Oklahoma football: Five storylines for Sooners’ non-con finale in Husker land

Sep 18, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Many of us older Sooner fans of the Baby Boomer generation remember when Oklahoma-Nebraska was one of the most anticipated and best rivalries every college football season.

The annual Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry was must-see TV — the irresistible force against the immovable object — and usually for the conference title. The historic 1971 battle between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma was billed as the “Game of the Century,” just one of many classic showdowns between Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Wishbone offense and Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne.

Switzer was 12-5 against Nebraska as the OU head coach, but Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams went 14-3 against the Cornhuskers, including 12 consecutive victories between 1947 and 1958.

Because of the Big 12’s divisional structure, Oklahoma and Nebraska didn’t play every season. Consequently, Bob Stoops’ Sooner teams played Nebraska just 8 times total, with OU winning six of the games. Two of those contests decided the Big 12 Championship (2006 and 2010), with Oklahoma winning both times.

The most memorable of the eight games Stoops coached against Nebraska undeniably came in 2000, Stoops’ second season at OU. Nebraska came to Norman that season ranked No. 1 in the country. The Sooners began that season ranked 19th in the country. In successive weeks preceding the showdown with Nebraska, Oklahoma had beaten No. 11 Texas 63-14 and No. 2 Kansas State at K-State 41-31. Those two wins had elevated OU to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Oklahoma fell behind early in the 2000 game, surrendering 14 unanswered points to the Huskers in the first quarter. But the Sooners roared back in the second and third quarters, scoring 31 unanswered points while holding Nebraska scoreless the rest of the way for a 31-14 upset victory to take over the top spot in the national rankings. OU went on to finish off a perfect 13-0 season and win its seventh and most recent national championship.

That same drama will not exist on Saturday in the 88th meeting between the Sooners and Cornhuskers. The tradition may still be there, but let’s face it, these aren’t your grandfather’s  Nebraska Cornhuskers. That train left the station quite a few years back.

Regardless, here are five intriguing storylines surrounding Saturday’s game:

How will Nebraska react in its first game following the firing of Scott Frost?

Former Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was fired last weekend after the Cornhuskers’45-42 loss to Georgia Southern, a team that was 3-9 last season. Mickey Joseph replaces Frost on an interim basis. Joseph is a former Nebraska player (1988-91) who is in his first season on the coaching staff at his alma mater. The question is: How will the team respond in the first game after Frost’s dismissal?

Sometimes that change provides a spark to a team that has been circling the drain for several seasons under the previous head coach. Although, things could also go the other way, at least initially, as a team tries to figure things out and work through the transition with a new head coach.

Oklahoma needs to approach this game as if there’s blood in the water and not as if Nebraska is a wounded team that isn’t capable of playing with the Sooners. As we all know, wounded animals can still put up a terrific fight, which can also make them difficult to put down.

Which Oklahoma offense will we see at the start of this game?

For 29 minutes of the first half last week against Kent State, the Oklahoma offense was as inept and stagnant as I have seen it in quite a few years. Up to that point, the Sooners had just seven rushing yards and under 100 yards of total offense. With 18 seconds to go in the first half, Dillon Gabriel connected with Marvin Mims on a 36-yard touchdown pass to put OU on the scoreboard for the first time and provide added momentum going into the second half.

The Sooners scored in their first four possessions of the second half to put the game away, but the concern was why it took the OU offense nearly the entire first half before it found its footing. Was it something Kent State was doing to take away what the Sooners wanted to do on offense, or was it just poor execution on Oklahoma’s part?

Will get a better idea when we see how the two sides attack when Oklahoma is on offense at Nebraska.

This is the first OU road game of 2022

This is the first road game of the season for Oklahoma. And it’s not just any road game, it’s at a place that holds close to 90,000 of the most passionate fan bases in all of college football. Some of that passion has been weakened by the disappointing performance of Nebraska football in recent year, but Memorial Stadium in Lincoln can still be one of the toughest places to play for visiting teams.

Not only is the gameday atmosphere in Lincoln a little intimidating, but you also need to factor that 41 percent of the Oklahoma roster this season is composed of players in their first year playing for OU. Since 1971, the Sooners are 8-9 playing at Nebraska.

Sooners have allowed just one touchdown in two games

Oklahoma ranks 10th nationally after two games, allowing just 8.0 points a game. The Sooner defense has given up just one touchdown in two games. You have to go back to 2013 to the last time the Sooners have allowed just one touchdown over a two-game span. Nebraska is averaging 36.0 points in three games so far in the 2022 season.

Can Nebraska’s leaky rush defense slow down the Oklahoma run game?

Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Oklahoma leads the country averaging 5.5 yards per rush. This season OU is averaging 5.3 yards per running play and close to 200 yards rushing per game. The Nebraska defense this season is allowing 207.3 rushing yards a game, which ranks 116th out of 131 FBS teams.

If the Sooners are able to run the ball effectively against Nebraska, this game could get ugly very quick given Dillon Gabriel’s passing arm and accuracy.