November 25, 1994
Throw all the records out of the window, for it was time for the annual Nebraska-Oklahoma game. Even though the Huskers were undefeated and ranked #1, and the Sooners were coming into the game with four losses for the first time in 29 years, it was a rivalry game.
Nebraska didn't need a wake-up call against winless Iowa State in their previous game to get ready to play Oklahoma in the regular-season finale. And 22-year head coach Tom Osborne had said that his team knew what was on the line. "I don't think we're going to have any problem there, either. I think people are going to be very focused on this game. Oklahoma has good athletes, they have a decent record. It will be similar situation that we faced at Iowa State in terms of playing their last home game, their seniors' final game, their chance to turn a disappointing season into a good season, their chance to go to a decent bowl game. Oklahoma has a lot to play for and we have a lot to play for."
With Huskers' starting junior quarterback Tommie Frazier on the sidelines for most of the season with a recurring blood clot in his knee, having not played since late September, second-string junior Brook Berringer had stepped in and led the team to an undefeated season, and included was a key Big Eight showdown at the end of October. In that game, then #3 Nebraska had beaten then #2 Colorado 24-7, as perhaps the Buffaloes best team ever went into Homecoming Weekend in Lincoln with high hopes and left with visions of Nebraska defenders dancing in their heads, and on the ruins of their national championship dreams, as the "Blackshirts" shut down their dangerous trio of quarterback Kordell Stewart, Heisman candidate running back Rashaan Salaam and all-American candidate wide out Michael Westbrook. That convincing victory propelled the Huskers to #1 in the polls, displacing Penn State, even though the Nittany Lions had not lost.
Now, Nebraska (11-0, 6-0 in the Big 8) traveled to Norman to face their arch-nemesis, who represented the final hurdle before a National Championship bowl game. They already had clinched at least a share of the Big Eight title for a fourth straight year, but conference officials had said if they lost to the Sooners (6-4, 4-2), and since #6 Colorado pounded Iowa State a week after the Husker game, they would determine its representative in the Orange Bowl.
Osborne had only won nine of 22 previous games against the Sooners, with one of those losses a disappointing Orange Bowl rematch following the '78 season. Nebraska already owned three straight wins over Oklahoma, and that equaled Osborne's longest string of victories in the 82-year rivalry, as his teams had also beat the Sooners from '81-'83. But Oklahoma also stood in the way of Osborne's third unbeaten regular season in Lincoln, the other two coming in '83 and '93, with each capped by a disappointing one-point loss for a national title, including an 18-17 heartbreaker to Florida State in the Orange Bowl last season, and five times Oklahoma had handed the Huskers their first regular-season loss, with former coach Barry Switzer inflicting the last three against Osborne ('75, '79 and '87).
Nowadays, they were clearly two programs going in opposite directions. It marked the first time sixth-year Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs would square off against the number one team in the nation, and the fifth time that the #1 team had visited Norman, with the Sooners owning an 0-4 mark. It would be the fourth time that Gibbs would bring Oklahoma into the Nebraska game as an unranked team, an unacceptable track record at the tradition-laden university, and it marked the first time in seven years that the Huskers entered the game ranked #1.
As if preparing for Nebraska wasn't enough, Oklahoma's players had even more on their minds in the week leading up to the game, the resignation of their coach. Under pressure, Gibbs had said on the Monday that he was stepping down effective at the end of the season. The news stunned a team that one week earlier had been told by Gibbs that he had no plans to resign.
"As a captain, I've got to make sure the team stays focused on what is at hand," junior quarterback Garrick McGee had said. "It's not just a game, it's Nebraska, the Number One team in the country. It's going to be tough." And safety Anthony Fogle put it this way, "I don't want to get embarrassed against Nebraska."
That wasn't out of the question, for a Colorado team that Nebraska dominated had manhandled Oklahoma, 45-7, back on October 15th. The Huskers led the country in rushing, averaging 358 yards per game, were fourth in total offense with 494 yards per game, and third in scoring with 38.4 points per game. They always seemed to throw a quick runner behind a big offensive line, and that had not changed, as sophomore I-back Lawrence Phillips was the second leading rusher in the conference with an average of 152 yards per game, and whose 1,672 yards and 16 touchdowns were both the second most in school history.
On the other side of the ball, the Blackshirts were just as intimidating, ranking fourth in rushing defense and seventh in total defense, while permitting 12.9 points per game. All-American Ed Stewart, one of three finalists for the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, led it, and he got a lot of help from tackle Terry Connealy, Donta Jones, Kareem Moss and Barron Miles.
Meanwhile, the Sooners' offense had lacked direction and consistency, using a variety of formations, and even reaching into their past to dabble with the wishbone for a stretch, but had been plagued repeatedly by penalties and turnovers. The return of fullback Jerald Moore figured to give Oklahoma at least a chance to run straight at the Huskers, and allowed him to team with tailback James Allen, nicknamed "Thunder and Lightning".
But the most consistent part of the Sooners had been the defense, which was Gibbs' specialty. Led by all-conference lineman Cedric Jones, they had improved throughout the season, and came into the game ranked second in the Big Eight to Nebraska in total defense. And a year earlier, Oklahoma had held the Huskers to just 179 total yards and 122 on the ground during a 21-7 loss.
Gibbs liked the match up, but also knew it would be anything but easy. "We've got to defend seven different formation groupings. If you don't match up with their different groupings, they get an edge on you in a hurry. And once they get an edge on you, it really becomes a downhill slide from there."
The high-powered Husker offense found things tough in the first quarter, as an inspired Oklahoma defense was playing the best it had all year, and Nebraska was hurt by the early inconsistency of Berringer. Early in the game, they attempted a fake field goal on a fourth down-and 11 from the Oklahoma 28, but Matt Turman came up two yards short, and they turned the ball over to the Sooners. But they were not faring much better, as the opening period ended scoreless.
The Sooners had gained only 15 yards in the first quarter, but they began to move the ball on their initial possession of the next period. They drove from their own 20 all the way to the Nebraska 16, but an illegal procedure penalty pushed them back, and they were to take advantage of the deep penetration when Barron Miles blocked a 33-yard field goal try by Scott Blanton.
Later in the quarter, Nebraska, held without a first down in the first quarter, finally moved to the Sooner 22. From there, a reverse play lost seven yards, and then Berringer was sacked on a third-and-15. It resulted in a 46-yard field goal by Darin Erstad, and the Huskers were on the board, 3-0.
Both teams continued to play great defense, and then Oklahoma had a good opportunity when they started at the Nebraska 39 late in the half. But the Blackshirts held reasonably firm, and the Sooners had to settle for Blanton's 25-yard field goal, which tied the game at 3-3.
That is how both teams went into the locker room. Nebraska had gained just 63 yards in the half, and had not made a first down until the second quarter. Oklahoma fared a little better, gaining 122 yards in the half, but the defensive struggle resulted in a stalemate.
On the opening drive of the second half, Nebraska started at their 19 and drove down the field. They capped the march when Tom Sieler booted a 26-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead, 6-3. From there, it was all the Blackshirts, and they dominated, but it was still a 6-3 game heading into the final period.
The game's only touchdown began at the Nebraska 18 and then came early in the fourth quarter when Abdul Muhammad caught a 44-yard pass, which set up Berringer's one-yard sneak, to cap an 82-yard drive. Seiler's extra point made it 13-3, and then the Husker defense, which had permitted Oklahoma just 52 yards and four first downs in the third quarter, completely suffocated them.
The Sooners were unable to mount a positive yardage drive in the fourth period and could muster minus-five yards the rest of the way, as the Blackshirts were carrying the load. And with the game well in hand, and owning just a 17 first place vote lead over Penn State, and 19-point lead in the poll, the Huskers threatened again in the final minute, but Berringer's pass was intercepted in the end zone. It was a 13-3 victory, and it gave Nebraska their fourth 12-win season in history.
For their part, Oklahoma had turned in their best defensive effort of the year in Gibbs' last regular-season game as coach, expected to go to the Copper Bowl, holding the vaunted Nebraska offense to 302 total yards and 136 on the ground. But the Sooners' offense had no success, and up against the tough Husker defense, they managed just 179 total yards, with only 108 coming via the rush.
Source: Jeff Linkowski