Oklahoma 42 – Arkansas 8
January 1, 1987 ▪ at Miami ▪ Attendance 52,717
Third-ranked Oklahoma (10-1) capped its third consecutive season as Big Eight champions with another trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl. Awaiting Oklahoma in the 53rd Orange Bowl would be ninth-ranked Arkansas, and revenge was on Switzer's mind. He had waited nine years, but he would finally get his chance to avenge a humiliating 31-6 loss in the '78 Orange Bowl, which cost the Sooners a national title.
Switzer was even instrumental in getting the Razorbacks into the game. The bowl's committee was also considering Penn State, who the Sooners had beaten a year earlier, along with another team, however, when the undefeated and top-ranked Nittany Lions went to the Fiesta Bowl to play #2 Miami for the national title, the coach of the defending national champs used some of his influence, and Arkansas was extended an invitation.
Third-year head coach Ken Hatfield had returned to his alma mater and guided the Razorbacks to an impressive 26-7-1 record. Included was the 9-2 record in '86 and a another second place finish in the Southwestern Conference that saw their first victory over Texas at Austin in 20 years and a 14-10 triumph over champ Texas A&M, however, it was the Aggies who went to the Cotton Bowl, denying the Razorbacks their first appearance in over a decade. Leading their offense was senior quarterback Greg Thomas, who could throw to a nifty pair of wide outs in Donnie Centers and standout James Shibest, an aerial attack that had only been intercepted twice during the season. The running game, among the nation's best averaging 247.4 yards per game, was paced by junior tailback James Rouse.
On the other side of the ball, the Arkansas defense ranked fifth in the nation in allowing only 12.9 points per game, and had shutout two opponents, Mississippi in their first game and SMU in their last. A trio of all-conference performers that included nose tackle Tony Cherico, cornerback Richard Brothers and safety Steve Atwater led it. The unit was among the best at creating turnovers, having averaged a 2.00 margin during the season with 12 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions. Their punting game was the best in the country, as Greg Home led with a 47.2 average.
Offensively, Oklahoma was #1 in the nation in both rushing, averaging 405 yards per game, and scoring, averaging 42 points per game, and ranked second in total offense (473.6 yards per game). Leading the charge was sophomore Jamelle Holieway, whose 811 yards on the ground allowed him to lead the team during the regular season for the second straight year. Despite his size, 5-9 and 180 pounds, his physical strength, which helped him break tackles, and his sense in knowing precisely when to pitch the ball or keep it in the Sooners' wishbone were his two greatest assets. He was a proven leader on the field, which had carried him to a career 18-1 record as a starter.
Helping him on offense were tailbacks Spencer Tillman and Anthony Stafford, and bruising fullback Lydell Carr. Up front, tight end Keith Jackson was a consensus All-American who caught 14 passes for 403 yards, and a school-record 28.8 yards per catch average, while guard Anthony Phillips was also named to various post-season teams. Tim Lashar, who set a school record with 60 straight extra point attempts, was named as the All-Big Eight kicker. And overall, they had outscored their opponents by 393 points, the second highest differential in school history behind the '56 national champions' 415.
But it was the prodigious defense that helped Oklahoma become only the sixth team in NCAA history to lead the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense, and the first in ten years, and it was a unit that made college football history. Since 1937, when the NCAA had started tracking statistics, never before had one team's defense led the nation in every major statistical category, until the '86 Sooners. They allowed averages per game of just 169.6 yards in total offense and 60.7 yards rushing, both school records, and had allowed 108.9 yards passing. In addition, they had permitted just 6.6 points per game, which was the lowest for the Sooners in 24 years. The defense had posted five shutouts during the season, and twice held others to a mere field goal, meaning that only four opponents had enough firepower to cross Oklahoma's goal line. Five members had been named to the All-Big Eight defensive team, tackle Steve Bryan, end Darrell Reed, and defensive backs David Vickers and Rickey Dixon.
However, they would be without the services of star Brian Bosworth, a Butkus Award winner for the second straight year as the nation's top linebacker and a two-time consensus All-American who had also finished fourth in the Heisman voting behind Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The Boz had recently tested positive for steroid use, and the NCAA had declared him ineligible, banning him from competing. Still, it was pretty easy to see why Oklahoma was an 18-point favorite entering the game.
In front of a crowd of only 57,291, well below the 73,000 capacity, the first quarter saw both teams fail to put any points on the board. But that would all soon change for Oklahoma as they intercepted a Thomas pass early in the second quarter. On the third play of the period, the Sooners began their offensive assault when Holieway moved to his right and made an acrobatic pitch to Tillman, who took the ball and dashed 77 yards down the Oklahoma sideline and into the end zone, the second longest touchdown run in Orange Bowl history.
After a second interception in as many possessions, only the third that Thomas had thrown all year, Oklahoma had the ball at the 46. Holieway needed nine plays to march the offense 54 yards, and Tillman again found his way into the end zone, this time from 21 yards out, putting the Sooners up 14-0 at the half. Holieway had only attempted one pass in the first half, but their ground attack proved to be more than enough behind Tillman, who rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns before the intermission.
To start the second half, Oklahoma's menacing defense sacked Thomas twice, forcing a three and out situation for the scoreless Hogs. On the Sooners' next possession, Holieway marched the team 44 yards in five plays down the field again, calling his own number to score form two yards out.
After another three and out series resulting in another Arkansas punt, Oklahoma seemed to run at will. Taking the ball goal-ward, featuring a 60-yard burst by Carr, on the third play, Holieway scored his second touchdown of the day from four yards out. With Oklahoma leading 28-0, the Razorbacks continued to self-destruct, and the exit's started to fill, as Thomas threw two more interceptions, although neither turnover resulted in a Sooner score.
As if the game was even in doubt, in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma continued the rout. Beginning a drive at their 41, they needed only a trio of plays to score again, as Stafford got loose for a 13-yard scoring run. Following yet another interception at the Sooner 47, another touchdown came when backup tight end Duncan Parham scored on a 49-yard end around, putting Oklahoma up, 42-0.
Arkansas did manage to dent the Sooner defense and avoid the first Orange Bowl shutout in 24 years by none other than Oklahoma. With 19 seconds left in the game, senior fullback Derrick Thomas scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. John Bland hit Shibest for the two-point conversion. But it was merely window-dressing, as the Sooners won convincingly, 42-8.
The Oklahoma defense limited Arkansas to 48 yards on the ground in 45 carries, and allowed 192 through the air, but picked off five passes and recovered a pair of fumbles. Linebacker Dante Jones was named the Most Valuable Lineman with nine unassisted tackles, an interception, and a pass broken up. "We are the best defensive team in college football," proclaimed Switzer. "Tonight, our defense was too quick and too fast to allow them to get in scoring position. And we dominated them in the second half, we had them going backwards on four series in the second half."
On offense, the Sooners gained 366 yards on the ground, led by Tillman's 109. Switzer also had his revenge, for it was Arkansas' worst setback in their 31-game bowl history. "Yeah, this was important to me, as important as any we've ever played," he said. "That 1978 loss was the most embarrassing defeat of my career. Yeah, I talked about that game to the team."
For the first time in 12 years, Oklahoma led the nation in scoring by averaging 42.4 points per game, and the 508 points scored were the most in Switzer's 14 years at the helm. Coincidentally, the 81 points allowed were also the least amount allowed in Switzer's tenure, and the 427-point differential broke the '56 Sooners' record for the largest in school history.
Source: Jeff Linkowski