When Oklahoma hosts Nebraska on Saturday, it will not only be the rekindling of the Sooners and Cornhuskers' historic rivalry but also the first real test for Oklahoma’s offense against the mighty defensive front that Scott Frost’s team provides.
The Huskers sport multiple 300-pounders along their defensive line and will prove to be one of the biggest and most powerful units the Sooners see all year long.
That is something Oklahoma is acutely aware of going through preparations this week.
“From watching film, they look like a pretty good defense that's a sound defense, has a good front line, a good front seven,” running back Eric Gray said this week. “It's gonna be good. I think this is a great defense to play against.”
After a somewhat rocky opening game against Illinois, Nebraska has bounced back for two straight wins behind dominant defensive performances — albeit against Fordham and Buffalo.
The Cornhuskers allowed just seven and three points the last two weeks and currently possess the 28th ranked scoring defense in the country.
To put it simply: Nebraska has some dudes on the defensive side of the ball.
“They've got some guys that will fly around to the ball, especially in open space,” tight end/h-back Jeremiah Hall said. “Their linebackers can move at a good pace. That will be something our receivers will have to handle. We're looking forward to that challenge. They'll bring their A game. We know they'll be flying to the ball. It will be our job to lock that down. We're ready for it and prepared for it.”
If the Sooners have had a weak spot in the early parts of the 2021 season, it has been the shuffling of the offensive line to find the most cohesive group.
A slow start on Saturday could provide the big negative plays Nebraska needs to keep this thing close and put No. 3-ranked Oklahoma on upset alert.
“They do everything pretty well,” head coach Lincoln Riley said of the Huskers defense. “They're pretty experienced, and the secondary guys have played a lot of ball. They got a big physical front. They do some things schematically that really challenge you. Do a good job mixing it up. They're a good group, you know. They are. They've really improved from looking at some of last year's tape and onto this year. I think it's a much better unit, and they're playing at a high level. There's no doubt about it.
“So, it's a challenge. They've done a nice job with that group. You can see it heading in a positive direction for them.”
Despite impressive size up front, Nebraska has had surprising struggles getting after the quarterback and stopping the run thus far this season. The Cornhuskers are ranked just 78th in the country in rushing defense and have only picked up four sacks in three games.
Still, the Huskers are inside the top 50 in passing defense thanks in part to a secondary that has performed well and will pose a challenge of their own to Spencer Rattler and the bevy of Oklahoma wide receivers.
“I see a secondary that’s played a lot of ball, has crazy good length,” Riley said of Nebraska. “I see a talented football team.”
While little was learned from the Sooners’ 76-0 smackdown of Western Carolina, Saturday’s collision with the Cornhuskers provides a challenge for both sides of the ball and will be a good temperature check on how much has changed in the two weeks since the Tulane debacle.
Oklahoma is a 22-point favorite and should be able to win comfortably, but it will take the right mindset and execution to do it.
The Sooners battle Nebraska at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, with the game being broadcast by Fox Sports.
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