Nebraska did what many across the nation didn’t think it could on Saturday: put a scare into the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners.
The Husker fought hard but ultimately came up short against the College Football Playoff-hopeful Sooners, losing 23-16. Nebraska had a chance to tie the game or win it on its last drive with 57 seconds left on its own 25-yard line, but couldn’t move down the field against a defense with its ears pinned back.
Up next for the Huskers is a road game Michigan State next Saturday at 6 p.m. CT. But first, here are three thoughts on Nebraska’s loss to Oklahoma.
Nebraska’s defense held up its end of the bargain
This game had all the storylines. It was the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century. It was big, bad Oklahoma, a team destined for the College Football Playoff and maybe a national championship. It was Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Spencer Rattler looking to have a big day against down-on-its-luck Nebraska.
But then the game started.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit held up its end of the bargain. The Blackshirts held Oklahoma to one touchdown in the first half and three total, helping keep the game in reach. Not many across the country thought would happen. Nebraska’s pass coverage really seemed to give Rattler problems, especially in the first half. Rattler has always tried to fit passes into tight windows—and for good reason as he has an elite arm and release—but on Saturday the Huskers made him force throws, and almost grabbed two interceptions.
Football is a four-quarter game, though. Oklahoma, and Rattler, settled down in the second half. Connor Culp’s missed 35-yard field goal seemed to be the point where the momentum shifted. The Sooners got the ball back and drove 58 yards on 12 plays. Rattler found Jeremiah Hall for a 1-yard touchdown pass, and just like Boomer Sooner was up 14-3 late in the third.
The Huskers never went away, did they?
After everything that happened, all the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot miscues—the five penalties on the first drive, the continued poor performance from the offensive line, the extra-point returned for 2 points, the two missed field goals from the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year, Culp—Nebraska was still in the game late in the fourth. The defense and Martinez’s strong play can be credited for that.
What resiliency Nebraska showed on Saturday. The Huskers continued to fight, even when the usual mistakes popped up. Martinez throwing a 21-yard dart to Omar Manning for a touchdown put the pressure on the Sooners with about five minutes remaining. Oklahoma’s defense did its job when it needed, though, putting all sorts of pressure on Martinez on the Huskers’ final drive.
But the Huskers put a scare into Boomer Sooner when no one expected them to. That’s something this team can build on as it heads to East Lansing next week.
The offensive line is keeping the team from progressing
Nebraska needs the hand-off run game to take off. After four games, it hasn’t, and the o-line was again a big problem on Saturday. Outside of Martinez’s 34 rushing yards, the running backs gained just 61 yards on 21 carries—a dismal 2.9 average.
It’s not a winning formula to rely on your quarterback—who, by the way, is the best runner on the team—and his scrambles. The o-line was flagged for multiple false starts and center Cameron Jurgens was called for two unsportsmanlike penalties. Whether you agree with those unsportsmanlike calls or not, they were still called and they cost the offense.
The offensive line can also be blamed for the extra-point attempt after a 4-yard touchdown run from Martinez. Oklahoma’s bull-rush knocked lineman Ethan Piper back, and the kick was blocked. The Sooners returned it 100 yards for two points, a gut-punch to the team and fanbase.