AP Photo, appeared in Los Angeles Times

Death, taxes, the annual Nebraska-Oklahoma contest deciding the Big 8 Conference.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it was virtually a given that the rivalry contest between the Sooners and Cornhuskers would decide a conference champion. On this day 35 years ago, Oklahoma not only wrapped up a Big 8 title, but did it in emphatic fashion, 27-7.

Setting the Stage

Since dropping its opener to Florida State, Nebraska had worked its way from No. 18 to No. 2 in the AP Poll as it arrived in Norman on Nov. 23, 1985. The Cornhuskers had won nine games in a row and only one team had stayed closer than 10 points during that stretch.

Like Nebraska, Oklahoma was undefeated in Big 8 play as it got set to take on the rival Cornhuskers. The Sooners had snapped a 3-game skid to Nebraska the year prior and arrived as the No. 5 team in the country.

Following a home loss to Miami, Oklahoma had won four straight games by a combined 189-26 margin. In a top-5 match-up, there was no doubt who was king in the Big 8.

The Game

For Oklahoma, it was domination from the start. The Sooners finished with 423 yards rushing and needed just to throw four passes all day.

The game was just over three minutes old when tight end Keith Jackson set the tone with an 88-yard touchdown run on a reverse. Less than six minutes later, the Sooners’ 7-0 lead had doubled on a 43-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jamelle Holieway.

The Nebraska defense eventually settled in, but the offense never did. Nebraska managed just 224 yards of offense and turned the ball over five times.

Oklahoma kicker Tim Lashar added field goals in the second and third quarter to push the lead to 20-0. With less than three minutes to play in the third quarter, Holieway’s 17-yard touchdown run capped the scoring for the Sooners.

For Nebraska, the lone bright spot may have been breaking up the shutout. With 26 seconds left, Nebraska’s Chris Spachman returned an Oklahoma fumble 76 yards for a touchdown — the lone score of the day for the Cornhuskers.

Jackson led Oklahoma with 136 yards rushing on just three carries. Holieway added 110 yards on the ground in the victory. Von Sheppard led Nebraska with 65 yards rushing on just two carries.

In Hindsight

The loss would not only cost Nebraska a Big 8 title and a potential shot at a national championship, but it would also cost the Cornhuskers a top-10 AP ranking. Nebraska finished No. 11 after falling to Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl.

Following the victory, Oklahoma ascended to No. 3 in the polls. The Sooners capped the year with victories over SMU and then No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl, 25-10. Coupled with No. 2 Miami’s 35-7 loss to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma would finish No. 1 and claim its first national championship in 10 years and third under head coach Barry Switzer.

But before the Sooners could win the national championship, they had to win the Big 8 championship. They clinched that on this day 35 years ago.


Husker Max
Omaha World-Herald

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.