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Oct. 31, 2001

The Desert Husker • Bill Marks

How sweet it is

Like frosty mugs, DirecTV and fat tax refunds, beating Oklahoma is a truly beautiful thing. That's why, for long-time Nebraska football fans like the Desert Husker, this past weekend included one of the great Saturdays of all time.

A classic rivalry. Number one versus number two in the BCS. A possible national championship hanging in the balance. All factors leading up to the game pointed to this year's NU-OU showdown being nothing short of epic.

And, unlike every Super Bowl, new television lineup or blind date, the actual event more than lived up to the hype.

The Huskers' huge win over the Stoops boys was in fact just the beginning of possibly the greatest sports weekend in the life of the Desert Husker. Only a day after watching the Big Red take care of business, the DH and Mrs. Desert Husker were at Bank One Ballpark watching the Arizona Diamondbacks take a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in the World Series.

While taking in the spectacle of baseball's fall classic was incredible, it couldn't hold a candle to the win over Oklahoma. With winning streaks and bragging rights on the line, this match-up was reminiscent of the Nebraska-Oklahoma battles with which I grew up, with one major exception — the Huskers won.

What went right
To seasoned Husker fans it was a familiar scenario — the Big Red held on to a slim fourth quarter lead and a victory over Oklahoma was tantalizingly close. But this time when the OU coaches reached into their bag of mystifyingly, gut-wrenchingly lucky plays, there was no Buster Rhymes, Charles Thompson or Keith Jackson -- just a half-dazed Nate Hybl and some lint.

But it wasn't just that the "Sooner magic" ran out. The Huskers came to play for four quarters. Although the going was tough on offense, the coaching staff made enough adjustments and gutsy calls to get the job done.

Saturday's game reminded me a lot of the first half of the 1998 Orange Bowl against Tennessee. Behind Ahman Green, Joel Makovicka and Scott Frost, the Tom Osborne-led Cornhuskers had an awesome running game, but Tennessee completely sold out on the run and ground yards were tough to come by. Vols coach Phillip Fulmer put as many as nine defenders on the line of scrimmage and begged Dr. Tom to beat him with the passing game, T.O. gladly obliged, and Frost was able to find open receivers and move the ball down field.

Against the Sooners, the names had changed but the results were similar. Oklahoma stacked the defensive line and figured Eric Crouch couldn't beat them with his arm. It was a sound strategy, but NU was able to take advantage of open receivers enough to move the ball and soften the OU run defense a little in the second half.

The Blackshirts stepped up and put a pretty good hurting on the Sooner offense all day. The pass defense, which had been solid all year prior to struggling against Texas Tech, returned to brilliance. The coverage was tight and Keyuo Craver, DeJuan Groce and Lornell McPherson batted down pass after pass.

The NU pass rush was also a factor throughout the game. Although the Huskers only came away with three sacks, they were constantly in the faces of Hybl and Jason White and threw the timing of OU's passing game completely out of whack.

Finally, everything you hear and read will refer to the reverse pass from Mike Stuntz to E.C. as the critical factor in winning the game. It will certainly go down as one of the most special plays in Cornhusker history. But I say the factor that was truly most vital was that NU played an entire game without making a game-turning turnover or penalty.

Nebraska's only turnover — Crouch's interception on the last play of the first half — was completely meaningless and harmless. By contrast, Oklahoma threw two interceptions — Erwin Swiney's third quarter pick helped Nebraska taking the lead for good — and had a pivotal face-masking penalty that made the Stuntz-to-Crouch connection possible.

What went wrong
Thank god Kyle Larson has good hands and a healthy back. More often than not on Saturday, normally-reliable long-snapper John Garrison was skipping snaps to the Husker punter. It looked a lot like the Desert Husker hitting a 3-iron. Fortunately, time after time Larson would scoop up the errant snap and drop a punt inside the Sooner 20.

Other than that, there weren't many sources of frustration on Saturday — plenty of stress, but not frustration.

Still, I don't want my dear readers to feel cheated by a nearly blank "what went wrong" section, so I'll fill this area out with a few random complaints.

  • I know they talk plenty about mutual respect, but if Tom Osborne were my son, I wouldn't want him hanging out with that Switzer kid. I've heard he smokes and says bad words.
  • Where does Beano Cook's chin end and his chest begin? Maybe it's a good idea for ESPN to keep Beano the Hut's comments restricted to non-visual mediums.
  • Grape Nuts. No grapes. No nuts. Just gravel.

Desert Husker Offensive Player of the Game
E.C. will get all the glory for his game-clinching touchdown catch, but my kudos go to Dahrran Diedrick. While his day didn't include any jaw-dropping carries, Diedrick had what I consider possibly his best game of the year. Against a tough defense determined to stop the run, Diedrick had to push, twist and strain for every yard he got. If Nebraska and Oklahoma do indeed meet up again in the Big 12 Championship, expect the Sooners to have a lot more respect for the guy with number 30 on his back.

DH Defensive Player of the Game
There were plenty of stellar performances to choose from, but my vote (and the only vote) goes to Chris Kelsay. Kelsay spent most of the game in the Sooner backfield and was very gracious to the Oklahoma quarterbacks — repeatedly introducing them to the Nebraska Fieldturf.

Question answered
Can Frank Solich win a huge game? This one has to go down as Solich's biggest victory as head coach. After getting a feel for the game, Solich realized if the offense put a few points on the scoreboard, the defense could do the rest. So he played field position, patiently waited for the Sooners to make mistakes, and, at the perfect time, had the guts to call the reverse pass.

Question remaining
Can the Big Red roll over the Sooners twice in one season? A lot has to happen before we spend too much time pondering this one, but it's tough not to look ahead to a potential rematch in the Big 12 Championship game.

Was it a cheap shot?
OU linebacker Rocky Calmus is a great player, and I don't doubt that off the field he's a nice guy who loves his mother, but to me it looked like he was intentionally trying to twist Groce's ankle after a third-quarter punt return. Granted, after watching the game again I don't think Groce was in as much pain as his gesticulations suggested (his initial reaction was to jump up and complain, and he seemed to have no lingering effects the rest of the game). Still, you don't expect a bush-league move like that from an All-American talent like Calmus.

What about this week's game?
Nebraska is good. Kansas is not. The trip to Lawrence is timely. Coming off bruising battle with OU, and with games against Kansas State and Colorado looming, a less-than-daunting match-up with the Jayhawks is welcome. If all goes well, Nebraska can jump on KU early and give the starters some much needed rest and recuperation.

That's all I got. See you next week.

Bill Marks, a.k.a. the Desert Husker, is a professional business writer and consultant living in Chandler, Ariz. He is a longtime Husker fan and can be contacted at billAZhusker@aol.com.


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