For decades, the Oklahoma Sooners and Nebraska Cornhuskers sustained one of college football's greatest rivalries. The two teams are facing off this weekend for the first time since they played for the Big 12 championship in 2010. This matchup lacks the luster of their past classics.
While OU's squad looks a lot like its teams of old, the Cornhuskers bear little resemblance to the powerhouses coached by Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney during the program's heyday. Embattled head coach Scott Frost could use a victory over the Sooners to give NU faithful an indication he can get the Huskers heading back in the right direction.
Here's what to watch when the old rivals meet on Saturday afternoon in Norman.
Nebraska at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -22.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The OU offense appeared badly out of sync in the team's opening game of the season, a 40-35 victory over Tulane, which was played in Norman because of Hurricane Ida's impact on the New Orleans area. Quarterback Spencer Rattler muddled through an especially disappointing performance by throwing two interceptions that set the Green Wave up for scores. The Sooners looked sharp with the ball in Week 2, but plastering an FCS team like the Western Carolina Catamounts won't tell you much about a team's improvement.
Rattler and a stable of explosive receivers steal the headlines; however, head coach Lincoln Riley's offense thrives when his team can keep defenses honest with an effective ground game. That will hinge on the ability of the OU offensive line to get on the same page after two spotty outings. O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh's tinkering with different lineups up front will probably come to an end this week as the Sooners look to establish better chemistry in the rushing attack.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Eric Chinander's unit has produced hit-and-miss results in the team's first three games. The Blackshirts' inability to get stops consistently against Illinois in their opening game doesn't bode well for how they will handle the Sooners. Rattler's carelessness with the ball two weeks ago should give them hope, though.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
The NU offense in 2021 has revolved around the playmaking skills of veteran quarterback Adrian Martinez, who is a threat to take it to the end zone on any play. He currently leads the team with 7.5 yards per carry. When Martinez is handing the ball off, he has two solid options in Markese Stepp and Gabe Ervin Jr. joining him in the backfield.
The NU passing game leaves a lot to be desired through three games. Senior receiver Samori Toure has been a bright spot, averaging 23.5 yards per catch. Relying on Martinez to get him the ball with room to maneuver isn't a given, however.
Of greater concern to NU than Martinez's accuracy and pocket presence: the OU defensive line. The Sooners come in waves up front, allowing disruptors such as nose tackle Perrion Winfrey and defensive end Isaiah Thomas to wreak havoc. If the Huskers can't block them, this game could get out of hand quickly.
Riley seemed to use the sloppy start to OU's season versus Tulane as an opportunity to focus his team last week. The Sooners weren't facing much resistance from Western Carolina, but they still made few mistakes in their 76-0 win over the Catamounts. That seems ominous for NU.
The Huskers won't win this game without help from the Sooners — Rattler, in particular. Can the Nebraska defense bait OU's star QB into mistakes? If not, finding a path to victory for the visitors gets difficult.
Short of Rattler melting down, OU should win handily.
Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Nebraska 17
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— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.