October 8th, 1983
Stillwater, Okla. -
Top-ranked Nebraska took its high-scoring offense on the road to Stillwater to battle the 20th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, but the Cornhuskers had to rely on their defense to escape with a 14-10 win.
The game wasn’t supposed to be close, as the Husker offense, nicknamed the “Scoring Explosion,” was averaging a nation-high 58 points per game and 420 yards rushing.
But OSU, which had the nation’s 10th-ranked defense, forced five turnovers and sacked the Huskers four times, keeping the Cowboys in the game.
Nebraska, which had 417 yards of total offense, turned the ball over three times deep in Oklahoma State territory. I-back Mike Rozier, who ran for a modest (by his standards) 146 yards on 25 carries, fumbled at the Cowboy goal line, and quarterback Turner Gill threw an interception at the one-yard line. Gill also fumbled the ball at the OSU 16, stopping another potential Husker score.
So with the offense shooting itself in the foot and fizzling out on scoring opportunities, the Huskers’ Blackshirt defense had to rise to the occasion.
“They (OSU) always had a strong defense, but not so much on offense. We were able to handle their offense, so we never thought the game would be in doubt,” said NU defensive end Bill Weber. “Their defense blitzed on almost every play and had a lot of guys in the box. It frustrated our offense for most of the game, and we had some turnovers. It was too close of a game than it should have been.”
Weber remembers an Oklahoma State assistant coach who later came to Nebraska, saying that OSU artificially pumped up the crowd noise in their loud speakers that day.
But that didn’t affect the Blackshirts, as they stymied the Cowboy offense. OSU managed 312 yards of total offense with 140 on the ground, but 64 yards came on one play.
Oklahoma State running back Shawn Jones broke the 64-yard run on a third-down draw play when Nebraska blitzed. Jones finished the day with 125 yards on 27 carries.
“They had one long run, and Bret (Clark) and I ran the guy down,” said Husker cornerback Dave Burke. “That was their longest play from scrimmage. With the exception of that one play we held them under 80 yards rushing, so that was a good job of containing them.”
That run set up the first score of the game, a 26-yard field goal that put OSU up 3-0.
But the Huskers quickly answered with a 62-yard scoring pass from Gill to wingback Irving Fryar, who split two defenders, making it 7-3 Nebraska.
The Cowboys switched quarterbacks, pulling Rusty Hilger for Ike Jackson, as OSU needed to move the ball better and Jackson was more of a passer. The move worked, as Jackson moved the Cowboys down the field and fired a 15-yard touchdown strike to flanker Jamie Harris, putting OSU up 10-7 before the end of the half. Jackson was 8-of-20 passing for 129 yards.
An upset was brewing, but Nebraska and head coach Tom Osborne kept their cool and composure, something they prepared for on a weekly basis.
“Coach Osborne took a real business approach to every game,” Burke said. “The coaches always had a heightened sense of awareness of a letdown, so they made practices more aggressive during the week before a game. We knew our offense was great; we were just trying to perfect our play and play to our potential on defense.
“We played very well in that game and played to our potential. You always have to do your part because you never know when you will be needed, so it was gratifying to have our defense come up and play big. We had [people] who could put pressure on the quarterback, with the guys we had on the defensive line and linebackers when we blitzed.”
The Huskers’ base defense was a five-man front with a variety of blitzes, mixed with combinations of zone.
We didn’t get the recognition we deserved that season,” said NU linebacker Mike Knox. “Coach (Charlie) McBride and the coaches put together a good scheme for us, and when we had to we kept the offense in position to win in the game. Our front five didn’t get a lot of recognition. They were not big recruits, but played hard every play. Guys like Ken Graeber, Mike Tranmer, Scott Strasburger and Bill Weber were all so smart they never got out of position.”
With OSU leading 10-7 entering the third quarter, the Husker offense, which managed only 245 yards rushing, took to the air. Gill, who was 10-of-19 for 172 yards through the air, tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Todd Frain early in the quarter. The TD to Frain was the only score by either team in the second half. It was also Frain’s second career reception and touchdown. That capped a six-play, 92-yard drive in the third quarter, which featured Fryar’s 42-yard end around.
NU safety Bret Clark intercepted Jackson on the final play of the game on a desperation pass in the end zone, giving Nebraska a hard-fought road win.
The Huskers beat OSU for the 10th straight time and remained unbeaten against the Cowboys in 22 consecutive contests.
Also with the win Osborne became the all-time winningest coach in Nebraska football history with his 102nd career victory, passing Bob Devaney who led Nebraska to 101 wins.
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.
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