Oklahoma football: OU, Huskers reunite, but headed different directions

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04: The Oklahoma Sooners on offense against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04: The Oklahoma Sooners on offense against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

There were times in days gone by when Oklahoma football and the Big Red machine from Nebraska ruled the college football world.

810. FOX. 11 AM CT. 2-1. 815. Oklahoma -22.0. Saturday, Sept. 18. 2-0

It’s been quite a few years since the days of “Irresistible Oklahoma” and “Immovable Nebraska.” That was the headline on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November 1971, and the renewal of this storied rivalry celebrates the 50-year anniversary of that historic 1971 game on Saturday at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.

The Sooners are ranked No. 3 in the country and are averaging 527 yards of total offense per game, while limiting opponents to 287 yards a game. Unlike many other years in this long rivaly, Nebraska is unranked but comes into the game with a two-game winning streak and a 2-1 record.

OU head coach Lincoln Riley dismissed Nebraska’s struggles in recent seasons, saying that this is a still a very good football team with a lot of quality players in all phases of the game.

Oklahoma and Nebraska met every season for 71 consecutive years from 1927 to 1997 as conference opponents. That string was broken in 1998 as part of the Big 12’s North/South scheduling rotation. When the two teams renew their rivalry on Saturday in Norman, it will have been almost 11 years since the last time they played, in the 2010 Big 12 Championship game. Oklahoma won that game, coming from behind for a 23-20 victory.

The series first began in 1912, with Nebraska dominating in the early years. The Cornhuskers were 16-3-3 in the first 22 games, including 11 shutouts. The advantage shifted in the 1940s through the ’60s, with Oklahoma going 22-4 over that span, including a 16-game winning streak.

Since 1969, however, the series has been fairly even, with the Sooners holding a narrow 20-18 edge. That probably would not have been the case had Nebraska remained in the Big 12 after the 2010 season. In the last 10 years, Nebraska has gone 68-55 overall. Over that same span, Oklahoma has gone 106-25, won seven Big 12 titles and appeared in four College Football Playoffs.

Combined these two teams have won 96 conference championships (50 by Oklahoma and 46 by Nebraska). In the years of the Big Seven and Big Eight Conferences, OU or Nebraska won or shared 44 of the 48 conference titles.

While Saturday’s 50-year anniversary game won’t be one of the classic No.1 vs. No. 2 OU-Nebraska matchups of the past, because of its long rivalry and tradition, it should be every bit as exciting. And both sides are viewing it exactly that way.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. and will be televised nationally by FOX. In addition, the FOX “Big Noon Kickoff” crew, including former OU head coach Bob Stoops, will be in Norman for the game. Gus Johnson will do the play-by-play for the game, with Joel Klatt providing analysis and Jenny Taft doing sideline reporting.

Stoops will be honored on the field between the first and second quarters for his induction in December into the College Football Hall of Fame. Stoops was the head coach of the Sooners for 18 seasons, from 1999 to 2016 and with 190 wins became the winningest coach in OU football history. He led the Sooners to their seventh national title in 2000, his second season as head coach.

What to watch for from Nebraska

The Nebraska offense is producing almost at as high a clip as Oklahoma’s. The Cornhuskers, led by junior quarterback Adrian Martinez, are averaging 513.7 yards per game. The defense has allowed opponents an average of 325.7 yards through three games, but in their last two games, the Cornhuskers have held their opponents to a combined 10 points.

Martinez is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and 85 yards per game. Markese Stepp and Gabe Irvin, Jr. also are utilized in the run game, both averaging close to four yards per carry and 10 carries per game. When Martinez puts the ball in the air, his primary target is senior Samori Toure. Touri has 13 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns and is averaging 23 yards per reception.

The Cornhuskers veteran Blackshirt defense returned 11 full or part-time starters this season. Nebraska has not allowed a touchdown in nearly seven quarters and has not given up a point in the fourth quarter this season.

In its last two games, wins over Fordham and Buffalo, the Huskers have averaged 40 points and allowed just 10. They’ll have their hands full trying to hold Oklahoma to those kind of numbers. Interestingly, under Nebraska football alum Scott Frost, who is in his fourth season as head coach, the Cornhuskers are 9-0 in games when they score at least 35 points.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

The Oklahoma offense is averaging 527 yards of total offense per game, 18th best among FBS teams. The defense, which was expected to be a strength in the third year of the Alex Grinch defense, struggled in the season opener, but pitched a shutout in Week 2 in a 76-0 win over FCS Western Carolina. The game with Nebraska will be a true test of how far this veteran OU defense has come in the last three years.

Look for the balance in the Sooners’ run game and passing attack to create a problem for the Nebraska defense. If Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray are able to generate an effective rushing attack, that could create a nightmare for the Nebraska Blackshirts, especially on the back end, covering the arsenal of playmaking weapons Spencer Rattler has available to him.

The Sooners also have one of the best kickers in the Big 12 if a drive stalls and they need to settle for a field goal. Gabe Brkic is five of six on field-goal tries this season, with four of the five makes from 50 yards or longer.

Savvy Sooner stat

Oklahoma is 70-14-2 all-time as the No. 3-ranked team in the Associated Press poll and 32-5 at home. The Sooners are 5-0 against Nebraska as the No. 3 team and 11-3 against the Cornhuskers when ranked in the AP’s top three.

Bottom line

According to WynnBET Sportsbook, Oklahoma is a three-touchdown favorite (-22) on Saturday. On a talent basis, the Sooners are the better team with the better quarterback, but this is the renewal of a longtime rivalry, and we all know that all bets are off in rivalry games. The fact that this game is being played in Norman is a huge factor in the Sooners’ favor. The last two games played in Norman between these two teams, Oklahoma won by scores of 62-28 and 30-3. The Sooners win this one, but by less than the 22-point spread.

Oklahoma 45, Nebraska 24