Through five minutes and 18 seconds of game time on Saturday, Nebraska looked like a new team.
The rejuvenated Huskers under interim head coach Mickey Joseph opened the game with a stop and a brisk, efficient touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead.
Nebraska was on the verge of another stop with Oklahoma facing a third-and-7 from its own 39. Then the dam broke open, and water continued to pour out the rest of the game.
This week’s Play of the Game is Dillon Gabriel’s 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Oklahoma lined up with three receivers to the left and one to the right. Nebraska countered with its third-and-long dime defense with all three edge rushers, its nickel and an extra safety on the field.
The Oklahoma offensive line blocked each of the four rushers one-on-one while the linebacker, Luke Reimer, picked up the running back leaking out of the backfield. With the other six players back in coverage, that left no one to account for Gabriel, and he knew it.
The free offensive lineman got downfield and blocked Reimer as Gabriel took off. The Sooner quarterback picked up the first down before a Cornhusker got anywhere near him, but it turned into a much bigger gain than it should have been.
Safety Myles Farmer underestimated Gabriel’s speed and took a really bad angle, running himself out of the play as Gabriel crossed the Nebraska 45 and angled toward the sideline. Reimer continued to pursue the play as Gabriel walked the tight rope to the right side, but he, too, took a bad angle and Gabriel managed to keep his balance as Reimer tried to push him out of bounds.
“I wouldn’t say anything is not clicking, it’s just people doing their assignments,” Farmer said. “We’ve got to do our jobs, that’s all. There were a couple plays that I should have made that I didn’t. We just have to keep doing our jobs. Next play mentality.”
Safety Marques Buford Jr. and corner Tommi Hill both got completely blocked out of the play, opening up an easy cut-back lane for Gabriel to trot into the end zone untouched.
The 61-yard touchdown undid all the good that Nebraska did in the first five minutes and change and sparked a 49-0 Sooner run. The bust drained all the energy from the Huskers and the Sooners’ superior talent, creativity and execution won out from there.
Gabriel’s run was the longest of nine explosive running plays for the Sooners who totaled 319 sack-adjusted yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
“We have to be in our gap and we have to tackle,” Joseph said about the run defense. “It’s simple. You have to be in your gap and you have to tackle, and it wasn’t there today.”
Nebraska still has problems at every level of the defense, and it showed on this play. The Huskers’ pass-rushers couldn’t win one-on-one up front, the linebackers and safeties put themselves in bad positions to make the tackle and the corner showed no physicality whatsoever.
In total, the Huskers gave up 580 yards at 6.9 a pop (slightly better than the 642 yards and 7.5 yards per play they gave up last week to Georgia Southern). Oklahoma added six explosive passing plays to their long runs for a total of 15.
“I don’t want to point fingers, but it’s on all of us at this point,” said Nick Henrich, who made his return on Saturday after missing the previous two games with a hand injury. “I’m a captain, Garrett [Nelson] is captain; it’s on us to fix it, frankly. So we’re going to keep working on it.”
Nebraska fired up an energized crowd with a great start, but it proved to be fool’s gold. A head coaching change and one week of practice wasn’t anywhere close to enough to fix everything that ails Nebraska’s defense.
That’s why Dillon Gabriel’s 61-yard rushing touchdown is this week’s Play of the Game.