Stepping Up from Western Carolina to Nebraska is 'a Major Test' for Oklahoma

The Sooners beat up the hapless Catamounts 76-0 last time out, and have only one week to get ready for a major adjustment in the level of competition.
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NORMAN — In a seven-day span, Oklahoma goes from facing Western Carolina to facing Nebraska.

Is that enough time for the Sooners to adjust to playing against better athletes — bigger, stronger, faster — and more of them?

It will have to be. The schedule is the schedule. But OU needs to quickly figure out how to go from making plays against a struggling FCS program to doing the same thing against a member of the Big Ten Conference and former rival.

“This is a major test this weekend,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “The speed — that tackle that you made by the skin of teeth is going to be a missed tackle this weekend. That’s fact, right? Close is not gonna cut it. That 10-yard gain is going to turn into 20 yard gain.”

The real challenge is refocusing after such an easy game. Pretty much the entire two-deep spent the entire second half standing next to their coaches and cheering from the sideline. OU is a 22-point favorite to handle the Cornhuskers, according to SI SportsBook, but this is likely to be a four-quarter game.

“You heard coach Grinch say you can kinda hide behind those scores and some of those plays because you might be more athletically gifted (than Western Carolina),” said linebacker Caleb Kelly. “This week we have to clean a lot of stuff up and play an all-around better game.”

“Yeah,” said linebacker DaShaun White, “they're gonna pose a lot of threats.”

White said “we prepare the same every single week,” but that might be something that has Sooner Nation a bit worried. Grinch and head coach Lincoln Riley made it a point of emphasis after a shockingly close 40-35 win over Tulane in the season opener that the team simply didn’t prepare very well.

“Every game is the game,” said running back Eric Gray. “Every week is the week. Stepping up in practice, you approach every week the same way. You wanna go hard in every week no matter who you're playing, but definitely, gonna be a great game this week — a great test for us.”

H-back Jeremiah Hall reiterated the players’ stance that the Sooners prepare the same for every opponent, so stepping down in competition or stepping up shouldn’t be an adjustment.

“No, not at all,” Hall said. “That’s why we keep things intense in practice. No matter the opponent, we’re always practicing hard. That’s the way our staff keeps the intensity high. We don’t prepare any different.

“I think coach Riley talked about having a faceless opponent to you guys at some point. I would like to reiterate that message. As a captain myself, it wouldn’t be right to change the way I coach up my guys and lead my team depending on who is across from us.

“To answer your question, we’re fully ready for Nebraska and they’ll get our best shot.”

Riley said the Cornhuskers “do everything pretty well,” from an imposing defensive line to a slippery, dual-threat quarterback. Oklahoma still needs to show improvement, he said — across the board.

“It's Week 2,” Riley said. “Everywhere, everybody — the coaching, offense, defense, special teams — all needs to get better. I mean it’s, again, you see the score (76-0) and think, ‘That was a perfect game.’ You watch the tape and that was nowhere near the perfect game.

“That's why we can't get too result-oriented and talk about us, because that doesn't always tell the story. It’s about the standard which you play (to). And the reality is, we can look at that tape, every one of us, and if we don't look at that scoreboard, if we just pay attention to how we're playing — improved, yes. Need some drastic improvement? Absolutely.”

Regardless of how good Tulane was, or how good Western Carolina was, Grinch likes to think Oklahoma will be prepared because they go against a pretty good team every day in practice: Oklahoma.

“So I’d be very disappointed if there was a shock and awe from that standpoint,” Grinch said. “But certainly, we’re not confused as to what this Saturday versus last Saturday is. We don’t play in the Southern Conference — and that’s no lack of respect for that group.

“Some of those mistakes that maybe you don’t really see because you don’t — you see it on film, believe me — but in the moment, because it didn’t hurt you, they’re (not) going to make you pay for it.

“The level cranks up, which is exciting, and it’s a major challenge for us.”

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, as far as we’re concerned,” said defensive end Reggie Grimes. “So it could be Western Carolina, it could be Nebraska, like it is this week. As long as we prepare, as long as we do what we do, then it’ll be alright.”

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