Old hostilities will renewed on Saturday as the Oklahoma Sooners host the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first Battle of the Big Reds in over a decade.
The 87th meeting between the old rivals commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, where No. 1 Nebraska topped the No. 2-ranked Oklahoma Sooners 35-31 on Nov. 25, 1971.
While the Cornhuskers have been searching for an identity since departing from the Big 12 for the Big 10, their hopes against the Sooners this weekend rely on the arm and legs of quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Martinez is just one of five Big 10 quarterbacks to ever throw for 6,000 career passing yards and rush for over 2,000 yards on the ground, joining Ohio State’s JT Barrett, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Indiana’s Antwaan Randel El and former Cornhusker Taylor Martinez.
Though Adrian Martinez has always been a dynamic athlete, he took a step forward last year throwing the football. In a shortened season, Martinez finished ranked No. 4-nationally in completion percentage, connecting on 71.5 percent of his passes.
The biggest weakness in Martinez’s game thus far has been his propensity to throw interceptions, tossing 20 picks over his career, but the Nebraska signal caller has yet to throw the ball to the opposing team in 2021.
If Scott Frost’s team wants to pull the upset in Norman, they’ll have to get the best out of Martinez both through the air and on the ground.
One major barrier to Martinez’s success against the Sooners could be the performance of his offensive line.
Currently, the Nebraska O-line is the No. 89-rated pass blocking unit in the country per Pro Football Focus.
In their first three contests of the season against Illinois, Fordham and Buffalo, the ‘Husker offensive line has earned a dismal pass blocking grade of 49.6, which is especially bad news when considered that they have yet to see a defensive front as talented as Oklahoma.
The Sooners by comparison have the fourth best pass rush grade (90.5) per PFF, and the highest rated pass rusher in the country in rush linebacker Nik Bonitto.
Both Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch preached the importance of a disciplined pass rush on Saturday to contain Martinez and prevent massive rushing lanes from forming. If OU’s defensive lineman can heed their coaches’ advice, Oklahoma should be able to generate plenty of pressure on Martinez in the pocket.
On the other side of the football, Nebraska is coming off their best back-to-back defensive performances since 2010.
The Cornhuskers held Fordham and Buffalo both to single digits, the first time the Blackshirt Defense has accomplished that since holding Kansas and Texas A&M to a combined nine points in consecutive weeks 11 years ago.
But still, the Nebraska defense has struggled to finish off plays in their opponents’ backfield, only registering 1.33 sacks per game through their first three weeks of action.
Getting to quarterback Spencer Rattler early will be essential for the Cornhuskers, as if they can unsettle Rattler early, they may be able to force him into bad throws leading to turnovers.
However, the Oklahoma offensive line has graded out as the fourth best pass blocking unit in the country so far by PFF, meaning Rattler should have plenty of time in the pocket to dissect the Nebraska defense.
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