Nebraska’s first three plays at Oklahoma State in 1983 were these:
- The Cowboys’ Leslie O’Neal tackled Mike Rozier for a 2-yard loss;
- Chris Rockins sacked Turner Gill for an 8-yard loss;
- Mike Hudson sacked Gill for a 7-yard loss.
That’s how the afternoon went in Stillwater; Oklahoma State’s defense gambled and blitzed, something the Huskers didn’t expect given their 84-13 destruction of Minnesota in mid-September. The Gophers had blitzed on nearly every down and paid the price.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Pat Jones studied film of Nebraska’s 6-0 win at Missouri in 1981, however, to build a game plan. Gill had started for the first time as a Husker and was under constant pressure from the blitzing Tigers. A 3-yard touchdown run by fullback Phil Bates to cap a 10-play, 64-yard drive with 23 seconds remaining had saved the day.
In this case the day-saver for Nebraska was a pass interception by junior safety Bret Clark in the end zone on the game’s final play, preserving a 14-10 victory.
The team that Sports Illustrated’s Douglas Looney had described as the greatest of all-time was brought back to reality by Coach Jimmy Johnson’s final Oklahoma State team.
The next year, Johnson would be the head coach at Miami, succeeded by Jones.
In any case, some Husker fans were inclined to refer to the “SI Jinx.”
The Cowboys’ offense also provided a reality check in the first half, gaining 227 yards and taking a 10-7 lead to the locker room at intermission. Nebraska’s touchdown came on a 62-yard Gill-to-Irving Fryar pass with 8:45 remaining in the second quarter for a 7-3 lead.
Oklahoma State’s touchdown also came on a pass, a 15-yarder from Ike Jackson to wide receiver Jamie Harris, with 1:39 remaining in the half. The Cowboys drove 81 yards on 10 plays. A key had been a 31-yard pass from Jackson to tight end John Chesley on a third-and-10.
Husker defensive end Scott Strasburger would lock down Chesley on the game’s final play.
Clark’s pass interception was Nebraska’s third of the game. That helped offset five Husker turnovers, including an interception and four-of-five fumbles.
The Gill interception came at the Oklahoma State 1-yard line.
Gill completed 10-of-19 passes for 172 yards and both Nebraska touchdowns, the game-winner a 32-yarder to tight end Todd Frain with 9:53 remaining in the third quarter.
On their next possession, the Huskers drove from their 23-yard line to the OSU 17. Rozier broke loose for what would have been another touchdown but was hit at the 2-yard line and lost the ball, which the Cowboys recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Rozier finished with 146 rushing yards, on 25 carries.
Linebacker Mike Know led the Huskers with 15 tackles, all assisted according to the official statistics. He also intercepted a pass. Strasburger was credited with 10 tackles, also all assisted.
The next week, Oklahoma State would lose to archrival Oklahoma 21-20. The Cowboys would lose twice more, 21-20 to Kansas State and 16-10 at Missouri and finish a frustrating 8-4.
The victory was No. 102 for Osborne, one more than Bob Devaney and the most in Nebraska history.
At least he wouldn’t be criticized for running up the score, Osborne told reporters afterward.
Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.
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.