Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Klein Kicks It in Columbia

August 15, 2019

The final score was Nebraska 28, Missouri 20. 

But the Huskers managed just one touchdown on that warm mid-October afternoon in Columbia; I-back Doug DuBose ran 22 yards to the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.

In marked contrast, Missouri crossed the goal line three times.

So how did it all add up?

The Huskers’ Dale Klein kicked seven field goals, the seventh not quite 4 minutes following DuBose’s run—after kicking the extra point to finish with a school record for a kicker, 22 points.

His seven field goals tied an NCAA record. Western Michigan’s Mike Prindle had kicked seven against Marshall the previous season. Prindle did it in nine attempts. 

Klein was perfect, hitting from 32, 22, 43, 44, 29, 43 and 42 yards.

“It was just a day when everything went right,” he said, understating.

He and Prindle still share the record.

Klein, a junior, walked on following a high school career in Seward, Nebraska. He had been two-for-two on field goals the previous week in a 34-24 victory at No. 5-ranked Oklahoma State, giving him a school-record nine in a row. The previous record had been seven by Eddie Neil in 1981.

Neil also had walked on.

Thanks in large part to Klein, the Huskers won their fifth in a row following a season-opening, 17-13 loss against Florida State at Memorial Stadium. 

Despite ranking fourth in the final Associated Press poll for the 1984 season, Nebraska had only been preseason-ranked No. 10. The loss to Florida State (No. 17) knocked the Huskers out of the Top 10 for the first time since the final AP rankings for 1981—they fell to No. 18.

They had steadily climbed in the rankings, though, 16, 13, 9, 7 and then to 5 following the Missouri victory. Four more victories and they were No. 2, behind 10-0 Penn State.

With a victory at Oklahoma to finish the regular season, and a Penn State victory against Pittsburgh that same day, Nebraska would play the Nittany Lions in the Orange Bowl for a national title. 

Oklahoma was 7-1 and ranked No. 5, its lone loss against unranked Miami in the fourth game of the season. The Sooners had two regular-season games remaining after Nebraska.

Sound familiar, same scenario, Nebraska playing out the myth of Sisyphus once again, rolling the Sooner boulder up the national-title hill only to watch in frustration as it rolled back down?

That’s exactly what happened, this time without need of late-game “Sooner magic.”

Nebraska’s quarterbacks, McCathorn Clayton and Travis Turner had struggled throwing the ball throughout the season. They were a combined 49-of-133 (36.8 percent) completions for six touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Even though defenses could load up on the run, DuBose rushed 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns and fullback Tom Rathman rushed for 881 yards and eight touchdowns. The 881 yards as well as his 7.47 yards per carry both remain Nebraska single-season records.

Rathman carried 220 times during his career and lost only 4 yards.

But neither ball carrier was effective against the Brian Bosworth-led Oklahoma defense. DuBose was held to 46 yards on 16 carries, Rathman 29 yards on eight carries. And Husker passers provided no help, completing 4-of-15 with four interceptions, for 63 yards.

Nebraska was averaging nearly 400 yards per game on the ground; it managed 161 on 42 carries.

Nebraska’s defense hadn’t allowed more than 157 rushing yards in any game. But the Sooners rolled to 423 yards on 70 carries, including an 88-yard reverse by tight end Keith Jackson to open the scoring. They attempted only four passes, one complete—to Jackson for 38 yards.

The Huskers avoided being shut out for the first time in 147 games—the last time had also been at Norman in 1973, Tom Osborne’s first season as head coach—when 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive tackle Chris Spachman returned a fumble 76 yards for a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining—he also returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown against Illinois.

Had Klein been able to, say, duplicate his record-setting performance at Missouri, Nebraska could’ve won the game, of course. But he missed on his only attempt, a 23-yarder.

Oklahoma fans tore down the goal posts at one end of the field in celebration.

Osborne said afterward that the Sooners might be the best team in the country at that point. And he was right. They would win their remaining regular-season games against Oklahoma State and SMU and then defeat No. 1 Penn State 25-10 in the Orange Bowl for Barry Switzer’s third national title.

Oklahoma, No. 3 going into the bowls, got an assist from No. 8 Tennessee, which upset No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl, 35-7.

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.

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