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Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Oklahoma Sooners
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Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Oklahoma Sooners

Tom Shatel's Press Pass: Tom and Sam talk Oklahoma

Offensive yards per play: 6.98 (26th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 4.1 (20th)

Turnover margin: plus-4 (T-7th)

Penalty yards per game: 55.5 (71st)

Coach

Lincoln Riley (47-8 at Oklahoma, overall)

Riley enters his fifth year at the helm after two years as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. Riley has led OU to three College Football Playoff appearances and OU has won six straight Big 12 titles. Two Sooner quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — won Heisman Trophies under Riley, while Jalen Hurts finished second. All three started in the NFL last week.

Offense

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Type: Spread

Coordinators: Cale Gundy, Bill Bedenbaugh

Riley brought the Texas Tech Air Raid system to OU, which opened up its run game. Last year, the Sooners ran the ball more than they threw it, but that appears to have flipped in 2021. This could be the best offense Nebraska faces this season — Oklahoma has been in the top six nationally in scoring for six straight seasons, returns most of its production and has five preseason first-team All-Big 12 honorees. Quarterback Spencer Rattler is a Heisman contender. Eric Gray, Tennessee’s top back in 2020, joins Kennedy Brooks, the Sooners’ top back in 2018 and 2019, in the backfield. The receiving corps ranks among the best in the nation. Top target Marvin Mims is joined by 6-foot-3 Jadon Haselwood, 5-9 true freshman Mario Williams and Arkansas transfer Michael Woods. Each poses a different threat, as do all-conference-level tight ends Austin Stogner and Jeremiah Hall. The line is anchored by Tyrese Robinson, Marquis Hayes and Tennessee transfer Wanya Morris, all two-year starters.

Defense

Type: 3-4

Coordinator: Alex Grinch

Grinch has overhauled OU’s defense in two seasons, taking a porous unit that ranked outside the top 100 in scoring defense to average in 2019, then top 30 in 2020. Like the offense, the Sooners play with speed and aggression, but are more suited for stopping Big 12 offenses than Big Ten. Last year, Oklahoma tied for third in the nation in sacks and interceptions. It returned seven starters and is first in fumble recoveries this season. The front line and edge rushers are the strength for OU, which plays a similar scheme to Buffalo. The Husker offense will have to limit turnovers and mistakes to be successful Saturday, but moving the ball isn’t impossible.

Players to watch

Brooks: The junior surpassed 1,000 yards in 2018 and 2019 before opting out last season. Brooks is the Sooners’ leading rusher this season, and will likely be relied on heavily with Gray interchangeably.

Haselwood: The absence of Theo Wease — last year’s second-leading receiver for OU — has afforded Haselwood, the fourth-ranked recruit nationally in 2019, the opportunity to start. Mims is Oklahoma’s top wideout, but Haselwood is a tall, deep threat.

Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas: Bonitto, an edge rusher, and Thomas, a defensive end, combined for 16½ sacks last season. They’ll hold the key to generating pressure and creating sacks and turnovers for OU.

They said it

“He looks to me improved on the on-script stuff and the things when he gets off script, that’s when he’s really, really good. Good player. He’ll be a big challenge, and he’ll be as athletic a guy as we play all year.” — Riley on Adrian Martinez

“They’ve got about as good of players, at every position, as anyone in the country.” — NU coach Scott Frost

Three stats

42.1: The Sooners have averaged at least 42.1 points per game for six straight seasons, a mark no other program has reached in each of the past five seasons.

14: The Sooners ranked below average last season in interceptions and fumbles lost, committing 14 total turnovers. Rattler, the preseason Heisman favorite, threw two interceptions against Tulane. Nebraska’s defense has been more effective at forcing turnovers this season, with four interceptions the past two games, albeit against non-Power Five programs.

25%: Oklahoma has won five of its past six games against the Huskers, the most recent in 2010. Before then Nebraska won eight of nine. Since the teams last met, OU is 106-25 (81%) and NU is 70-56 (56%), a differential of 25%. The Sooners have averaged three more wins per season since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. It’s been even more bleak the past five years.


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