NORMAN, Okla. – The game of the decade turned out to be true in advertising here on Thanksgiving.
For a month or more, the nation’s college football fans had anticipated the reunion of Nebraska, the nation’s number one team, and Oklahoma, the nation’s number two team.
And the stage was set when the Cornhuskers won their first 10 games, extending their winning streak to 20 and their unbeaten streak to 29 games.
BENDER: How Nebraska can compete with OU on Saturday | Week 3 Picks Against Spread | Conclusions from week 2
The Sooners also delivered, winning their first nine games of the season. Neither team had had a close game.
A record 63,385 partisan crowd at OU’s famed Owen Field and a nationwide television audience, ultimately turning into an offensive duel and a 35-31 Nebraska win.
But the Cornhuskers had to score with just 1:38 remaining in the hard-hitting and exciting contest before winning what will likely be their second straight mythical national title.
Another loop title
It seemed incidental that they also won the Big Eight Conference championship, the seventh to win or share in the past 10 years. Oklahoma won or shared another three.
Although the game was apparently won in the final minutes, the most significant individual play may have been in the first five minutes of action.
That’s when Cornhusker All-American slotback Johnny Rodgers returned a 72-yard punt for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead at Nebraska with 11:28 left in the first quarter.
Many coaches believe that the really important games are decided in most cases in the kicking game.
The play was inconsistent with what happened in the rest of the game. Neither team came up with a major play in the kicking game.
But it was not incompatible with the performances of Rodgers, a 171-pound junior who puts fear in the hearts of any rival coach when he has the ball.
Rodgers has averaged 17.5 yards per return on punts this season and his 542 yards on punt returns is a Big Eight record for one season.
It appeared that Rodgers was stopped when he received the high punt at the Nebraska 28-yard line.
OU’s Greg Pruitt knocked him off balance and two other Sooners had chances at him. But Rodgers overcame the first wave of Sooners, cut to his left to the sideline and ran to the scoreboard.
His teammate Joe Blahak blocked Joe Wylie from OU at 15.
Things didn’t improve much for the speedy OU runners, Pruitt and Wylie, for the rest of the day.
The Nebraska defense, which had allowed only 6.4 points this season, cut the wide plays of Oklahoma’s incredible triple option on the fuze attack.
The Cornhuskers’ defensive ends, All-Americans Willie Harper and John Adkins were credited with turning the Sooners on the inside.
“We knew they had to do it,” Nebraska coach Bob Devaney said. “They were giving the play back to our other people. The way the defensive ends played the pitch, we copied it from Missouri, which defended Oklahoma very well. I spoke to John McKay of Southern Cal and he told me that their defensive ends probably underestimated the Oklahoma speed. So we play wider. “
Pruitt, who entered the game averaging 158 yards per game, was limited to 53 yards rushing and Wyile to 11.
Still, the Sooners outscored the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma rushed for 279 yards and passed for 188 for a total of 467. Nebraska won 362.
The Sooners had to pass
That meant Oklahoma had to pass if it wanted to win, and the Cornhuskers’ strong and fast linemen could charge no matter the race and the secondary could play deep zone.
It worked and Oklahoma was stopped on four plays on its own 15 with 1:10 to play.
Each team came from behind to win the lead twice and had their heroes.
It seemed fitting that running back Jeff Kinney scored the winning touchdown, his fourth of the game. The powerful 210-pound senior rushed for 174 yards on 31 carries.
Quarterback Jerry Tagge didn’t have such impressive stats (49 rushing yards and 65 passes), but he seemed to make the big play when Nebraska needed it.
With open plays out, quarterback Jack Mildren led the charge for the Sooners, rushing 130 yards on 31 carries, scoring two touchdowns and passing split end Jon Harrison for two more.
OU’s other points came with a 30-yard field goal from John Carroll.
Devaney called it “the biggest win of my career. This is a great Oklahoma team to beat.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.