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FOOTBALL

Nebraska-Oklahoma: Three things we learned, three things we still don't know

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Sam McKewon, with the Omaha World-Herald, breaks down the Oklahoma vs. Nebraska football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday, September 17, 2022. Oklahoma won the game 49-14.

LINCOLN — Three things we learned and three things we still don't know about the Huskers coming out of Saturday's loss to Oklahoma.

* * *

Three things we know

1. The defense needs more change.

Nebraska removed the Blackshirts and blitzed more. They tackled more in practice. It worked for about one drive.

After forcing a punt on Oklahoma’s opening drive, the Huskers allowed touchdown drives on seven of the next nine Oklahoma possessions. They allowed 28 first-half points for the second straight week. And they allowed 500 yards for the third time in four games.

The defense has already changed the way it practices, calls plays and honors its top performers. Any other ideas?

2. The fans are fed up

They started leaving at halftime. The student section had mostly cleared by the fourth quarter. By the end, a stadium that held over 87,000 people hours earlier featured mostly empty benches.

Nebraska hosts Indiana, which struggled mightily with Western Kentucky on Saturday, in two weeks. And Trev Alberts said on Aug. 31 that NU had over 2,500 tickets still available for that matchup. Can the Huskers sell them all? How many fans that purchased a ticket will show up? And in what may become a weekly question, how many will stay until the end?

3. Ajay Allen will be an impact player

The true freshman running back finished with 49 yards on 11 carries before leaving with an injury. Through four games, he’s run for 190 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries (5.75 yards per carry). The opportunities might be as impressive as the production, given the player in front of him.

If Anthony Grant is All-Big Ten good, how good does a true freshman have to be to force a timeshare in the backfield? Better question, if Grant leaves this offseason, what can Nebraska do to make Allen stay? He’ll have the inside track to be NU’s starting running back next season, but he’ll also have plenty of suitors hoping he hits the transfer portal.

Three things we still don't know

1. Can the Huskers pass block?

Nebraska allowed two sacks per game through the first three weeks of the season. It allowed four on Saturday, three of which came in the first quarter.

The Huskers played without starting left tackle Teddy Prochazka, who left last week’s game with an arm injury, but Oklahoma also looked like the pass rush Nebraska had played this season – by a comfortable margin.

The Sooners entered Saturday’s game tied for third nationally in sacks per game (4.5) after two wins against UTEP and Kent State. None of NU’s previous three opponents averaged more than two.

Casey Thompson remains a hit at quarterback, and Mark Whipple’s pass concepts work — when they have time to develop. Whether Nebraska’s pass protection will enable or hinder its offense is still an open question.

2. What happened to Tommi Hill?

The Arizona State transfer won coaches’ favor and his starting job thanks to a stellar offseason. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher even said Hill could have his name “left on the wall” at Memorial before Hill’s career was over.

Hill was benched Saturday after getting beat multiple times by Oklahoma receivers, including once on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jalil Farooq in the first quarter. Hill also led Nebraska in penalties (five) and penalty yards (41) before Saturday. No other player had committed more than one.

Braxton Clark replaced Hill on Saturday. Hill returned to his spot later in the game. Going forward? We’ll see who earns those snaps.

3. How many wins are left on the schedule?

They’ve got one now heading into a crucial bye week. NU might be favored at home against Indiana or Illinois. Besides that? It’ll need to surprise someone. Wisconsin and Iowa are down, and neither Minnesota or Purdue look the part of a division favorite.

But be honest: The Huskers haven’t stopped any FBS program from scoring with consistency this season. Oklahoma exposed their offensive line, and who knows when Prochazka will come back.

That’s after four games. With eight to go, how much improvement can fans realistically expect? What can Mickey Joseph do or say to hasten those improvements?

Strap in. Could be a long season.

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