NORMAN — Far from the blowout that was predicted, the Oklahoma Sooners outlasted the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Winning the first meeting between the two programs since the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game, the Sooners topped their historic rivals 23-16 on Saturday morning inside Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
The defense lead the way for OU, but it was a big special teams play which flipped the momentum and helped power the Sooners to victory.
Pat Fields Takes Blocked PAT to the House
With eight seconds left on the clock in the third quarter, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez cashed in a 4-yard touchdown rush that should have cut the OU lead to four points.
Instead, Isaiah Coe and Pat Fields combined to steal all the momentum back for Oklahoma.
Coe blew through the Nebraska field goal unit, blocking the PAT attempt, and the ball fell right into Fields’ hands, who took it 100 yards to complete the unorthodox two-point conversion and put OU back up by a touchdown.
“What a critical, critical play,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said after the game. “ To penetrate, and that's one of those things where you know they they score a touchdown, you can have an emotional reaction and not play the next down, you can give into your feelings or you can go out there and there's still an opportunity to make a play. And what we tell them is play the play, and Isaiah makes just a tremendous (play), opportunity to get a hand on the football and then Pat comes up with it.
“And it took everything in him to get down there. That's a long way to run, now. But I remind him is only worth two points so if he gets a little big-headed. It wasn't worth seven. But no, I was thrilled for him to make a big-time playing that game.”
Fields said in the moment that he was just worried about anything but hitting his top speed en route to the end zone.
"I was just the extra guy checking for fakes, and then I see the ball blocked,” Fields said after the game. “It went up in the air and then (claps hands). I kinda just had to hit it, and then Coach (Bennie) Wylie and Coach (Jamar) Cain, they always track our speed because we always have GPSs, so every single week we're competing for who has the fastest in-game time. So, whenever I have the ball, I'm trying to go 23 miles an hour."
The play helped change the course of the game and the mood on the sidelines, cornerback D.J. Graham said.
“When Pat took that to the house, that’s what we needed, something like that,” Graham said. “But that’s the beauty of football, it can happen just like that. It’s not like other sports like basketball where you’re guaranteed to get the ball back. You have to get it when you can get it. It shows you the importance of momentum and the importance of this game, this is the game of football.”
OU Pass Rush Takes Over
Generating pressure with just the defensive line was going to be key for Oklahoma considering the threat Martinez poses on the ground.
On Saturday, the OU defensive line passed the test, limiting Martinez to 34 rushing yards on 17 carries while also sacking the Nebraska quarterback five times.
The pass rush generated up front helps every aspect of the defense, including the secondary, Graham said.
“It makes our job way easier,” Graham said after the game. “Just give us a little time, buy us a little time upfront and allows us a chance to make a play on the ball. Buy us a little time, oh, he’s sacked.
“It’s a luxury, a luxury that not a lot of teams have in the country.”
Just like against Tulane, the defensive line helped OU close the game in the final moments.
Perrion Winfrey logged a sack on first down, and then Nik Bonitto came up with a huge stop on third down, dropping Martinez five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
While the offense continues to come together, the Sooners can rely on the defense to come up big with the game hanging in the balance.
“That’s really what this defense is based on, being in the backfield and being disruptive,” Bonitto said after the game. “So when you have guys like Perrion, Isaiah, Coe, just a bunch of guys, Ellison, a bunch of guys… We just each up front and lick our chops on third downs. It’s really good when we can get those opportunities, but we always try to play those first two downs first so we can get to those third and longs.”
Jadon Haselwood Emerging As Rattler’s No. 1
Oklahoma wide receiver Jadon Haselwood had another big day against Nebraska.
Leading the Sooners in targets with 10, Haselwood hauled in six receptions for a team-high 61 yards.
Haselwood said that he’s continued to build great chemistry with quarterback Spencer Rattler, as it’s something they work on almost every day.
“I feel like all this starts in practice,” Haselwood said after the game. “Everybody knows we spread the ball out, obviously, because we've got everybody pretty much back healthy. Everybody's gonna touch the rock. Everybody should have the chemistry with Spence, anyway, because that's just our offense.”
Today, Haselwood was Rattler’s go-to guy late against the Cornhuskers.
Rattler looked to Haselwood three times on OU’s final touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, completing two of those passes for first downs.
“Having him back definitely builds our chemistry a lot,” Rattler said after the game. “Those two specific throws, I threw before he even turned because I knew where he was going to be. I put the ball in the right spot for him to go make a play. He had two great catches and I think we converted first downs on both of them.”
Rattler said it’s been no struggle to balance spreading the ball out between all of his talented wide receivers, as they all have a great team-first attitude.
“It’s not really hard. Our guys aren’t selfish,” Rattler said. “That’s something that we really talk about. Everybody likes to play well and we’d like everybody to eat. Some games, guys have more catches. Guys aren’t selfish. They aren’t on the sideline pouting.
“We have great energy, we have a great team that supports everybody. That’s why we’ve won these first three games. We have to keep that energy, keep that support for each other and finish four quarters.”