An announced sold-out crowd clapped to the Tunnel Walk as the gates opened. There, behind only smoke, was the man tasked with leading Nebraska the rest of the season. Mickey Joseph held up his hands and motioned, inviting the crowd’s support to shower the team. Finally, after an exhausting week, it was game day.
Over 3 hours later the Huskers sulked through the northwest corner of Tom Osborne Field. Most of those remaining in the stands held their pointer fingers up to the Oklahoma band playing in Memorial Stadium’s southwest corner. Following 49 points and 580 yards, the Sooners sang “Boomer Sooner.”
No. 6 Oklahoma arrived at Memorial Stadium 20 minutes late but found a fine rhythm 6 minutes after kickoff. Six days after Nebraska fired Scott Frost, the sixth-ranked team in the country came to Lincoln and scored 49 straight points, seven touchdowns out of nine drives, for a cruising 49-14 win.
It was Oklahoma’s largest victory over Nebraska since 1990.
Joseph’s first words in his first post-game press conference as interim head coach seized responsibility.
“This is on me,” Joseph said. “Not my players, not my assistant coaches, I gotta do a better job.”
Players that followed him wouldn’t accept it. Team captains Nick Henrich and Travis Vokolek, along with sophomore defensive back Myles Farmer, insisted responsibility fell upon the 11 on the field at a given time.
“That’s what he’s supposed to say,” Farmer said of Joseph’s statement. “As a team, we know it’s not on him. He’s not on the field.”
Joseph rallied the fan base during the week. At his introductory press conference, Joseph said he was focused on the team. He wanted them to play hard and with energy. That’s exactly how they started.
The Huskers (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) harnessed the kinetic energy of 87,161, and a week of frustrations, and unloaded it at the starting gun. Oklahoma (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) gained just 12 yards on its opening drive before punting. The Husker offense responded with a seven-play, 77-yard drive into the end zone. Casey Thompson, with time to throw, put the ball into Trey Palmer’s lap with no defender around for the opening score.
But the momentum could only last so long. Oklahoma quarterback Dillion Gabriel, not a frequent scrambler, took off for the first down markers on 3rd and 3. He found the end zone 61 yards later.
“They started out fast,” Joseph said. “Now I’ve got to get them to be consistent with it and come back and do it again.”
In a gasp of energy, the Husker defense held Oklahoma to a 3-and-out on its next drive. That stop meant Nebraska forced more punts in the first 7 minutes, 38 seconds of its game against the sixth-ranked team in the country than in all 60 minutes against Georgia Southern the week before.
But the Husker offense was unable to capitalize. The Sooners took advantage. The wheels fell off hope. A 25-yard strike from Gabriel to Jalil Farooq capped a 63-yard drive. A Husker three-and-out for a total of negative-11 yards, including consecutive sacks on Thompson, turned into an Oklahoma touchdown. Another Husker three-and-out for negative yardage gave way to an Oklahoma score within 55 seconds. Then, when the Nebraska offense was unable to sustain a drive yet again, Oklahoma scored on a 24-yard double pass from Brayden Willis to Major.
That gave the Sooners a 28-point lead early in the second quarter. Nebraska needed a response.
Facing another potential three-and-out, Thompson fired to Palmer for a 15-yard gain. The crowd applauded the first down. Another third down throw to Palmer went incomplete but defensive pass interference extended the drive. Ajay Allen found gaps and bursts into Oklahoma territory. But, ultimately, an indecisive quarterback scramble and a slip from Anthony Grant short of the sticks on fourth down meant the 57-yard drive came without points.
Thompson was the first into the locker room at halftime. He got knocked down on the last play, having flipped the ball away. Oklahoma sacked him four times. The swarming Sooner defense had more tackles for loss yards (42) than Nebraska had rushing yards (40) in the opening half.
“It’s on all of us at this point,” linebacker Nick Henrich said. “It’s on us to fix it, frankly. So we’re going to keep working on it.”
For a brief moment Nebraska recaptured something out of halftime. Thompson dropped back, stepped up and found Palmer again. Palmer turned up field and tried hurdling a defender. Then Oklahoma’s Jaren Kanak ran to the play and muscled the ball away from the receiver on his way back to the turf. A glimmer of hope, something to cling to, was ripped away.
The Sooners found the end zone with Eric Gray, his second score of the game, off a State of Liberty run up the middle for 21 yards. Another empty Nebraska drive gave way to the final Oklahoma touchdown. This one on a pinpoint 15-yard pass from Gabriel to Theo Wease. 49-7.
Exposed cement and metal around Memorial Stadium became even more prominent. Season ticket holders filed for the exits. The Nebraska student section emptied much earlier. Those who left early weren’t around to see edge rusher Garrett Nelson hop on a fumble, sealing Oklahoma’s first turnover of the season. They were, however, spared seeing backup quarterback Chubba Purdy tackled 2 yards short of the first down on fourth-and-3.
That summarized the second string’s immediate success. Purdy and Allen led a drive but a third-down fumble recovered by Nebraska short of the sticks brought the punting unit out. Gabe Ervin Jr. found holes in the defense but not enough to break through. Jaquez Yant worked his way into the second level but couldn’t do it consistently. Purdy went to the air on 3rd-and-7 and his throw into the end zone was intercepted by Oklahoma’s Key Lawrence.
In the final minutes, clock running down and the rest of Lincoln moved onto other things, the Huskers scored. Purdy checked down to open receivers until he ultimately beat the defense to the corner and snuck past the pylon from 8 yards.
That score didn’t change the outcome. By most accounts the game was finished hours earlier. But the Huskers kept fighting, just as the interim coach told them to do. Saturday didn’t diminish the team’s belief in Mickey Joseph. And he believes they’ll be a good football team. They’ve got 14 days until the next opportunity to prove it.
“I’m super excited for the opportunities we have in the future,” Vokolek said. “We’re going to get better in this bye week. We’re going to pound it hard in practice and we’re going to get better each day.”