ARLINGTON, Texas â€” Criticized much of the season for being the lowest ranked defense in the Bob Stoops era, Oklahoma's defense finished the season strong, highlighted by a second-half shutout in the Big 12 title game that allowed the Sooners to rally for a 23-20 win over Nebraska.
"This one is the sweetest," said linebacker Travis Lewis. "We always pride ourselves that defense wins championships. We got down a little early and gave them some big plays. But we never panicked."
After shutting down Baylor, then limiting Oklahoma State to its fewest first downs all season, the Sooners clamped down on Nebraska's ground oriented attack.
Nebraska finished with 293 total yards, including 145 rushing yards on 43 carries.
"It was a great defensive effort," Stoops said. "Compliment our players. They tackled well. Outside of the one or two big plays they were in position all night."
The Sooners fell behind 17-0 and the offense and defense contributed to the early deficit.
"The players, coaches, everyone not losing their poise and their focus was just a microcosm of our season," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "Our guys stayed the course. No disrespect to Nebraska but we felt we were the culprits."
The offense took almost an entire half to finally get untracked as OU didn't score its first six series. The Sooners had three punts and turned the ball over on downs twice. Then, a Landry Jones interception led to a Nebraska 12-yard TD drive that produced a 17-0 lead.
"Our team answered the bell when we were down 17-0," Stoops said. "When we went in at halftime I told our guys defensively we're not that far off. We gave up two run plays the whole game, the one in the first quarter and the one at the end of the first half. Outside of that we played well.
"I said, 'All we've got to do is stick with the second half and we'll be in good shape.' Offensively we made some big plays and stuck with it. It was tough going early but then we caught our rhythm."
MACON SOME NOISE
Senior Pryce Macon rarely played his first four years on campus but played a key role his final season, starting two games, including one at defensive tackle when the Sooners were thin inside.
Macon saved his best game for his last one, recording three of the Sooners' seven sacks. Macon finished with five tackles for loss.
"I didn't know it was that many," Macon said. "Coaches got us ready to play and told us to finish. Nothing to do but that."
Stoops said: "Pryce has been through a lot of adversity. He had multiple injuries but kept coming back and was rewarded for it. To play so well in the Big 12 championship game is something he'll remember forever."
JONES LEARNS LESSON
After throwing two interceptions last week against Oklahoma State when he was simply trying to throw the ball out of bounds, Jones several times threw the ball way out of bounds, including one time in the third quarter when he nearly hit the Nebraska band several feet up in the stands.
A 37-YARD PENALTY?
Oklahoma was called for a holding penalty on a Ryan Broyles punt return early in the fourth quarter. It ended up costing the Sooners 37 yards. But thanks to a Travis Lewis fumble recovery it didn't cost them any points.
Broyles returned the punt to the 42-yard line but the Sooners were flagged for holding. Three times officials continued to step off the penalty until eventually spotting the ball at the 5-yard line.
With the game tied 20-20, the Sooners went three-and-out, giving the Cornhuskers good field position. Lewis, though, recovered a Rex Burkhead fumble, which set up OU's go-ahead field goal that proved to be the difference.
OU fans booed for several plays.
What made the play more confusing is the referee announced the holding penalty was on No. 23 Jermie Calhoun, who is sidelined following ACL surgery. Later it was reported the penalty was on No. 32, Jamell Fleming.
JEFFERSON'S ROLE REDUCED
Freshman nickel back Tony Jefferson entered the game tied for sixth on OU's roster for tackles (60) but played his fewest snaps all season because the Sooners played a lot of their base 4-3 defense to combat Nebraska's grind-it-out, power running game.
Joseph Ibiloye played strongside linebacker much of the game but Jefferson supplied one of the biggest plays when the Sooners went to their nickel package in the final minutes. Jefferson's sack of Taylor Martinez put Nebraska in a third-and-16 hole. Two plays later OU took over on downs to seal the win.
"That sack at the end of the game was huge," said defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright.
STEVENS HAS EVENTFUL GAME
Kicker Jimmy Stevens hit three field goals, including two that accounted for all the scoring by either team in the second half.
Stevens has hit 13 of his last 15 attempts, including a 20-yard attempt that tied the game midway through the third quarter and a 27-yarder that put the Sooners' ahead.
Stevens, though, missed a chip-shot 24-yard field goal, pushing the ball wide right that could have tied the game midway through the third quarter. Given a second chance, Stevens hit the game-tying field goal and then the game winner with 8:28 remaining.
BIG BOARD BOO BIRDS
The giant scoreboard is the highlight of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' $1.2 billion stadium which makes it easy for fans to target things they like and don't like.
A smattering of boos filled the stadium when Oklahoma State players Justin Blackmon (Offensive Player of the Year) and Dan Bailey (Special teams Player of the Year) were shown on the screen that spans from 20-yard-line to 20-yard line.
Texas defensive end Sam Acho, shown on the video screen as one of several academic award winners, received boos from both sides.
What was surprising is a loud chorus of boos erupted when Lou Holtz was shown on the big screen on a Dr. Pepper commercial. Evidently, Sooner fans are still upset from the loss to Arkansas in the 1978 Orange Bowl.