Nebraska prepared to defend against Oklahoma’s wishbone offense prior to the Big Eight rivals’ 1983 game at Norman, played in the rain, temperature in the mid-50s, with a capacity crowd of 75,008 and a national television audience on CBS.
In retrospect, the Huskers “wasted a lot of (practice) time,” Tom Osborne said.
The 7-3 Sooners, who were trying to earn a share of the Big Eight title, “hurt us with that ‘triple set’ and with just one running back in the backfield,” said Osborne. “We weren’t looking for that.”
The numbers reflected it; Oklahoma gained 420 yards, including 233 rushing. Spencer Tillman led the way, carrying 16 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns. And quarterback Danny Bradley completed 6-of-13 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, a 73-yarder to Buster Rhymes.
That came with 2:11 remaining in the first half, on the first play after Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill threw an interception. The touchdown and extra point gave the Sooners a 14-7 lead.
A short-lived lead, it should be noted.
Nebraska responded with a five-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that included a 40-yard scramble by Gill on first down from the NU 42-yard line and capped by Mike Rozier from 3 yards out.
For the fourth consecutive game, Rozier rushed for 200 yards, this time 205 on 32 carries to increase his school records for rushing yards in a season (2,148) and a career (4,780).
Bowl games weren’t included in official NCAA statistics.
At halftime, Husker Athletic Director Bob Devaney dispatched SID Don Bryant to get the red rabbit’s foot Devaney regularly rubbed at halftime of games for luck.
Bryant had been given the rabbit’s foot when he was an adviser for the Boy Scouts of America. Devaney first rubbed it before the 1969 Kansas game, which Nebraska won with what seemed a bit of fourth-quarter luck to begin a 32-game unbeaten streak that included back-to-back national titles.
Devaney “rubbed the rabbit’s foot – sometimes at halftime, if the Huskers were struggling – until his retirement,” Bryant wrote in his 2001 book “Tales from the Nebraska Sideline.”
The rabbit’s foot had been left in the car in Norman. Bob thought it was needed that day.
Oklahoma would take another short-lived lead in the third quarter, on Tillman’s 18-yard run with 6:22 remaining. This time, Nebraska needed three plays, following Jeff Smith’s 21-yard kickoff return, the first a 62-yard run by Rozier to the Sooners’ 3-yard line.
Fullback Mark Schellen, who scored the game’s first touchdown, gained 2 yards, then Gill took the ball into the end zone, and Scott Livingston’s extra-point kick tied the score at 21.
The Sooners’ next possession began with a reverse that didn’t fool Nebraska defensive tackle Doug Herrmann, who tackled wide receiver Derrick Shepard for a 12-yard loss at the OU 7-yard line.
Two plays later, Oklahoma punted, Smith returned it 11 yards to the Sooner 41-yard line, and on the eighth play after that Schellen ran 17 yards. Livingston’s kick made the score 28-21.
That would be the final, though there was drama at the end.
Oklahoma’s final possession came with 5:12 remaining, following a 43-yard field goal attempt by Livingston that went wide left. The Sooners drove down the field, from their own 26-yard line, on running plays until they reached the Nebraska 38 with just over 2 minutes remaining.
On second down, Bradley and Shepard teamed on a 27-yard pass to the NU 11-yard line. Earl Johnson gained 9 yards, but Oklahoma was pushed back to the 7 for illegal procedure.
Defensive end Bill Weber sacked Bradley for a 3-yard loss, setting up third down at the NU 10.
Bradley’s pass, intended for Shepard at the goal line, was broken up by cornerback Neil Harris. Sooner Coach Barry Switzer was irate. Pass interference should’ve been called he said.
On fourth down from the 10, Bradley again passed, this time to Rhymes in the back left corner of the end zone. Harris again deflected the pass – 32 seconds remained.
Gill downed the ball. Game over. The Huskers were 12-0.
“Give the credit to Nebraska,” said Switzer, who had given Gill, Rozier and Irving Fryar the “Triplets” nickname. “They have the most explosive offense in college football.
“It wasn’t our letdown after we went ahead twice; it was their explosive offense.”
The “Scoring Explosion” offense . . .
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.