November 17, 1984
In Lincoln, for the first time in 31 years, Oklahoma would be playing another #1 team during the same year, and it came in the form of rival Nebraska (9-1). The Huskers were riding a 27-game conference winning streak, having last lost to Oklahoma in '80. They also entered the game with the nation's top overall defense in total offense and scoring, permitting just 8.8 points per game.
Before '83, Nebraska's Tom Osborne was a good coach, a good man, and leading a good program. But the 31-30 loss to Miami in the '84 Orange Bowl loss to Miami showed a man of integrity. It was that one game, that one decision to go for two points and the win to cap his team's comeback instead of an extra point and the tie, virtually assuring a national championship, that had almost instantly made him a legend of the fall. Despite the disappointment, and amid the ongoing rumors that Osborne could not win the big one, he had become a symbol for doing things the right way.
Entering the '84 season, Nebraska had suffered several key losses to graduation from their record-setting "Scoring Explosion" offense, including some highly coveted talent. They were wide receiver Irving Fryar and Outland and Lombardi winning guard Dean Steinkuhler, the first two picks in the NFL draft, matching Michigan State's feat of 17 years earlier, and Heisman running back Mike Rozier, who was the top pick in the competing USFL draft and had signed, leaving him unavailable for the NFL's regular process, where he was chosen #2 in their supplemental draft. Also gone was their successful triggerman, quarterback Turner Gill. Despite the losses, the Huskers had been the top team for three weeks in early September, before being upset by Syracuse, but had bounced back to capture at least a share of the conference crown, and had most recently regained the top ranking after Washington lost.
In fact, Nebraska was a bona fide football factory, and had been 33-3 over the past three years, easily the best mark in college football during that span. In the Seventies, it was Oklahoma that always factored into the national championship picture, either playing for one or just missing one, and had captured all those Big Eight titles. Now, the balance had shifted, and it was Nebraska that had claimed three straight conference titles and regularly appeared on the cusp of an elusive national crown.
With a little different luck, the Huskers could quite possibly have claimed not one, but two, national titles in the preceding two seasons, for two of their losses came in close games to the respective eventual national champions, the '82 controversial "moving sideline" during a 27-24 loss at Penn State and the gutsy Miami loss. That did not even count the '81 season, in which a complicated scenario of possible outcomes in the '82 New Years Day bowl games could have actually propelled twice-beaten and #4 Nebraska to an improbable title, but #1 Clemson fought back to win, 22-15. Now, a win over Oklahoma would send Nebraska, riding a 27-game Big Eight winning streak, to their second straight national championship game, and a tie would also send them to the Orange Bowl to represent the conference.
Meanwhile, it was crystal clear for Oklahoma. Barry Switzer's sixth-ranked Sooners (7-1-1) needed a victory to continue officially signaling their return to national prominence after an uncharacteristic three straight four-loss seasons. In the previous 64 games played in the rivalry, Oklahoma owned a 34-27-3 edge, but they came into the game having lost three in a row to Nebraska.
Oklahoma featured quarterback Danny Bradley, freshman fullback Lydell Carr, halfbacks Spencer Tillman, Jerome Ledbetter, and Steve Sewell, and split ends Derrick Shepard and Buster Rhymes. Brash freshman linebacker Brian Bosworth, tackle Tony Casillas, end Darrell Reed, and linebacker Paul Migliazzo led their defense. While Nebraska stars included bruising fullback Tom Rathman, and halfbacks Doug DuBose and Jeff Smith.
In the first quarter, Nebraska junior quarterback Travis Turner fumbled a snap and Oklahoma recovered deep in Husker territory. It took only seven plays, and Bradley did the honors by sneaking up the middle from the one to put the Sooners up 7-0 with 9:03 left. Nebraska tied the game in the second quarter with an 84-yard march, including backup quarterback Craig Sundberg's 38-yard strike that put the ball on the Oklahoma two, and then was capped by Smith's one-yard leap. Nebraska kicker Dale Klein, a sophomore who had made four of six field goal attempts on the season, was short on a 49-yarder late in the period, and the two teams went into the locker room tied, 7-7.
Both strong defenses dominated play, as a scoreless third quarter followed, although Klein blew another chance to put the Huskers ahead when his 23-yard field goal attempt with the wind at his back early in the third period hit the left upright.
Oklahoma's Bradley connected on a crossing pattern with Rhymes that was good for a 31-yard gain and moved the ball to the Nebraska 40. A few plays later, Bradley's 26-yard dash put the offense on the 12-yard line. They could not moved much further, so on fourth down, Tim Lashar kicked a 32-yard field goal on the second play of the final period to give the Sooners the lead, 10-7.
Oklahoma's young defense continued to confound Nebraska, shutting them down the rest of the way, and bending but not breaking. Included were four consecutive plays inside the Sooners' five-yard line, which was followed by Bradley's 60-yard scamper to give Oklahoma breathing room.
However, starting at their 11 with nine minutes to go, Nebraska marched right back down the field, getting to a third down play at the Oklahoma two. Senior fullback Scott Porter was stopped just inches short of the goal line by linebacker Dante Jones and tackle Richard Reed, and Nebraska was faced with a crucial fourth down decision. With his team inches from the goal line and the outcome of another football season at stake, the fortunes of the Huskers again awaited a choice from Osborne. It was complicated by three missed field goals from his kickers, and given that uncertainty, combined with an offense that had out-gained the Sooners 373 yards to 201, the coach passed up the 18-yard attempt for a tie.
He called for a "49 pitch", a quick pitchout that would go to the left and allow Smith to choose an opening anywhere from the guard to the tight end. Unfortunately, Oklahoma senior cornerback Brian Hall avoided a block and forced a one-on-one confrontation with Smith as he was making a lateral move, and the Sooner dropped him for a small loss, and with just 5:32 to play, the Sooners took over. It was the second time that the defense had stuffed the Huskers in the shadows of their own goal posts, but more importantly, it was the second time in 11 months that Osborne had forsaken a tie, which again would have put his team in position to maintain a top ranking.
The three offensive plays gained only about five yards, and Oklahoma was forced to punt the ball away with about four minutes remaining. It was a dandy 57-yard bomb that was fielded by Smith at the Nebraska 38, and as he started to run up field, Oklahoma freshman Richard Dillon stripped the ball loose at the 41 and teammate Jeff Hake recovered at the 43. With time running out, Bradley optioned to the right and kept it up the seam, racing 29 yards for a touchdown with 56 seconds left, the final touches on a 17-7 Sooners' win.
It was the first time in a decade that Oklahoma had held the Huskers to a lone touchdown, and it was the Sooners' first win against a top-ranked team in 21 years, encompassing nine games. It snapped a four-game losing streak to the Huskers, and also ended Nebraska's 21-game home winning streak, and a 27-game Big Eight winning streak.
"You saw something you don't see maybe once in a lifetime," said Switzer afterwards. "They put that thing down there twice and said 'Stop us'. We stopped the number one team in the nation twice."
Nebraska had the better of it in almost every statistical category except the final score. The Huskers had 19 first downs to Oklahoma's nine, and out gained the Sooners 373 yards to 201.
Osborne called it "probably as disappointing a loss as we've had", and that statement was less than a year after his still talked about two-point conversion gamble failed in the previous Orange Bowl, costing the Huskers the national championship. "Offensively, we made too many mistakes and we missed too many scoring opportunities. On the fourth down play, we thought they would stack the middle up and would open the pitch. I don't know where we broke down. We just didn't sustain the line of scrimmage. I don't think I did a very good job of getting us into the end zone." Continuing his discussion, "If it had been a couple of yards, we would have kicked a field goal. There was enough time left, and with a foot to go, we thought we could score."
Source: Jeff Linkowski