Oklahoma's Interior Pass Rush Could be the Key to Slowing Nebraska

All eyes are on Perrion Winfrey as the Sooners look to contain Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez on Saturday.
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Nebraska’s offense should look familiar on Saturday.

When the Oklahoma Sooners and the Cornhuskers renew their rivalry inside Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, a mobile Martinez will be at the helm of the ‘Husker attack.

This one Adrian Martinez, not Taylor, also excels at attacking defenses both through the air and on the ground.

A year ago, Martinez threw for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns in seven appearances for Nebraska. While completing 71.5 percent of his passes and only throwing three interceptions, he also added 521 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries.

On Tuesday, OU head coach Lincoln Riley acknowledged the threat that Martinez brings to the table.

“He’s a good player,” Riley said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We recruited him a little bit. Very very athletic. Knew that coming out of high school, and he's improved there. He’s one of those guys you can have somebody account for him, but at the same time, sometimes, he can just beat that guy, too. His athleticism, it jumps off the screen.”

On top of his ability to extend plays with his legs, Riley said he things that Martinez has leveled up in other areas of his game as well.

“I think he's really improved as a passer,” Riley said. “You can tell they’re, I think, settling down with what they want to do with him, and he does it well. So, he looks it to me improved on the on-script stuff and then the things that get off script is when he gets really, really good.

“It’ll be a big challenge, and he’ll be as athletic as we play all year.”

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch acknowledged the treat of Martinez and the Nebraska rushing attack as a whole, highlighting generating pressure from the interior as a key to slowing down the Cornhuskers.

“Initially what can feel like a plus play defensively that can quickly turn into a negative,” Grinch said on Tuesday. “Being sound in the rush lanes and part of that is from the coverage standpoint to give yourselves a chance for those guys on the interior to have an impact.

A big key to OU’s interior pass rush will be nose guard Perrion Winfrey, who is looking to increase his production and finish off more plays to build on a solid first year at the heart of the Oklahoma defense last year.

Perrion Winfrey

Perrion Winfrey already has 2.0 sack in two games for the Sooners after totaling just 0.5 sacks through the entire 2020 season

Though he’s already shown improvement on that front, already logging two sacks through two games after finishing with just 0.5 sacks for the entirety of last season, Grinch said he still expects more out of Winfrey this season as he can still improve in every area of his game.

“I think in all cases it’s overall,” said Grinch, “but I mean, I think, you know, and this is more outcome, but being more productive, not being so content with just simply being disruptive, but getting in the backfield and actually, you know, making plays. And part of that is playing lower.

“Some of the issues last fall, in terms of the ability to get a guy on the ground, was just simply that, being too high as you approach ball carriers in the backfield… So I think that would be the biggest thing, playing low, playing fast and using his hands. And with all those guys inside is just be a fast kid.”

Defensive end Reggie Grimes said he believes in not just Winfrey, but the entire interior defensive line to be disruptive on Saturday against Nebraska.

“Just talk about a game changer,” Grimes said of Winfrey. “He’s a very dynamic player, a very dynamic pass rusher. Knows how to knock a guy off the ball and then get in the backfield and effect plays. And that’s how he goes about it every single play.

“So as far as guys like him, guys like Isaiah Coe, Jalen Redmond, Josh Ellison and the rest of that group, I think with them on the inside and then our guys on the edge I feel like this could be a hell of a game for us.”

While the middle of the defensive line goes to work, Riley also pointed out that the defensive ends will have to be extra disciplined in their pass rushing, because if they get they’re not careful, reckless pursuit of Martinez could actually open up more space for the quarterback to get out and run.

“Obviously you'd love to get rush on the edges and all that,” Riley said, “but if you really wide up the edges you can open up big holes whereas that interior pass rush, sometimes hard to get away from.

“You’ve got to be really disciplined when you rush the passer against this guy and obviously Perrion and all of our inside guys, any inside push and pressure we can get is going to make things tougher on any quarterback especially one as athletic as Adrian.”

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