Loss of coach hinders preparations for Nebraska

(c) Copyright the News & Observer Publishing Co. and The Associated Press, 1994

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- As if preparing for No. 1 Nebraska wasn't enough, Oklahoma's football players have had even more on their mind this week -- the resignation of their coach.

Gary Gibbs said Monday he was stepping down effective at the end of the season. The news stunned a team that one week earlier had been told by Gibbs that he had no plans to resign.

"As a captain, I've got to make sure the team stays focused on what is at hand," quarterback Garrick McGee said. "It's not just a game, it's Nebraska, the No. 1 team in the country. It's going to be tough."

Safety Anthony Fogle put it this way: "I don't want to get embarrassed against Nebraska."

That isn't out of the question. The Sooners (6-4, 4-2 Big Eight) were manhandled by a Colorado team that Nebraska (11-0, 6-0) dominated. And the Cornhuskers enter Friday's game with great incentive to play well -- a date in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 for a chance at the national title.

"We definitely feel this is a national championship game because right now as it stands we're No. 1. If we continue to play well, it's ours to lose," linebacker Ed Stewart said.

Nebraska leads the country in rushing, is fourth in total offense and third in scoring. The Cornhuskers are just as intimidating on the other side of the ball, ranking fourth in rushing defense and seventh in total defense.

"If you're not able to run right at 'em, if you're not able to possess the football and aren't able to show patience along the way, it's going to be a very, very difficult day for us or anybody," Gibbs said.

The Oklahoma offense has lacked direction and consistency this season. The Sooners have used a variety of formations, even dabbling with the wishbone for a stretch, and have been hurt by penalties and turnovers.

But the return of fullback Jerald Moore figures to give Oklahoma at least a chance to run straight at the Cornhuskers. The 230-pound sophomore missed 2 1/2 games with a hamstring injury, but returned Nov. 12 and scored five touchdowns while running for 151 yards against Oklahoma State.

Nebraska has a punishing fullback of its own in 230-pound Cory Schlesinger. He had a big day against Colorado, and Gibbs said the Cornhuskers have used the fullback trap play more often this year than in seasons past.

Nebraska always assaults opponents with a tailback running behind a big offensive line and that has not changed. Lawrence Phillips, a sophomore, is the second-leading rusher in the Big Eight with an average of 152 yards per game.

But Gibbs said he has been most impressed with the play of quarterback Brook Berringer, who took over when Tommie Frazier was sidelined with a blood clot.

"Everybody early on was talking about his ability to throw the football, but it's his ability to play the quarterback position that has allowed Nebraska not to miss a beat," Gibbs said.

"They do a lot of things with the quarterback. When you watch him on tape, he's always putting them in position to have some success."

The most consistent part of Oklahoma's team this year has been the defense. Led by all-conference lineman Cedric Jones, the Sooners rank second to Nebraska in total defense and the unit has improved throughout the season.

A year ago, Oklahoma held the Cornhuskers to 179 total yards and just 122 on the ground. Gibbs likes the matchup this year, but knows it will be anything but easy.

"We've got to defend seven different formation groupings," he said. "If you don't match up with their different groupings, they get an edge on you in a hurry. And once they get an edge on you, it really becomes a downhill slide from there."