There were only 46 seconds remaining to be played when the Oklahoma offense came onto the field in what had been a thrilling football game at Lincoln, Neb. last Friday. While 76,398 sometimes unruly fans at Memorial Stadium held their collective breaths, Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, whose Corn-huskers were clinging to a 28-24 lead, stood nervously on the sidelines fearing he was about to relive a bad dream. "Oh, please, no," he thought. "Not again...."
Osborne's morbid reflections had two sources. One was Oklahoma's history of pulling out victories over Nebraska in the final moments: Oklahoma had won eight of the 10 games between the two teams, including a 31-24 victory in the 1979 Orange Bowl, since Osborne and Barry Switzer became rival head coaches in 1973. The other was more immediate: the 27-24 loss to Penn State on Sept. 25 that, it turned out, ruined Nebraska's chances for a perfect season. On that day, as on this one, Nebraska seemed to have the game put away, 24-21, when Penn State took over in the final 1:18 and drove the length of the field for a touchdown. With that, Nebraska's hopes of winning the national championship all but flew out the window. If Oklahoma scored now, the Big Eight championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl would take wing, too.
But Penn State was the irretrievable past and the Orange Bowl was the attainable future. Oklahoma was now. The Huskers and Sooners each had a prodigious offense, which suggested that in the end it would be defense that would win this one. Going into the game Nebraska held a 9-1 record and led the nation in total offense (523.9 yards per game) and rushing offense (395.5). Oklahoma, with an 8-2 record, was No. 2 in rushing offense (344). "People who have played us both give an edge to our offense and to the Sooners' defense," said Osborne before the game. But both attacks would be at less than 100%. Nebraska's Mike Rozier, a tailback who had rushed for 1,482 yards this season, had been limping around on a twisted right ankle all week; Oklahoma's sensational freshman tailback, Marcus Dupree, had spent several days in the hospital with a nagging cold.
Still, it was Rozier (pronounced ro-ZEER) and his fellow New Jerseyan, Irving Fryar, who got the Cornhuskers rolling to a 21-10 first-half lead, moving the football behind an offensive line centered by 292-pound All-America Dave Rimington. Rozier went slashing left and right off Rimington's haunches and looping wide on options for 96 yards in the first two quarters. But after two carries in the second half, Rozier had had it; he spent the rest of the game watching, and hoping, and freezing on the sidelines along with Osborne. "The cold [31° at game time] hurt worse than the ankle," Rozier said later.
His running—"It wasn't too hard with Rimington and our offensive line blocking for me, even with my bad ankle," he said—went a long way toward setting up the first Nebraska touchdown, which the Huskers' wizard of an option quarterback, Turner Gill, scored from 14 yards out on fourth-and-one before Oklahoma ran a play. The Sooners' Scott Case had initiated the Nebraska drive by fumbling away a punt on his own 44.
Gill, a junior from Fort Worth whose abilities as a shortstop made him the White Sox' second-round draft choice in 1980, was so coveted by Oklahoma that Switzer promised to tailor the Sooner offense around him. "Turner Gill would just have been a tremendous quarterback for our kind of game," says Switzer. "He does everything so well."
But so does the Sooners' Dupree, who was averaging 7.3 yards per carry and had made such an impact—he'd made one run of at least 63 yards in five of the six previous games—that Switzer had seen fit to declare the 6'3", 233-pound freshman better than Billy Sims, Oklahoma's '78 Heisman Trophy winner. Switzer also pronounced that "Marcus Dupree came in here with E.T. He's from another world." Which may be true, depending on what one thinks of Philadelphia, Miss.
"Gee," said Nebraska Defensive End Tony Felici, "I've never played anybody from outer space before. I wonder how it feels to tackle somebody like that?"
It couldn't have felt very good, that's for certain. When Oklahoma finally did get the football, Dupree carried on eight of the Sooners' first 12 plays, running around defenders, through defenders, and carrying them on his back. He'd picked up 31 of Oklahoma's 62 yards on the Sooners' first touchdown drive, including the final two to tie the game. That proved just a teaser for what was to come.
Oklahoma gained a 10-7 lead, with a second-quarter field goal. And, worse for Nebraska, Rozier was now hobbling and his replacement, Roger Craig, was bobbling, so the Huskers had to look elsewhere for their offense. Although Nebraska has a reputation for having had an unimaginative, albeit powerful, attack over the years, Osborne also has been noted for his bag of trick plays that he has used in big games. In 1976 the Bummeroosky, a play named after then Houston Oiler Coach Bum Phillips, in which a short snap in punt formation set up a running play, helped the Cornhuskers score against Missouri; in the 1979 Oklahoma game, the Fumbleroosky, which involved an intentional "fumble" that was designed to get the Sooners to chase the Husker quarterback in one direction while a Nebraska guard picked up the football and took off with it in another direction, resulted in a touchdown. This time Osborne reached in his bag and pulled out the Bounceroosky. On first-and-10 from his own 49, Gill threw what looked like a bounce pass into the artificial turf halfway between himself and Fryar, the wingback, who had swung wide, almost to the left sideline. A bounce pass is exactly what it was—Gill is a pretty good basketball player, too—as became obvious when Fryar fielded the ball like a shortstop taking a charity hop and hurled it downfield to Tight End Mitch Krenk for a 37-yard completion. That set up Fullback Doug Wilkening's two-yard touchdown plunge, and that made the score 14-10 late in the second quarter.