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Game of the Year of the Day, 1985: Oklahoma 27, Nebraska 7

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Barry Switzer’s 1985 Oklahoma Sooners: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Brian Bosworth

The date: November 23, 1985

The matchup: No. 2 Nebraska (9-1) at No. 5 Oklahoma (7-1)

The stakes: Well it’s OU-Nebraska, for starters. Barry Switzer vs. Tom Osborne. In 1985, this might have been the premier rivalry in the sport, even with OU’s early-1980s struggles. This was the second of four straight series games in which both teams were in the top 6. OU would win all four.

The back story: I put ‘85 OU in the “incredible defense” pile here to prove a point. Switzer’s Sooners were known first for offensive dominance, but between 1984-88, OU didn’t allow 200 points in a season even once.

The Sooners probably peaked in this regard in 1986, but the ‘85 team was ridiculous, too. And it was the perfect team for the new national television era in college football. From 50 Best*:

On June 27, 1984, the United States Supreme Court decided NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla. For nearly four decades, the NCAA had controlled what and how many college football games could be televised. It limited the number because it held that too many games on television would have a significant, negative impact on game attendance. The Universities of Georgia and Oklahoma challenged the NCAA and won. By a vote of 7-2, the Court held that the NCAA’s plan violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, an 1890 law that prohibits anti-competitive practices.

The floodgates opened. [...]

Through the years, NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla. changed football almost as significantly as the forward pass. After a few years, Notre Dame would withdraw from the CFA to form its own TV arrangement with NBC. Super-conferences formed, in part, to pull in more television money. College football, like politics, is local … but as television began to play more of a role, it became a little bit more national, too.

Since Oklahoma was the school named in the Supreme Court case, perhaps it made sense that OU would be the first team to take total advantage. The 1985 Sooner team was one of the most high-personality squads in a high-personality era. Brian Bosworth was known as much for his haircuts and antics as his being the best linebacker in college football. Jamelle Holieway flashed a million-dollar smile while running the option as well as any Switzer quarterback ever had. Keith Jackson was one of the fastest tight ends the sport had seen, and took particular pleasure in his touchdown dances. The defense had massive swagger, and the offense had countless halfbacks ready to rip off a 50-yard run.

And, of course, Barry Switzer — the bootlegger’s boy, the man who adopted Darrell K Royal’s wishbone early on and removed from it any semblance of mercy, the man who could grin and wink at the camera and make you believe you were invited to the party — ran the show.

OU allowed 27 points in a 27-15 loss to Miami in their fourth game of the year, gave up 14 to Iowa State the next week, then allowed just 7 points per game the rest of the way. That’s exactly what they gave up to second-ranked Nebraska, and the Huskers’ lone score didn’t even come on offense.

Of course, it was a tight end who stole the show in this one.

The game: Via the AP:

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Keith Jackson, a 241-pound tight end, rambled 88 yards for a touchdown on his first carry of the season yesterday, triggering fifth-ranked Oklahoma to a surprisingly easy 27-7 victory over No. 2 Nebraska and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Penn State.

Jackson, a sophomore and Oklahoma's leading receiver, turned the corner and tightroped his way down the right sideline to give Oklahoma a 7-0 lead with just 3:39 gone in the game.

Freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway darted 43 yards for another touchdown 5 1/2 minutes later, three plays after a 38-yard pass from Holieway to Jackson -- Oklahoma's only completion of the game -- put the ball at the Nebraska 46. [...]

It was Nebraska's worst setback since a 38-7 loss to Oklahoma in 1977. The 17-0 halftime score marked Nebraska's largest midway deficit since a 47-0 loss to Oklahoma in the 1968 finale.

The Cornhuskers prevented what would have been their first shutout in 147 games when defensive tackle Chris Spachman plucked an Oklahoma fumble out of the air and lumbered 76 yards for a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the game.

There are fewer more demoralizing ways to start a huge game than giving up an 88-yard run to a tight end. Not only that, but having your defense get straight-up outrun by said tight end. Keith Jackson was one of the most freakish college football athletes of the 1980s — he caught a play-action bomb in the Orange Bowl against Penn State, too — but this was his quintessential moment.


Full game:

The box score:

Nebraska only gained 25 more rushing yards than Jackson did. That pretty much tells the story. An early 14-0 lead meant OU didn’t even have to try to throw the ball, and 423 rushing yards meant the Sooners were never touched.

OU would go on to take down Oklahoma State and SMU and head to the Orange Bowl with a shot at the national title despite the early loss to Miami. They manhandled PSU, 25-10, and the No. 2 Hurricanes got smoked by Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, and that was that: Switzer had his first national title in 10 years.

This was the beginning of Switzer’s last great run before NCAA sanctions took him down. Oklahoma went 33-3 from 1985-87 — 0-3 against Miami and 33-0 against everybody else.