November 23, 1985
While jogging one morning in February of '85, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne felt winded, and it was a new and frightening sensation. Medical tests showed a 90% blockage of an artery in his heart, by-pass surgery was indicated and the very next day, Osborne was on the operating table. During the procedure doctors discovered a second artery needed to be replaced. The media joked that once again, Osborne needed only one but went for two, an obvious reference to the Huskers' heart-breaking '84 Orange Bowl loss to Miami, costing him an elusive national title.
During the weeks of recovery, Osborne reflected on his situation and considered his life-style, having always pushed himself hard, maybe too hard. In his 23 years he'd never missed a day of coaching or practice due to illness, now, suddenly, his entire self-image had changed. He wondered about his future and how to best serve God, and decided the best way to be of service was to keep coaching.
To open the '85 season, Osborne and Nebraska had been ranked #10, but they were upset in the first game by #17 Florida State, 17-13. The loss provided the necessary focus, and the Huskers proceeded to win their next nine games in a row, most pretty impressively, and steadily climbed back up the polls. There was only one remaining hurdle for second-ranked Nebraska (9-1) that stood in the way of a Big Eight title and Orange Bowl date, where a national championship would be decided against top-ranked Penn State, who was playing rival Pittsburgh in their finale.
So, for their final regular season game, Osborne brought his team to Norman for their annual rivalry against fifth-ranked Oklahoma (7-1), whose lone loss was 27-14 against then unranked Miami in their fourth game. But the Sooners represented a huge obstacle, and they boasted the best defense in the land led by senior nose tackle Tony Casillas, senior end Kevin Murphy and sophomore linebacker Brian Bosworth. In 13 previous meetings, Nebraska had won only four.
Nebraska had the nation's highest scoring offense and was also leading the nation in rushing at 395 yards per game. It was led by quarterback McCathorn Clayton, Tom Rathman, one of the best fullbacks in Husker history who had rushed for over 800 yards, and junior I-back Doug DuBose, whose 1,115 rushing yards was his second straight year over 1,000. Leading tackler for the second straight year and junior linebacker Marc Munford, tackle Jim Skow, and defensive back Brian Washington led their defense.
In front of 75,004, the home team struck quickly. On their second possession of the game, Oklahoma was faced with a second down-and-six at its 12, and they ran a play called "Tight End Reverse Right". Freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway, starting just his fifth game and in charge of a wishbone that was the #3 rushing offense in the country, optioned to the left and gave a reverse handoff to big sophomore tight end Keith Jackson, six foot-three inch and 241-pounds, for his first collegiate carry. He cut the corner and raced untouched down the right sideline 88 yards for a touchdown, the sixth longest run in school history. Junior Tim Lashar kicked the extra point, and the Sooners were up, 7-0.
In the second quarter, Nebraska reached into their bag of tricks. They executed a perfect double reverse, as Clayton flipped to DuBose for the right, but he handed the ball to wingback Van Sheppard who carried it 52 yards before being brought down inside the Sooner ten. But the Oklahoma defense, led by senior nose tackle Tony Casillas and sophomore linebacker Brian Bosworth, wasn't willing to give up those last six yards, or any yard for that matter in three plays, and after sophomore kicker Dale Klein missed a 23-yard field goal attempt, the Huskers were still not on the board. More than nine minutes remained in the half, but the writing was on the wall.
Later in the period, and the next time Oklahoma got the ball, Holieway found Jackson for a 38-yard pass completion to the Nebraska 46. Three plays later, Holieway went wide right on a keeper and scampered 43 yards for a touchdown, and Lashar's kick put the home team ahead, 14-0, not even nine minutes into the game. From this point, it was a defensive struggle.
But late in the second quarter, Oklahoma went back to the tight end reverse, and Jackson gained 29 yards across midfield and down to the Nebraska 26. The drive sputtered, but Lashar came on to boot a field goal that increased the lead to 17-0. That was the way the teams went into the locker room.
In the third, after another Lashar field goal had increased it to a 20-0 lead, Oklahoma once again went back to their tight end reverse. This time, Jackson pulled up on a play designed to be a pass, faked as if he was going to, and then took off for a 19-yard gain. Six plays later, and the ball at the Nebraska 17, Holieway ran around the left side and with nothing but daylight in front of him, he show-boated his way into the end zone for a touchdown. The Sooners were now up, 27-0, and even though the game was not in doubt, the score was.
As the game headed into the final minute, the Sooners had rushed for 423 yards against a Husker defense that had not given up more than 157 yards rushing in any of the first 10 games. They were also close to posting their first shutout of Nebraska in 12 years, coincidentally also the last time they head been blanked and the only time that Osborne had been as a head coach, a span covering 146 games. But the Husker defense got some measure of redemption when freshman quarterback Eric Mitchel handed off up the middle and defensive tackle Chris Spachman intercepted a Sooner fumble out of the air and rambled 63 yards down the left sideline with only 26 seconds left. It was merely window-dressing, as the Sooners recorded a 27-7 victory.
The Oklahoma defense was devastating, holding the nation's highest scoring offense without a point, as Bosworth had nine tackles, Murphy sacked the quarterback twice, including the stopper on one of the goal line stands, Casillas was all over the Nebraska backfield. They also held the runners to just 161 yards on 42 carries, led by Sheppard's 65 yards and with DuBose gaining only 46 on 16 carries. It was the second straight year that the Sooners had held the Huskers to just a touchdown, the first time they had done the feat in back-to-back games in 27 years.
Oklahoma's offense had taken control early. Holieway was spectacular, directing the wishbone as if he had a much more experienced hand. He was virtually flawless as he faked on some key end-around plays, rushed for 110 yards on 25 carries, and scored a pair of touchdowns. For his part, Jackson ran for 136 yards on just three carries and scored once. Together they accounted for 246 yards on the ground, representing more than half the team's 461 total yards, also marking the first time in 11 years that two Sooners had crossed the century mark in rushing yards against the Huskers since a trio had done it.
Regarding the tight end reverses, Switzer said, "We put those plays in this week because of Nebraska's defense. The way they set up their defense, it leaves a short corner on the reverse. We had a pass off that series, but Keith Jackson decided to show us his scrambling ability."
"We just got a good kicking," Osborne said. "We knew before we came down here they were a great football team, and I saw nothing today to change my mind. They are probably the best team in the country right now. They have as good a defense, I think, as they ever had, and that includes back when the Selmons were playing. Their speed on offense is outstanding."
Oklahoma was assured of the Big Eight title, when it was learned that Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State, 15-10. The Sooners had every reason to celebrate, for after the game they were handed an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl, but they acted like a team with few guarantees, and still had games against Oklahoma State and SMU remaining.
"Something had to give today," said Bosworth afterwards. "We took the fight to them. Right now, we got to worry about Oklahoma State. I'm not going to worry about (playing in) Miami until after the SMU game. We have two big games, and if we want to play for the national championship we have to win two big games."
Switzer added, "We've got to tend to our business and win the next two weeks. The Orange Bowl is not a No. 1 and No. 2 situation as it would have been if Nebraska had own today." Judging form their performance, Penn State appeared to be the only team that Oklahoma should worry about.
"Oh, I think so," said Osborne when asked if the Sooners could beat the Nittany Lions. "If they play the way they're playing now. Of course, if Penn State wins, that changes everything. But that's going to be hard for them to do, I think."
Source: Jeff Linkowski