STILLWATER, Okla. — Saturday's 35-0 thrashing by Nebraska brought Oklahoma State back to the realities of bigtime college football, which still allows room for only two superpowers in the Big Eight Conference and just one in the state, where the top-ranked Sooners are still king.
"This tends to throw it back in that complexion," said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, whose second-ranked Cornhuskers (6-0) will try to keep a straight face against Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State until they meet Oklahoma (6-0) at Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 21.
It was good for the 50,440 here at Lewis Stadium and others watching on national TV to remember that many folks thought Oklahoma State actually had a chance, like Tyrell Biggs had a chance against Mike Tyson Friday night.
The Cowboys were ranked 12th and off to their first 5-0 start since World War II with an offense averaging 37.4 points per game, and they were only 10-point underdogs and on their home turf. These were two of only seven unbeaten teams in the country.
But by halftime the Cowboys trailed 21-0 and had reached midfield only once.
The situation was so well in hand that the 10,000 Husker fans present must have thought about firing up their RVs for an early start on the seven-hour haul back to Lincoln.
Cowboy Coach Pat Jones said: "You have to give our defensive people quite a bit of credit," although nobody could figure out why.
The Huskers, with junior quarterback Steve Taylor working the I-formation option, gained 617 yards in 87 plays, an average of 7.1. It wasn't just that they scored on drives of 92, 67, 63, 74 and 72 yards, but that they did it in series of 6, 5, 6, 10 and 14 plays.
"We started averaging 8 and 9 yards on first down just running pitches and traps and dives," Taylor said.
It was so easy that Taylor seemed to pass only to break the monotony, completing 7 of 12 for 140 yards to complement his 43 yards rushing.
The Huskers' top rusher was I-back Keith Jones (21 for 115). He and sophomore backup Ken Clark scored two touchdowns each after Rod Smith got the first on a 29-yard pass play from Taylor, twisting free from cornerback Melvin Gilliam at the 15.
Keith Jones' anticipated duel with Oklahoma State's Thurman Thomas never developed. Thomas entered the game as the nation's leading rusher with averages of 5.8 yards per attempt and 140 per game, but the Huskers stuffed him just as they had a year ago. He netted 7 yards in 9 attempts and fumbled away the ball on his longest run of 4 yards.
That was particularly satisfying to Broderick Thomas, the Husker defensive end who apparently has succeeded Brian Bosworth as the mouth of the Midwest.
Thomas and Thomas were once friendly high school rivals around Houston, and Broderick, a nephew of the Chicago Bears' Mike Singletary, was quoted during the week: "Thurman may be the nation's leading rusher . . . but he'll need wings to fly over us if he's going to gain any yards."
Nobody was doubting (Broderick) Thomas by the end of the first quarter. He indicated that Thurman had asked for it.
The Husker and Cowboy squads had the traditional Friday night out at the movies.
"We ran into Oklahoma State," Broderick Thomas said. "I guess that's the only theater in Stillwater. They came in and didn't say anything. I saw Thurman, and he didn't even speak to me. He just looked at me and walked off."
Afterward, however, the teams milled around outside while waiting for their buses.
Broderick Thomas: "Thurman came outside and said, 'No one man is gonna stop me.' That was funny. A lot of guys got upset. I started to laugh. He said, 'It's gonna take 11 of you to stop me.'
"We found that on a lot of occasions we were stopping him one on one, and (once) we took the ball from him. We just enjoyed it.
"Our whole defense, I'd like to take my hat off to 'em because they really showed a few people how slow they were," Thomas said. "If that's what a slow defense can do, I'd love to be slow all my life."
The Husker defense was third nationally against the rush, yielding only 1.8 yards per attempt. Oklahoma State managed 1.9 but was at minus 14 through three quarters (including four sacks of Mike Gundy, which count against rushing yardage in college).
At that point Osborne went to his bench.
Gundy, a 5-foot 11-inch sophomore, was already being discussed as the best Cowboy quarterback since, oh, Rusty Hilger--bright, active and with a good arm.
But Gundy was handicapped all afternoon by trying to run plays with Husker defensive linemen in his backfield.
"I knew I'd have to run some," Gundy said, "but I didn't expect to do it all day."
Coach Jones said: "Mike was essentially running for his life. He was running away from people who were quicker than he was."
With the score 14-0 early in the second quarter, Gundy had an opportunity to impede the rout when he threw a 47-yard completion to Hart Lee Dykes at the Huskers' 8-yard line. Thurman Thomas ran for three yards, and a facemask penalty pushed the ball to the 2 1/2, first and goal.
Then Gundy, on orders from Jones, did a strange thing. He tried to throw a "fade" to 6-4 receiver Ronnie Williams, who was isolated on 5-10 cornerback Chris Fryar, a cousin of Irving Fryar, the New England Patriots' receiver. Fryar was surprised but ready.
"Six-four against 5-8?" Fryar said. "They had to throw that. But on first down? I was very surprised."
Gundy put a nice touch on the pass, but Fryar leaped first to intercept it as Williams clipped his shoulder pad going up and never really got off the ground.
"Williams said, 'Good play,' " Fryar related.
By the end, nothing seemed to have changed. The Huskers beat the Cowboys for the 14th straight time (25-0-1 since 1961).