|MITCHELL SIMON 1919-2014 | WAYMON CLARK
November 24, 1995
For first year Oklahoma coach Howard Schnellenberger, brought in to return the program to prominence, it was a season that had begun with such promise, with three opening wins in a row and then a 4-1 record, but had just as quickly gone sour. Since, they had won only once, and had lost three of their last four, including their two most recent landmark games. The Sooners followed a 49-10 loss at Kansas Sate, suffering their worst defeat in 50 years, with a 12-0 loss to Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, which represented the Cowboys' first win in 19 years, but was also the first time in a dozen years that the Sooners had been shutout, ending a streak of scoring in 141 consecutive games, and it also marked the first time they had lost three home games in a season in 30 years. Now, as if things could not get any worse, Oklahoma traveled to Lincoln to face their fourth different team ranked among the top ten, all members of the tough Big Eight conference, but this one was the toughest yet, as Nebraska was the #1 team in the country.
Schnellenberger brought with him a team in disarray that had not scored in six straight quarters. He had begun the season with redshirt freshman quarterback Eric Moore as the starter, but his inconsistent play forced a fall back to incumbent senior Garrick McGee, who did not do much better, as both had tossed more interceptions than touchdowns. But there were a few bright spots, namely junior tailback Jerald Moore, who entered the game just 38 yards shy of the school's first 1,000-yard rushing season in eight years, and defensive end Cedric Jones, the school's all-time sack leader, a likely All-American, and projected high first round pick in the next NFL draft.
Waiting, coach Tom Osborne's 23rd Husker team was probably his best and most talented. After finally shedding the career burden of winning a national title in '94, Nebraska had handled the added pressure of being the defending champions, and, already considered one of the best teams in the history of college football, they were looking to solidify the claim. The undefeated Huskers (10-0) came in riding a school-record 23-game winning streak, and was only two games away from becoming only the eighth repeat champ since the Associated Press began its rankings in 1936. Along the way came a few bumps in the road, but in Lincoln, they just seemed to reload from a talented pool of players.
They began the '95 season ranked #2 behind Florida State, and then started to pummel opponents. The closest any team came to them was 14 points, but even that was deceptive, as Nebraska overcame a 7-0 first quarter deficit to Washington State in their fifth game, scored 20 points in the second quarter, and led 28-7 after three, leaving the final 35-21 outcome not to be doubted, the only game the Huskers were held under 40 points. After back-to-back victories against #8 Kansas State (49-25) and #7 Colorado (44-21), the Huskers regained the #1 ranking from the undefeated Seminoles at the end of October. Also on the Nebraska resume was that they had beaten three teams ranked in the top ten at the time, each by at least 23 points, the same three schools that had each beaten the Sooners.
But it was the final game of the soon-to-be-defunct Big Eight against Oklahoma standing between the Huskers and a third consecutive undefeated regular season, a fifth consecutive conference title, and a berth in college football's new Bowl Alliance national championship game. That arrangement guaranteed a #1 vs. #2 game as long as those two teams didn't belong to the PAC-10 or Big Ten, whose conference winners were obligated to the Rose Bowl.
The Huskers' offense led the nation in both rushing and scoring, averaging more than 53 points per game and topping 70 against both Arizona State and Iowa State, and was second in total offense. It was a collection that was even more productive than that of the famed "Scoring Explosion" team of '83, incidentally the last time Osborne had squared off against Schnellenberger was when the latter was with Miami and the Huskers lost the epic Orange Bowl battle and the national title.
Directing the offense was senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Tommie Frazier, who had broken the Nebraska career record for total offense and touchdowns produced, and whose four-year record of 31-3 as a starter established him among the best quarterbacks in the school's rich history. His leadership relegated Brook Berringer to the bench, who had stepped in when Frazier battled blood cots during the '94 title season, an unselfish player who accepted his role without complaint and contributed where needed.
In addition, newcomer Ahman Green, who began fall camp down the list on the depth chart, became the starting I-back and broke the school rushing record for a freshman. He gained 1,042 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. It helped relieve the burden by the loss of junior Lawrence Phillips, the Huskers leading ground gainer a year earlier with over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, who recently returned to the team after a brush with the law. In fact, the Huskers had five I-backs capable of starting for most teams in the country, and the best offensive line in the land, and leading the way up front was center Aaron Graham, who appeared headed to first-team All-America honors.
Nebraska also had a bunch of talent among their "Blackshirt" defense, which was permitting an average of 15 points per game. Among the stars were tackle Christian Peter, rush end Grant Wistrom, outside linebacker Jared Tomich, who also appeared as a likely All-American, cornerback Tyrone Williams, and safety Tony Veland.
Simply put, this team had no weakness with an unstoppable offense, an immovable defense, excellent kicking game, over-achieving special teams, great unity and chemistry, and outstanding coaching. It was a group that would likely help stock many NFL rosters in the future, and collectively, it was an overwhelming sight for Schnellenberger and Oklahoma.
Nebraska took the game's opening drive for a 31-yard field goal by freshman Kris Brown, and grabbed a quick 3-0 lead. The Blackshirts wasted little time in flexing their muscles as linebacker Jamel Williams grabbed an errant pass from Eric Moore and sprinted 36 yards for a touchdown. In the second period, another Brown field goal, from 27 yards out, gave Nebraska a 13-0 lead at intermission.
The Husker defense started the second half with the same tenacity they had displayed in the first. Midway through the third quarter, Veland scooped up a Sooner fumble and ran for pay dirt with a 57-yard scoring jaunt. After Brown's extra point, the home team enjoyed a 20-0 advantage, and heading into the final 15 minutes, there was little worry among the red clad faithful at Memorial Stadium.
Oddly enough, Nebraska's offense, which kept plugging away, waited until the fourth period before scoring their first touchdowns. First, Frazier connected with Jon Vedral on a 38-yard scoring toss early in the period. Then, in the game's final minute, freshman fullback Joel Makovicka pounded through a pack of Oklahoma defenders for a 17-yard touchdown run, the final nail in a 37-0 whitewash.
The Huskers struggled at times offensively, but still managed to grind out 271 rushing yards and another 136 in the air, for a total of 407. Phillips led all ball carriers with 73 yards on 15 carries, while Frazier rushed for just 35 yards and completing 12 of 25 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in his final bid to impress Heisman Trophy voters. Nebraska's special teams contributed 225 return yards to the cause, while the Blackshirt defense not only stymied the Oklahoma offense, but it scored a pair of touchdowns of its own.
But there was no doubt that the Sooners came out of this game as big believers in the Nebraska's ability. They managed just 241 total yards on the afternoon, and only 51 yards rushing, and leading the way was Jerald Moore, whose 39 yards gave him 1,001 for the season. Meanwhile, in suffering their second shutout in a row, and blanked in consecutive games for the first time in 30 years dating back to early October of '65, Oklahoma had their string of consecutive non-losing seasons stopped at 29, the seventh longest in NCAA history.
"They're a very good football team," Schnellenberger said. "When they put the pressure on, they do quite well."
It was a historic win for Nebraska. For the first time since 1942, the Huskers' defense completely shut down the Oklahoma Sooners and orchestrated a shut out victory over their longtime nemesis. It was Nebraska's largest margin of victory in 74 years, since a 44-0 shutout in '21. It was also the Huskers' fifth straight win in the series, their longest streak since they won their sixth in a row in '36. And finally, Nebraska extended their winning streak to 24 straight games, in addition to 36 straight regular season victories, not to mention 23 conference wins in a row and 30 straight at home.
The celebration afterwards was short, however, a significant sign that Nebraska is operating on its own playing field these days. Beating Oklahoma was no longer the top priority of the season, among the players and the fans. Being #1 was. Even the goal posts withstood the showdown.
"It's kind of interesting. I can remember a few times when we'd gone through the Big Eight undefeated and there was really a huge amount of emotion and everybody was excited," Osborne said. "They're certainly not real quiet down there (in the locker room), but on the other hand it's kind of like something they expected they would do. I think the real focus now is certainly the whole ball of wax."
That opportunity awaited the Huskers in the Fiesta Bowl. A battle of unbeaten teams would be on display in Tempe if #3 Florida closed out their schedule with wins over #6 Florida State and then #23 Arkansas in the SEC championship game. The only complication comes from #2 Ohio State (11-0), which could saunter unbeaten into the Rose Bowl by beating Michigan in their final regular season game, which could cause a stir.
Source: Jeff Linkowski