline and the ball went backwards from the 46 to the 45, it was considered a lateral and the ball was still live. Fryar did not have to decoy the defense, and he passed to tight end Mitch Krenk, who made a fingertip grab at the 25 and carried the ball to the Oklahoma fifteen, good for a 37-yard gain. A couple of plays later, back Doug Wilkening scored on a two-yard plunge up the middle to cap a seven-play, 78 yard drive to put the Huskers back on top 14-10.
Nebraska held Oklahoma on their next possession and took over at their own 38. Gill directed the offense down the field, and Wilkening scored again on a 15-yard burst through a hole up the middle to put the final touches on another seven-play drive, and Nebraska carried a 21-10 into halftime.
After intermission, and only the third play of the quarter, Dupree took a pitch to the left and cut back to elude an arm tackle by sophomore cornerback Dave Burke, and then galloped untouched down the left sideline 86 yards to pay dirt, closing the gap to 21-17. But the teams traded long touchdown drives. Nebraska took over on its own 20-yard line after a punt and drove down the field. Craig, filling in at I-back for the injured Rozier, who left with a sore ankle early in the quarter, scored from three yards out to push the score to 28-17. But Wilson's one-yard leap for Oklahoma made it a 28-24 game with just 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
It was a defensive struggle in the early stages of the final period, as Oklahoma's first two drives both ended the same way, when Phelps threw incomplete passes on fourth down-and-six plays. It also saw the two teams trade fumbles and the Nebraska Blackshirts stopped Oklahoma inside the 35-yard line twice. Still trailing by four late in the game, the Sooners got one final chance after a punt from their own 28-yard line with just 46 seconds left in the game.
On second down, Phelps tries a screen pass across the field, but third-team sophomore defensive end Scott Strasburger was playing as a linebacker in a special scheme, and he stepped into the hero's role by intercepting the ball and returning to the Oklahoma one-yard line with just 26 ticks left on the clock. The crowd stormed onto the field in a wild sea of red celebration, and after a long delay to clear the field and subsequent 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Huskers simply snapped the ball and Gill downed it to run out the clock, winning 28-24.
Nebraska's win meant more than the Big Eight title, a return trip to the Orange Bowl against LSU, and a chance at a possible national championship, it also proved that the Huskers could win the big one. It was only the third time that Osborne had gotten the best of Switzer.
"Everybody always says 'Oh, Gosh, its Oklahoma'," said Osborne. "Well, we don't get uptight about playing Oklahoma. It's the honest truth. I'm hoping people get over that syndrome."
He continued, "We didn't want to give up the long run but if you take that (Dupree run) away, then the defense played awfully well. The defense did a great jo stopping Oklahoma when it had to. Oklahoma has always been able to make the big plays when it had to but today it couldn't."
The recipe for victory was typical for Nebraska, who gained 409 yards in total offense, with 298 by way of rushing, in addition to each of their four touchdowns. Rozier ran for 96 yards on 15 carries to become Nebraska's second all-time leading rusher before leaving, and Wilkening gained 58 yards. Gill completed seven of 17 passes for 74 yards, and ran for an equal amount.
But it was also the Huskers' defense that was to be commended, who stopped the Sooners three times in the final period. "That's an area we have been deficient in," said Osborne referring to late in the game. "We didn't get the job done against Penn State in a similar situation, and in the past Oklahoma has beaten us with big plays in similar situations. This time they couldn't."
Meanwhile, Oklahoma gained 399 yards in total offense, with 284 coming on the ground. "Nebraska has a great offensive football team," said Switzer. "We played a great team very well." They had to settle for a Fiesta Bowl date opposite either Washington or Arizona State on New Year's Day.
Source: Jeff Linkowski