Reggie Barnes addressed the issue afterward.
“When we hit the wet spot out of bounds, we just kept sliding,” the Oklahoma defensive end said. “I tried to hold him up, but we both went down and slid into the bench.”
Barnes was referring to Mickey Joseph, Nebraska’s junior quarterback. Husker fans of a certain age don’t need the context. They remember all too well.
The Huskers were playing at Norman, Oklahoma, the final game of the regular season in 1990. The afternoon was warm—67 degrees at kickoff—and clear.
On Nebraska’s sixth play from scrimmage—the Huskers had gone three-and-out on their first possession—Joseph had to scramble and as he reached the Oklahoma sideline, after running out-of-bounds, Barnes hit, or shoved, him into the Sooner bench.
Exactly what happened was difficult to tell because the two were surrounded by players. And the benches were close to the sideline. Barnes was flagged for a late hit.
Joseph suffered a severe laceration of his right leg and would miss the remainder of the game, as well as the Citrus Bowl against Georgia Tech.
Emotional air went out of the Huskers, though how much that mattered was unclear. Joseph’s injury might have been more representative than causal. Nebraska would lose 45-10, its worst loss since 1968, also at Norman, 47-0. “I have to say it was one of our poorer performances in my 28 years at Nebraska,” Tom Osborne said of the 35-point loss. “I’m totally embarrassed.”
The Huskers, who had won six national rushing titles in the previous 10 seasons, again led the nation in rushing, averaging 362.2 yards per game on the ground. They didn’t reach 100 yards against Oklahoma, however, until just over 8 minutes remaining on a 5-yard run by Derek Brown.
They finished with 118 yards on the ground and didn’t win the NCAA rushing title.
Leodis Flowers, the starting I-back, needed 73 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season. He was held to 13 yards on nine carries. It was the first time Nebraska hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 1986, and only the second time since 1978.
Nebraska lost three fumbles and threw four interceptions. Three of Oklahoma’s touchdowns were preceded by interceptions, one by a fumble recovery.
Greg DeQuasie returned the third interception 43 yards for a touchdown.
Mike Stigge punted an untypical seven times, averaging 44.6 yards per punt.
And when the Huskers tried to run the “fumbleroosky,” guard Jim Wanek had to fall on center David Edeal’s snap instead of picking up the ball and running with it.
Nothing went the Huskers’ way in the nationally televised game.
Some more vocal Nebraska fans had begun questioning Osborne’s offensive emphasis on the running game. They “say they want to see Nebraska throwing more,” said Osborne.
“Well, we threw more today, more than we like to.”
Joseph was 0-of-2 during his brief time and couldn’t find an open receiver on the play he was injured. Mike Grant was 8-of-19 with three interceptions, Tom Haase 1-of-4 with one interception.
The Huskers had bounced back following a fourth-quarter collapse against Colorado three weeks before and defeated Kansas 41-9 at Lawrence. Joseph had passed for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns to tight end Johnny Mitchell and rushed for 58 yards.
Nebraska, which had dropped out of the Associated Press top 10 for the first time in 67 games following the Colorado loss, climbed back from No. 13 to No. 10 after the Kansas victory. With the Oklahoma loss, the Huskers dropped to No. 19. Oklahoma, ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions that led to Barry Switzer’s resignation two years before, finished 8-3 and No. 17.
The Sooners’ final points came on a 24-yard field goal by R.D. Lashar with 9 seconds remaining.
Afterward, Oklahoma Coach Gary Gibbs explained. It had been a record-setter for Lashar, who had missed on a 51-yard attempt with 4:54 remaining in the game.
“It was really tough for us to kick that field goal at the end of the game,” said Gibbs. “I was happy for R.D. to achieve the record, and we went for the field goal only for him to achieve the record. But I hated to do it because of the respect I have for Tom (Osborne) and the Nebraska program.”
The Huskers would be headed to a 22nd-consecutive bowl game. The Oklahoma game “didn’t mean as much to us,” Flowers said. “This was their bowl game. They wanted it more than we did.”
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.