Nebraska was 8-1-1 and ranked No. 10 by the Associated Press when it traveled to Oklahoma for its final regular-season game on the day after Thanksgiving in 1973.
The Huskers might well have been 10-0. Their lone loss had come at Missouri because a mishandled punt recovered at the Nebraska 4-yard line with 2:01 remaining had set up the Tigers’ only touchdown, for a 13-6 lead, and then a 2-point conversion with 1:00 left had failed after the Huskers responded with their lone touchdown. Two weeks later at Oklahoma State, Nebraska had settled for a tie at 17 because Osborne decided against a field goal and I-back Tony Davis, who had rushed for 111 yards, was stopped on fourth down from inside the Cowboys’ 1-yard line with 2:23 remaining.
Both finishes had been frustrating. But the frustration wasn’t quite like that of what happened at Norman, Oklahoma, in a 1:20 p.m. game televised nationally by ABC.
Nebraska was shut out by the No. 3-ranked Sooners, 27-0. The last time the Huskers had been shut out was in 1968, also at Norman, 47-0.
The Huskers, who had averaged 418 yards of offense in 10 games, were limited to 174 yards in the 1973 game. And they never took an offensive snap on Oklahoma’s side of the 50-yard line. One second-half play that carried into Sooner territory was nullified by a penalty. Another ended with a lost fumble. Otherwise, Nebraska remained on its own side. And it could’ve been worse had the Huskers’ Rich Sanger not averaged 48.6 yards on nine punts.
All-Americans Rod Shoate, a linebacker, and Lucious Selmon, the middle guard, along with Selmon’s brothers LeRoy and Dewey, led the Oklahoma defense in stifling the Huskers.
Shoate finished with 14 tackles, a team-high but not the most in the game. Nebraska middle guard John Bell, a senior whose status was in doubt because of the effects of a knee injury suffered three weeks earlier against Colorado, was involved in 18 tackles against the Sooner Wishbone.
Oklahoma rushed for 317 yards, led by sophomore quarterback Steve Davis – 114 yards and three touchdowns, on only 18 carries. Joe Washington carried 24 times for 107 yards.
As with Osborne, the Sooners had a first-year head coach, Barry Switzer, like Osborne promoted when Chuck Fairbanks left for the New England Patriots in the wake to NCAA rules violations that led to two years of no bowl games (1973-74) and no television appearances (1974-75).
Switzer was Osborne’s nemesis. Nebraska was 5-12 against Switzer’s Sooners, though that was hardly unique. During Switzer’s first eight seasons, Oklahoma was 83-9-2 (.894), with national championships in 1974 and 1975. Only one of those losses was against Nebraska, in 1978.
Switzer’s 1985 team also won a national championship. His record in 16 seasons at Oklahoma was 157-29-4 (.837). He left following the 1988 season in the midst of player scandal.
After his first game as head coach against Nebraska – the Sooners would defeat Oklahoma State a week later, 45-18 – Switzer claimed Oklahoma was the best in the nation, though USC, which had tied the Sooners 7-7 in the second game of the season, had lost to eventual national champion Notre Dame 23-14 and then to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl 42-21. The Buckeyes finished No. 2.
Nebraska was the fourth team headed to a bowl that Oklahoma defeated in 1973. The others were Kansas, Missouri and Texas, against whom the Huskers were matched in the Cotton Bowl, which “should be called the Losers’ Bowl,” the Sooners’ Shoate was quoted after the 27-0 victory.
Switzer’s players weren’t always gracious winners.
“I guarantee this won’t happen in the Cotton Bowl,” Nebraska’s two-time All-America offensive tackle Daryl White was quoted, also in the Omaha World-Herald.
White and his teammates would make good on that guarantee.
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.