The return of the once-rivalry between Nebraska and Oklahoma is here this weekend. It’s been a big story all week, and it also dominates this week’s Drake’s Takes.
Rivalries and tradition
Ahead of Nebraska’s game against Oklahoma, a renewing of a historic rivalry, I’ve mostly been making fun of people who remember the matchups for being old.
Perhaps I shouldn’t bring so much negativity, but oh well. The whole tradition conversation is fun to me in general, especially because I didn’t get into liking sports until middle school. My only memories of Nebraska come from its time in the Big Ten.
I haven’t been that invested in the success of any sports team for a couple years now, but even when I was, I just didn’t care that much about rivalries. Nebraska and Iowa games are usually fun, although the series has been one-sided in recent years. The only older rivalry I’ve been able to get invested in is Nebraska-Colorado, but that’s largely because I grew up in Colorado and have a lot of friends there.
Anyway, I’m not trying to dump on anyone for caring about this rivalry, or any rivalry. I’m sure if I had been around for those games, I’d care a bit more too. But, it is interesting to me that things will be different tomorrow.
Through this week, we’ve heard players talk about how they don’t know too much about this rivalry either. If they’re particularly juiced up about this game, it’ll be because it’s a top-five opponent, not because of what happened 50 years ago. There’s not much anyone can do to change that, and that’s okay.
On Saturday, hype about the rivalry will only be supplied by fans. The on-field product might not bring excitement either. That, again, is OK.
I’m too young to have any similar old tradition I really care about, but I can imagine it’ll be something like a treat.
Being massive underdogs against a top-five team is probably a bit more fun for some people when that top-five team is Oklahoma.
Nebraska impressed last weekend
I also do want to touch on stuff actually related to the team, though.
First, I was somewhat wrong about last weekend. I picked Nebraska to win, but did not think it’d control the game like it did. As much as there was to complain about — missed field goals, penalties wiping away scores, another special teams mishap — this was one of the most impressive games I had seen from the team.
Maybe this is me overrating Buffalo a bit. But my problem with Nebraska right now isn’t just that they make mistakes. Good teams make mistakes sometimes.
The problem as of recently has been where the Huskers are making these errors. Let’s look at some recent losses, starting with the season opener at Illinois. Nebraska can afford to make some errors against this team. What it can’t afford, however, is those errors giving Illinois points.
A botched punt return turned into a safety does that. A third-down interception overturned due to 30 yards worth of penalties does that. A fumble before the half returned for a touchdown does that.
Against Minnesota last year, an interception, 8-yard punt and fumble all gave the Gophers the ball in Nebraska territory and turned into 17 points. There were less instances of this against Iowa, but a fourth-quarter muffed punt and game-ending fumble fit into the category. Mistakes were also very costly in the Illinois game last year, but this might get too long if I go through those.
Nebraska has a defense that is good enough to stay in most Big Ten games and get a team to at least six wins. But in almost every loss, the offense has put it in terrible position. That wasn’t really the case against Buffalo, as most of the issues still left the Bulls with the ball a good distance into their own territory.
It’s possible none of this is relevant against Oklahoma. The Sooner offense could very well be too much for this defense. But if Nebraska does want to somehow stay in this game, the bar will be even higher. You can’t make the mistakes you can against Buffalo against Oklahoma.
Black football excellence
I feel like a nerd if I talk about football too much in one of these columns, but I can’t go without mentioning this one.
One of the better things I had the chance to read this week was how the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry in the 1970s doubled as a stage for Black football stars in a time when other states were still slow on integration.
The last all-white football team to win a championship was in 1969. When some of the more iconic games of the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry were happening, Black players still struggled to get opportunity elsewhere.
The Huskers were quicker to progress than many teams, but still went without a Black athlete for nearly 40 years prior to 1952. Bob Devaney then made it a priority in his tenure as head coach in the 1960s.
I not only mention this to reflect on the past, but to look at the present. This last week in the NFL, we saw a large number of Black quarterbacks shine. That doesn’t even include guys that are waiting to get their chances, like Trey Lance and Justin Fields.
It took a long time for Black people to be accepted in the game of football, and it’s taken longer for them to be accepted at quarterback.
It means a lot to me to see this advancement. I also really got into watching Nebraska football around the time Tommy Armstrong Jr. became the starting quarterback. That’s just a coincidence, but it helped to see someone that looked like me under center. Tomorrow, we’ll have two Black quarterbacks starting between the Huskers and Sooners.
Surely there’s still progress to be made, but it’s great to see so many Black quarterbacks playing at a high level now. I hope that trend continues.