It’s that time again! Today we are 71 days away from the return of Oklahoma Football. In this edition of our Countdown to Kickoff, we’re going to take a look at the 1971 Game of the Century between the No. 2 ranked Oklahoma Sooners and the top ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Also, we’re highlighting one of the greatest offensive linemen in the Bob Stoops era — Trent Williams!
In Chuck Fairbanks’ fifth season as Oklahoma’s head coach, the Sooners’ high-powered wishbone offense was led by offensive coordinator Barry Switzer. Running back Greg Pruitt and quarterback Jack Mildren combined for one of the most lethal rushing offenses in college football history. After starting the year 9-0, Oklahoma moved up to No. 2 in the polls, and was set to host the reigning national champs — Nebraska.
It was billed as 1971’s Game of the Century. Tom Osborne and the Cornhuskers weren’t just winning games, they were annihilating opponents. Entering the epic showdown with a 30-game unbeaten streak, Nebraska was the cream of the crop in Division 1 college football.
Oklahoma’s unstoppable offense squared off against Nebraska’s impenetrable defense, and the game lived up to the hype. An estimated 55 million viewers made this game the most-watched college football game at the time, and former Sooners head coach Bud Wilkinson provided color analysis on the ABC broadcast.
In the first half, Oklahoma’s offense found some success after falling behind early 14-3. Mildren converted on two long passes to give the Sooners a 17-14 advantage at the half. In the second half, the Huskers turned it back up, retaking the lead with two touchdowns in the third, and never relinquishing the lead from that point on. It was a game that went down to the wire, but unfortunately for Oklahoma, Nebraska came away with the 35-31 victory.
Nebraska would go on to win out and claim a second consecutive national title, while Oklahoma finished its season with an 11-1 record, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and the Auburn Tigers. The 1971 Game of the Century remains one of the toughest losses in Oklahoma history, because if the Sooners had found a way to win that game, Oklahoma likely would have claimed a national title at the end of the season. Still, it was a remarkable game between respected rivals that will live on in college football lore.
And now as a little bonus, let’s take a trip down memory lane in remembrance of Trent Williams, who remains one of the best offensive linemen to ever come through Norman. After 39 starts in his career at Oklahoma, Williams was named an All-American by the AFCA in 2009. Williams would then move on to the NFL in 2010, where he would be drafted fourth overall by the Washington Redskins. Since 2012, Williams has been named to the NFL Pro Bowl six times, solidifying him as one of the league’s most elite tackles today.
Now let’s make up for the days we missed:
72 days! - Samaje Perine goes 72 yards on a bum ankle
Oklahoma was already without Baker Mayfield and Joe Mixon due to injuries suffered against TCU, and Samaje Perine wasn’t doing so hot himself. Early in the third quarter of a crucial game against the Horned Frogs, someone fell on Perine’s ankle. Luckily, that wasn’t enough to keep him from hobbling his way to a 72-yard touchdown — a play which sort of encapsulates what he meant to OU. The game ended up being a bit of a barn-burner, but OU perhaps misses out on a trip to the 2015 College Football Playoff if Perine doesn’t give the Sooners this buffer.
73 days! - Switzer’s first team
As was the case in 1974, Oklahoma was on probation and restricted from both postseason play and TV appearances during Barry Switzer’s first season as head coach. While this team wasn’t awarded a national championship by a major poll, the 10-0-1 Sooners were dominant, with the only blemish being a 7-7 tie at then-No. 1 USC early in the season. The team also featured a defensive line anchored by all three Selmon Brothers.
Here’s a clip of the most epic -3-yard punt return you’ll ever see:
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