Date: December 4
Time: 8 pm EST
Venue: Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Vegas Line: OU -4.5
At this point, what more can be said about this game? It’s the end of a classic rivalry, a bittersweet final chapter in one of college football’s great stories.
A trophy awaits the winner, but this game is about a lot more than winning a crumbling conference’s championship.
Who will leave Arlington with the ultimate bragging rights? Well, you’ll want to keep an eye on:
1. OU Rolling the Pocket
The Sooner offensive line has definitely progressed from the beginning of the season, but Nebraska’s pass rush may be the best OU’s big uglies have faced this year. Combined with a killer secondary, the Pelini brothers have built the kind of defense that is hell on pass-happy offenses.
We’ve all seen what bringing the heat can do to Landry Jones. Case in point: the last time these two teams played.
OU offensive guru Kevin Wilson often relies on rollouts and waggles to give his quarterbacks some extra time when he’s worried about the line’s ability to keep the wolves at bay. Of course, that takes away a number of options in the passing game, but such is life.
Conversely, if Jones is dropping straight back early on, maybe Wilson has faith in OU’s ability to keep the quarterback upright.
2. Landry Jones’ Eyes
Quarterback’s get into trouble when they lock on to receivers. Jones? Well, he’s the king of the five-second stare down.
(Makes me think Jones should follow Jim McMahon’s lead.)
Jones can get away with that against Iowa State, but it’s deadly against a crew of defenders that react to the ball as Nebraska does. The ‘Husker DBs will have a field day if he telegraphs his throws as he is wont to do.
3. Nebraska’s Wild Husker
Apparently, NU’s dynamic dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez is still dinged up with an assortment of ailments. Even if he does play, will he impact the game? At this point, I’m skeptical.
Assuming T-Magic isn’t out on the field running wild, Nebraska will need a running threat behind center to keep OU’s D honest – the Sooners murder stationary targets.
Last week, ‘Husker tailback Rex Burkhead wildcatted his way to two touchdown passes and another TD on the ground in Martinez’s absence. Count on NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to call on Burkhead to mix things up if Martinez is a no-go.
4. Stretching the Field
When you add up all the athleticism on the defensive side of the ball in this contest, it says the last place you want to play this game is inside the box. (And, no, I don’t mean that like “thinking outside the box.”)
It hasn’t really been in the nature of these two squads to take shots downfield this season, but they simply have to figure out a way to back off the opposing defenses. Early on, the offenses could take advantage of defenders creeping up to the line to hit some big passes over the top. Even a few deep incompletions should loosen up the defenses.
This will be particularly important for Nebraska. Last year behind the indomitable Ndamukong Suh, NU could hang around on offense, not make mistakes and hope the defense could put the ‘Huskers in position to win. That’s not going to fly this time around – they will have to attack.
5. Ball Security
The Cornhuskers have put the ball on the ground 37 times this season, the most of any team in the country this year. Such is life with the zone-read option.
Playing so loose with the ball came back to bite NU in its biggest game of the season, as a fumbled exchange put Texas in prime ‘Husker territory early in the game. It was all downhill from there.
NU’s offense just isn’t good enough to overcome those kinds of mistakes against OU.
In case you haven’t heard, this whole season has been kind of a big deal in Lincoln. With the Cornhuskers off to Big Ten country in 2011, the conference slate has played out almost like a revenge tour for NU.
As was evident in Nebraska’s loss to Texas in October, though, all that adrenaline can hurt more than it helps. Big Red may have wanted that one just a little too much. Hence those dropped touchdowns.
Yet, it’s not like the pressure hasn’t been building on the Sooners, either. In the build-up to the game this week, the media has turned OU into the Big 12′s great white hope. (I doubt that’s the consensus in Austin, but who knows?)
If “the moment” gets too big for either side, the mistakes could start piling up.
There’s plenty of minutiae to wade through here, but this game comes down to “the look” of each squad.
Back in early October, everything was clicking for the Cornhuskers. The defense didn’t show many signs of missing all-world lineman Ndamukong Suh. The offense had finally found an identity other than “muddle along,” riding the zone-read option to big play after big play.
Since then, however, a few of chinks have shown through NU’s armor.
For the most part, the ‘Huskers have held strong on D. That dynamic run game has slowed, along with T-Magic, in the second half of the season, though. Losing Niles Paul has taken away NU’s biggest threat in the passing game, too. The result has been an offense that is better than last season’s squad, which was incompetence defined, but nothing that will put a scare into anyone.
On the other side of the field, OU seems to have gotten stronger since the loss to Texas A&M. The D has been suffocating at times during a three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, even though Landry Jones continues to produce a disturbing number of WTF moments, his outstanding play in the second half of last week’s contest in Stillwater proved that he can bounce back. Equally important, Bob Stoops put the games in Jones’ hands, and he delivered.
Had these two teams played back in October, I would’ve been inclined to go with the ‘Huskers. Now, though, I just think the Sooners look better.
As much “meta” as there is going on surrounding this game, Turner Gill and Lawrence Phillips still ain’t walking through that door Saturday night. Much like last season’s Big 12 title game, Big Red will struggle to put points on the board. The difference this year is that as good as the Nebraska D is, Suh won’t be there to terrorize OU’s offensive line and toss Landry Jones around like a rag doll.
Jones will make a mistake or two that will give Nebraska scoring opportunities. That won’t be enough when all is said and done.
Oklahoma 20, Nebraska 16.