Just Like Old Times

Dec. 3, 2006

By Glenn Tanner

Special To CSTV.com


Glenn Tanner

Glenn Tanner reports from Big 12 country.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Just like old times, Oklahoma and Nebraska battled it out for the conference championship. Only this time, no one threw oranges on the field. 


The Sooners used a tough, opportunistic defense and a 99-yard drive from their offense to beat the Huskers 21-7, earning the Big 12 title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.


Saturday's Big 12 Championship Game felt extra-special because it reunited two long-time rivals. Before conference expansion, the Nebraska-OU game always seemed to be for the Big 8 title and an Orange Bowl berth - one of these teams got at least a share of the title in all but two years from 1961-1995.  The series produced some of the most memorable games in college football history, highlighted by the 35-31 Husker win in 1971 that many consider the greatest college football game of the 20th century.


Saturday, OU again got the best of Nebraska from the start. Trying to stay in bounds, the Huskers' Maurice Purify fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage, and the Sooners returned the gift to the two-yard line. They punched it in on the next play, and only 48 seconds into the game, it was 7-0. 


On their third possession, OU got another 1-play TD drive when Paul Thompson hit wideout Malcolm Kelly streaking down the middle for a beautiful 66-yard TD. 


After that, Nebraska controlled the game and looked to be in great shape with about five minutes left in the third quarter.  Their defense totally shut down the OU run game and had begun to really get in Thompson's grill, forcing several three-and-out and an interception that helped cut the lead to 14-7. And with the Sooners backed up on their own 1-yard line facing a 3rd-and-10, the Huskers looked ready to take control. 


But facing a heavy rush in the endzone, Thompson calmly hit backup tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 35-yard gain. Six passes later, Kelly hauled in a fade in the corner of the endzone to cap the 99-yard scoring drive. On the drive, Thompson hit 6-of-8 for 95 yards.


"Drive of the year, without question," said a proud Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "Paul threw some great balls and we executed great."


Down 21-7, the Huskers were in trouble.They're not a good comeback team anyways - 0-12 when trailing at the half under coach Bill Callahan - but the Sooners were playing defense as if a Selmon brothers cloning experiment had been successful.    


Nebraska's Zac Taylor had thrown only four interceptions and had completed 62 percent of his 315 passes this season, but the Sooners harassed him into a 23-for-50 night and picked off three. The Huskers were ninth in the nation in total offense, but could generate only 113 total yards in the second half.  Nebraska's 48 percent third-down conversion rate also ranked among the national leaders, but the Huskers moved the chains only three times on fifteen third down plays tonight.


"Boy they were awesome!" exclaimed Stoops. "They came up with a lot of big plays."


"They just played better," admitted Callahan. "They were the better football team tonight. We've got no excuses."


Stoops turned his second OU team from a 7-5 team into a BCS champion, so it sounds stupid to say that this year's team is his best coaching job. But it might be true. He unexpectedly lost his starting quarterback in early August. His starting offensive line includes three true sophomores and a true freshman. His team was absolutely robbed of a win by an incompetent Pac-10 replay ref.  Two games later they self-destructed in a flurry of penalties and turnovers against their main rival.  And to top it off, he lost the best player in the country, workhorse tailback Adrian Peterson, to injury.


Yet somehow this team has stayed together and reeled off eight straight wins thanks to the Big 12's best defense and a stunning running game - behind their backup tailbacks and the kiddie corps O-line, their rushing yards per game average has actually increased since Peterson's injury.


This game used to be a boon for the US citrus industry, as the winning team's fans would celebrate their trip to the Orange Bowl by littering the field with navels and tangelos. Saturday, though, the Sooners simply danced in the middle of the field while the stadium speakers blared Oklahoma favorite Toby Keith crooning "How Do You Like Me Now?" 


The Sooners have been amazingly resilient. They're physically and mentally tough. They play frenetic defense, like their hair is on fire. They have a fantastic coach. And now they're Big 12 Champs.


What's not to like?


Offensive Player of the Game:  Thompson was great, but he got a ton of help from Malcolm Kelly. Kelly set championship game records with 10 catches for 142 yards, and both of his TD's were plays that only special players make.


Defensive Player of the Game:  You don't shut down an offense like Nebraska's without getting contributions all over the field, but sophomore corner Nic Harris really stood out. Harris was part of the secondary that blanketed Husker receivers all night, plus he picked up an interception, a sack, a tackle for a loss and broke up two passes.


Random Notes:  Was it cold here?  Well, I thought it was colder than a polar bear's toenails, but when the media bus pulled into the snow-lined parking lot, half of the state of Nebraska seemed to be out there tailgating... Arrowhead Stadium is a fantastic setting. Opened in 1972, and I honestly don't understand why every stadium built since then didn't just copy the blueprint...Oklahoma was limited to 42 rushing yards on 28 attempts... Thanks partly to the Nebraska offense repeatedly stalling just outside of field goal range, Husker punter Dan Titchener pinned the Sooners inside the 20 six times... OU now leads the all-time series 43-37-3... Stoops is now an amazing 25-9 against ranked teams... The Sooners have only one loss in their last 17 games against Big 12 North teams - the 2003 Big 12 title game versus Kansas State...Since 1970, Nebraska and OU rank first and fourth nationally in wins.




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