Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Play of the Game: Oklahoma’s First-Down Sack on Nebraska’s Final Drive

September 18, 2021

Nebraska traveled down to Norman as a massive underdog, but the Huskers found themselves in a one-score game late with the ball in their hands.

Through stellar quarterback play, receivers making big plays and a stout defensive effort, Nebraska got the ball back with 57 seconds trailing 23-16. Nebraska had one last chance to tie or win the game.

However, that chance ended just as soon as it began with this week’s Play of the Game: Oklahoma’s sack on the first play of the last drive.

Ben Stille blew up a third-down tunnel screen by Oklahoma near midfield to force the Sooners to punt the ball away. The ball went out of bounds at the 17-yard line with nearly a full minute on the clock, though Nebraska was out of timeouts.

On first down, Martinez dropped back looking to pass. He never got the chance, though.

Oklahoma lined up with six in the box and five back in coverage. The two outside linebackers lined up between the three defensive linemen, and the middle linebacker lined up between the two outside ‘backers. On the snap, the middle ‘backer, Brian Asamoah, rushed the passer while the outside guys hung back at the line of scrimmage, meaning Oklahoma sent four after the quarterback. Nebraska still couldn’t get it blocked.

First, Oklahoma’s nose tackle, Perrion Winfrey, drove center Cameron Jurgens back immediately on the snap and put him flat on his back. The blitzing ‘backer, Asamoah, brushed off Winfrey and attacked through the A-gap. The guards, Ethan Piper on the left and Matt Sichterman on the right, essentially didn’t block anybody. The tackles held up well enough against the ends.

Martinez took a three-step drop as his receivers ran their routes and immediately saw Asamoah coming at him unblocked. He made Asamoah miss, but Winfrey was there as he stepped up to take him down.

“At times we protected better than I’ve seen us protect,” Coach Scott Frost said. “I wasn’t happy with the protection to start the two-minute drive. We were basically in a seven-man protection and can’t give those up.”

Outside of an interception, a sack was the worst possible outcome for the Huskers on that play. Nebraska lost 7 yards and, more importantly, 19 seconds off the clock.

On second down, Oklahoma covered the deep routes well and Martinez hit Austin Allen on a shallow crosser to pick up what yardage he could, which ended up being 6 yards. The cost was 16 more seconds off the clock before the Huskers could get another snap off. Martinez took another sack on third down as good coverage early and late pressure led to Martinez missing what looked to have been an open receiver or two.

The Huskers got the fourth-down snap off just before time expired, but Martinez took the check down to Rahmir Johnson and the Sooners tackled him after a 14-yard gain to end the game.

Nebraska’s last possession consisted of four plays, 8 net yards, two sacks and zero points. The first down sack put them behind in down, distance and time and they weren’t able to overcome the setback to create any kind of legitimate threat.

Nebraska averaged 3.7 sack-adjusted yards per carry overall, and the running backs totaled just 53 yards on 27 carries (2.0 per carry). The offensive line held up in pass protection decently well for much of the game but still gave up five sacks including two on the final drive, the Huskers had eight penalties and six of them were on offensive linemen. The Blackshirts, the pass-catchers and Adrian Martinez played well enough to give Nebraska a chance, but unless and until the offensive line makes significant strides, this offense will likely continue to have a pretty low ceiling.

That’s why Oklahoma’s first-down sack on Nebraska’s final drive was this week’s Play of the Game.

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