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Looking Back at Barry Sanders’ 1988 Season: Most Points Ever on Nebraska

Barry rolled Nebraska, but it wasn’t enough.



One win (if we’re calling it that?) on the content side of things during this pandemic has been that I’ve been diving into the history books more than I normally would. There’s more time, and it’s more necessary if we’re going to keep churning out interesting things.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do is walk back through all of Barry Sanders’ games from the 1988 season and write about them individually. That’s what this series is about. Old articles, quotes, stats and tidbits you may have missed or didn’t know about. 

Game 1 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Game 2 vs. Texas A&M
Game 3 vs. Tulsa
Game 4 at Coloado

Game 5: at Nebraska (October 15, 1988)

Oklahoma State experienced its first loss of the 1988 season, even though Barry put up 189 yards and another four TDs in Lincoln. At the time, it was the fourth-most yards a running back had ever put on the Huskers. Here’s what Pat Jones said in 2010 about OSU and Sanders going to Nebraska that year.

“By this time, I think everybody is realizing what’s happening here,” said Jones. “It was not a fluke, it was not a mirage he was not doing it against second-rate competition. We knew it and so did everybody else in the country that something really really unique is going on here.”

The game itself was insane. Nebraska scored five touchdowns in the first quarter and went up 42-0 on OSU 18 minutes into the game. On-pace guy no doubt had a field day on Oct. 15, 1988. Here was the Oklahoman’s lede in the Sunday morning paper.

The Nebraska-Oklahoma State football game was as competitive as Cowboy fans had hoped Saturday — but only after OSU had lost all hope of winning. 

Sanders’ 189 yards were not all empty calories, though. OSU did storm back, but it was far too little far too late. Back to the Oklahoman.

The Cowboys can take solace in this: It was a football game — and yes, even a contest after the opening quarter — and the OSU offense, especially terrific tailback Barry Sanders, did find plenty of punch — after finally leaving the gate.

Here’s how Jake Trotter wrote it on a few years ago.

Coach Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers jumped to a 42-0 lead. By the second quarter. Most teams would have thrown in the towel at that point. But most teams didn’t have Sanders in their backfield. Most teams would have thrown in the towel at that point. But most teams didn’t have Sanders in their backfield.

Sanders took over the rest of the game, and his four touchdowns nearly rallied the Cowboys to what would have been among the most miraculous comebacks in college football history. Nebraska held on 63-42, but not before the red-clad fans had endured some nervous moments, and the Blackshirts had surrendered the most points they ever had in Memorial Stadium. [ESPN]

But Gundy threw three picks and, as defensive back Melvin Gilliam put it, OSU “didn’t stop nothing.” He added, “We couldn’t have stopped a high school team today. They’re a good team, but they’re not that damn good. They kicked our butts. Nothing special. We can’t blame it on a young defense. Can’t blame it on coaching. Can’t blame none of that. They just flat ran right through us.”

Sanders galloped toward a potential comeback, but he wasn’t enough. Still, he passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in just Game 5, and he would only get better (a lot better) from here. Sanders would only have one more game in which he totaled fewer than 215 rushing yards.

In some ways, this game was a turning point for his Heisman campaign because the narrative following this game — instead of, “Wow, Barry and OSU got smoked — seemed to be, “Wow, Barry did that against Nebraska?”

“That Nebraska thing was crazy, and that was a good Nebraska defense,” Jones said recently. “They had us down. We’re down like 40 points or something, and I’m thinking, ‘They’re gonna score a hundred on us.’ And they couldn’t tackle him, and it ends up 63-42. It’s the most points ever scored against an Osborne team for a long time, and he was just running all over them.”

That he was. Even if it didn’t help OSU beat Nebraska for the first time in nearly 30 years. OSU’s first win there wouldn’t come until Gundy was the head coach nearly 20 years later. That’s it. OSU won its first game in Lincoln 7-6 in 1960 and its last 45-14 in 2007. In between was a whole lot of futility (and also Barry running wild for 189 yards and four scores in 1988).

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