Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Huskers Leave the Sooners Out in the Cold

October 31, 2019

Temperature at kickoff, officially 2:42 p.m., in Norman, Oklahoma, was 35 degrees, but a wind gusting to 30 miles an hour created a windchill of 9. 

And it was rainy as well as cold.

In short, it was not a good day to pass.

Those were the conditions when No. 7 Nebraska played No. 9 Oklahoma in the final game of the regular season on Nov. 19, 1988. Both were 10-1. Both had lost to Pac-10 teams. And as was typically the case, the Big Eight championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl were on the line.

Oklahoma had won the previous four meetings, and 12 of the 16 games between the teams since Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer had become the head coaches in 1973.

It was a wearisome scenario for Husker fans. Nebraska had been the higher-ranked team in six of those 12 losses, including No. 1 to Oklahoma’s No. 2 the previous season.

In that context, the Huskers took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards on nine plays to a touchdown, with quarterback Steve Taylor scoring from 1 yard out.

Taylor carried on six of the nine plays in all, for 17 yards net, and completed a pass to wingback Richard Bell for 30 yards on third-and-13 from the Sooners’ 41-yard line. Taylor would throw 11 more passes, only one of which would be complete. 

Nebraska had to convert on one other third down during the touchdown drive, a third-and-1 from its 29. Gregg Barrios kicked the extra point—11:06 remained in the first quarter.

As it turned out, Nebraska wouldn’t score again. 

And as it turned out, the Huskers wouldn’t have to.

Oklahoma managed a 29-yard Tim Lashar field goal with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter. But the Sooners could never cross the goal line against the Blackshirts.

Oklahoma punted more often, nine times, than it picked up first downs, eight. It finished with 137 net yards, 98 of them rushing. The Huskers sacked quarterback Charles Thompson six times for 29 yards in losses. Broderick Thomas, LeRoy Etienne and Kent Wells were involved in two sacks each.

On the final play of the game, Thompson suffered a broken leg.

“I think this kind of weather favors the team that’s most dedicated,” Osborne said afterward. “And our players were the most dedicated today. We’ve played in this kind of weather before.”

So the Huskers “knew what to expect,” he said.

Osborne also told reporters that since August during Monday practices and practices on open weeks, the Huskers had worked on a “variation” of a 4-3 defense that Miami had used to defeat Oklahoma in each of the three previous seasons, including the 1988 Orange Bowl.

The Sooners had been undefeated in 1987 when they played Miami.

“We tried it against Colorado, but it didn’t work,” said Osborne. “It did today.”

Despite the weather conditions and the potential ball-handling problems with a wishbone offense, Oklahoma fumbled only three times, none of which the Huskers recovered.

“If anyone had told me before the game we would hold Nebraska to seven points, I would have said we would win the game,” Switzer said. “On the other hand, if anyone had told me we would score only three points, I would have said they would beat the hell out of us.”

Though the Sooners kept Nebraska out of the end zone after the opening drive, they couldn’t stop junior I-back Ken Clark, who carried 24 times for 167 yards.

Oklahoma accepted a bid to play Clemson in the Citrus Bowl. 

The Citrus Bowl, which the Sooners lost (13-6), would be Switzer’s final game at Oklahoma. In mid-June of 1989 he resigned under the pressure of an NCAA investigation that led to three years of probation, as well as the arrest of five Sooners, including Thompson, on felony charges.

Nebraska, which won its first outright Big Eight title since 1984 with the victory, earned a trip to the Orange Bowl, where it last played, and lost, to Miami following the 1983 season. 

“Tell Jimmy Johnson we’re looking forward to seeing him,” Osborne said.

Johnson had succeeded Howard Schnellenberger as the Hurricanes’ coach in 1984.

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