45-Year CFB Anniversary: No. 1 Oklahoma Survives Scare from Vanderbilt, 25-23

Photo appeared in the Sunday Oklahoman

When one thinks about the Oklahoma and Vanderbilt football programs, they’re viewed in very different lights.

Oklahoma claims seven national championships and has won six of the last seven Big 12 titles. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, doesn’t have a single 10-win season.

On this day 45 years, the Commodores gave the top-ranked Sooners all they wanted. Oklahoma used a keeper and key special teams plays to hold off Vanderbilt, 25-23.

Setting the Stage

Ranked No. 1 in the country, Oklahoma was coming off a 9-2-1 season in 1976. Entering his fifth season as head coach, Barry Switzer already had two national championships to his name.

Vanderbilt had gone just 2-9 the year prior as it arrived in Norman on Sept. 10, 1977. In Nashville in 1976, the Sooners had no trouble with Vandy, winning 24-3.

Sooners Rally

Through three quarters, the faithful in crimson and cream were stunned. Vanderbilt held a 15-11 lead but it didn’t take long for the Sooners to go ahead for good.

Early on in the final period, quarterback Jay Jimerson scored on a 20-yard keeper. The Commodores responded by mounting a drive of their own, but stalled deep in Oklahoma territory.

Vandy was forced to try a tying field goal, but Oklahoma’s Bud Hebert blocked the kick to preserve the lead. Barry Burget scooped it up and raced 64 yards to make it a 2-score game.

Vanderbilt had raced to a 15-0 lead early. After 25 straight points by Oklahoma, it refused to go away late.

Fullback Frank Mordica’s touchdown, followed by a 2-point conversion, cut the deficit to 25-23. Down two, the Commodores had a chance to steal the game in the final seconds, but Gene Martin’s 53-yard field goal was blocked.

Oklahoma overcame 11 fumbles and seven lost to secure the win. Randy Hampton scored the first touchdown of the day for the Commodores.

New York Times

In Hindsight

Despite a solid effort, the season would be more of the same for Vanderbilt. The Commodores finished just 2-9.

Oklahoma fell to Texas in a top-5 matchup but ran the table in the Big 8 to win the conference outright. A 31-6 loss to Arkansas in the Orange Bowl, however, would cost the Sooners any chance of repeating as national champions. They finished 10-2 and ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll.

In Switzer’s 16 years as head coach at Oklahoma, the Sooners went 15-1 in season openers. They managed to rally from 15 down and survive at the end on this day 45 years ago.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.