Nebraska hits the road for a major test when it rekindles an old flame and takes on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman for the first matchup between the teams since the Huskers joined the Big Ten Conference. Here’s a closer look at how NU and OU match up.
How the Huskers light up the scoreboard
1. Green juice and athletic tape. Nebraska could use good news on the injury front. If all of the five skill players dealing with various maladies — tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek, and receivers Oliver Martin, Zavier Betts and Omar Manning — are healthy, that’ll help.
2. No. 2 is option No. 1. NU junior quarterback Adrian Martinez has put together back-to-back sparkling games. If he continues to avoid sacks, turn pressure into big rushing plays and extends his streak of turnover-free football, the Huskers can make some noise.
3. Bag of tricks. It’s just a nonconference game, so maybe coach Scott Frost will be reluctant to get too wild. On the other hand, if the Huskers smell opportunity, this would be a great time to dig around the bottom of the bag and find something punchy to throw at the Sooners.
4. No threes. Not only do the Huskers want to avoid stalling out and settling for field-goal attempts, but they also can’t afford to go three-and-out too many times. The more the NU offense is on the field, the more the game levels out.
How the Blackshirts shut ’em down
1. Help from my friends. It’s not that the defense has no chance of slowing Oklahoma, it’s just that some help would, well, help. Short fields, sudden changes, quick offensive possessions all hurt the Blackshirts. Can NU avoid them?
2. Keep it in front. Oklahoma is explosive down the field. The Huskers must find a way to keep the ball in front — and tackle. First downs and yardage are a given for OU. Preventing the big ruptures and over-the-top plays is the key for NU.
3. Rattle Rattler. Nebraska got pressure on Kyle Vantrease of Buffalo even though it didn’t sack him. That was enough to force a couple of poor decisions and some errant throws. Rattler can be coerced into bad situations, but the Huskers have to get to him and cover down the field. Easier said than done.
4. Ground to a halt. A lot gets made of Rattler and his fleet of weapons, but Nebraska has its hands full with running backs Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray, too. The OU offensive line is still coming together. Can the Blackshirts make it a long afternoon for them?
Three numbers to know
65.5: Percent of games under coach Lincoln Riley the past four-plus years that Oklahoma has scored 40-plus points. The Sooners have topped 50 on 19 occasions, 60 seven times and 70 twice, including last week.
3: Losses in 36 games for the Sooners when scoring 40-plus under Riley.
6: Plays of 40-plus yards for NU through three games, matching its eight-game total from 2020. The Huskers had four plays against Buffalo alone better than any offensive snap last year.
Under the radar
C | No. 51| So.: Nebraska’s offensive line has taken quite a bit of heat over the first three games, but outside of one errant snap late against Illinois, Jurgens has been a steady presence in the middle of the Husker line. He’ll have a big task on Saturday, going up against the likes of Perrion Winfrey, Isaiah Coe and the Sooner defensive line. Can Jurgens and company find a way to get some push and jump-start Nebraska’s run game?
S | No. 9 | Sr.: Dismuke is a key member of Nebraska’s veteran secondary, but he’s probably the least talked-about of the quartet currently. Cam Taylor-Britt has struggled on punt return, Deontai Williams is playing great and had two interceptions earlier this year, and Quinton Newsome is being tested repeatedly as the new starter of the bunch. Dismuke is just kind of rolling along. He got beat by a perfect throw against Illinois, but he has been solid. The safety — and his secondary mates — will have to be in top form against Oklahoma. Here’s betting Dismuke sees it as a positive challenge.
Oklahoma's offense against the Blackshirts: A general one this week, but this is the most intriguing pairing. Is Nebraska’s veteran defense, which has taken a solid step forward in each of its four seasons under Erik Chinander, ready for the prime time? That’s the question. In particular, keep an eye on NU’s inside linebackers. They played well last week, but the conflict created by OU and the run/pass requirements make this a devilish assignment. Luke Reimer, Nick Henrich and Chris Kolarevic have their hands full. Really, all of the NU defenders do.
Oklahoma kicker Gabe Brkic vs. Nebraska kicker Connor Culp: There are other candidates, but this seemed like an area to highlight. Culp missed three field-goal attempts against Buffalo — well, the third might have gone through, but it goes in the stat book as a miss — and also missed two extra points against Illinois last month. On the flip side, Brkic hammered field goals of 56, 55 and 51 yards as part of a 4-of-5 day against Tulane in a 40-35 victory a couple of weeks ago. For his career, Brkic is 37-of-43 on field goals and has made all 112 of his extra points.
Oklahoma 40, Nebraska 23
In some ways, this feels like a game that is a little bit difficult to size up. In other ways, it seems pretty straightforward. The Sooners are three-touchdown favorites, and with good reason. A close call against Tulane and Nebraska’s veteran defense — along with some stumbling blocks early for other Big 12 schools including Iowa State (close against UNI and loss to Iowa), Texas (hammered by Arkansas), West Virginia (lost to Maryland) — are enough to create some doubt that Oklahoma is just going to show up Saturday and entirely run away from NU.
At the end of the day, though, that still seems more likely than Nebraska actually turning around and heading north with a victory. So, we’ll put the mark somewhere in between.