Big Red Breakdown: Oklahoma vs Nebraska

The Sooners hit Lincoln, and now we find out if the Nebraska Cornhuskers are on their way back or continuing on their way down. Can they find an offense to take at least some pressure off their own defense? Check out our take in the comprehensive Big Red Breakdown as the Huskers take on the Huskers.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

11/06/09
--by Vince Campisi




November 7th, 2009
7:00 PM CT
Memorial Stadium
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: ABC



#20 OKLAHOMA (5 - 3) (3 - 1)
VS
NEBRASKA (5 - 3) (2 - 2)



Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Oklahoma vs. Nebraska


Latest Line
Opening: Oklahoma by 6.5.
Current: Oklahoma by 4.5.

Schedules/Results
Oklahoma
09/05/09 - vs. Brigham Young - L 13-14
09/12/09 - vs. Idaho State - W 64-0
09/19/09 - vs. Tulsa - W 45-0
10/03/09 - at. Miami (FL) - L 20-21
10/10/09 - vs. Baylor - W 33-7
10/17/09 - at. Texas - L 13-16
10/24/09 - at. Kansas - W 35-13
10/31/09 - vs. Kansas State - W 42-30
11/07/09 - at. Nebraska
11/14/09 - vs. Texas A&M
11/21/09 - at. Texas Tech
11/28/09 - vs. Oklahoma State

Nebraska
09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech - L 15-16
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 55-0
10/08/09 - at. Missouri - W 27-12
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech - L 10-31
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State - L 7-9
10/31/09 - at. Baylor - W 20-10
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado


Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the 85th all-time meeting between Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Oklahoma currently leads the series (44-37-3), and has won the last four games between the teams.  Nebraska has not beaten Oklahoma since 2001, when the teams were each ranked in the top 3.  This season's game, with Oklahoma being the only team ranked, is just the second time since 1961 that at least one team is not ranked higher than 20th nationally.  These two teams met last season in Norman, and ended with a 62-28 Oklahoma victory.  Oklahoma, thanks to a flurry of Nebraska turnovers early in the game, jumped to a 35-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and Nebraska was never able to recover.  The last game played in Lincoln was back in 2005 and ended with Oklahoma claiming victory 31-24.  The game might best be remembered for a controversial holding penalty that was not called against Oklahoma, which led to a touchdown.  This resulted in a confrontation between then-Nebraska coach Bill Callahan and head referee Steve Usecheck.  During the argument, Usecheck poked Callahan in the chest and the Nebraska coach responded with the now infamous "throat slash" gesture.  Also of note is that Nebraska is on the verge of losing 3 consecutive home games, a stretch that has not been seen since 1968.


Player Breakdowns


OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma Offense

Oklahoma's offense took a couple of big hits early in the season with the losses of both QB Sam Bradford and TE Jermaine Gresham.  Because of those losses, and a struggling offensive line, the Sooners have yet to find great consistency on offense.  The Sooners are currently ranked 30th nationally in total offense (423.88 ypg), 20th in passing (277.38 ypg), 33rd in passing efficiency (140.66 rating), 60th in rushing (146.50 ypg), 20th in scoring offense (33.13 ppg), 37th in interceptions thrown (6), 69th in fumbles lost (8), and 46th in giveaways (14).  

QB: When Heisman Trophy winner, Jr. Sam Bradford (39 of 69, 562 yds, 2 TDs), went down with a shoulder injury in the season opener against BYU, it certainly didn't bode well for the offense, considering all of the other losses that occurred in the months prior (graduation, NFL draft, and other injuries).  Bradford was having enough trouble in that game playing behind a very inexperienced offensive line, and the injury was something the Sooners couldn't have happen if they were to contend for another national title.  RFr. Landry Jones (143 of 229, 1657 yds, 17 TDs, 6 INTs) stepped in and did about as well as you could expect someone with no game-time experience playing behind a poor offensive line to do.  With Bradford re-aggravating the injury against Texas a month ago and now out for the remainder of the season, Jones has had to be the leader of the offense.  He's shown that when he has good blocking up-front, he does a nice job of spreading the ball around and moving the offense.  When he's been under constant duress, he does not perform nearly as well.  He has a very good arm, throws the deep ball well, and puts a nice touch on his passes.  He was outstanding last week against Kansas State, throwing for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns and completing 70% of his passes (26 of 37).  He had plenty of time to throw and he made the Wildcats' defense pay.  One area where Jones has Bradford beat is mobility.  He's not going to outrun a lot of guys, but he's shown good smarts, knowing where the first down marker is at and making good decisions on when to run for it.  Behind Jones are TFr. Drew Allen and Jr. John Nimmo, neither of which has any experience throwing the ball this year.

RB: The Sooners' running game has been pretty pedestrian this year, ranking 6th in the Big XII, averaging 146.5 yards per game.  This has been due to lackluster offensive line play that hasn't allowed for much of a ground game to get going.  The line was as good as they've been all season last week.  It's no surprise that out of that performance came a very good rushing day from the Sooners.  A total of 164 yards were picked up, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.  Starting at RB for the Sooners is Sr. Chris Brown (120 carries, 510 yds, 5 TDs), with Jr. DeMarco Murray (99 carries, 465 yds, 5 TDs) also getting a high percentage of the carries.  Brown runs between the tackles well, has nice speed, and is tough to bring down.  He's broken many tackles in the second level this year.  Murray is a tough, powerful runner that has excellent speed to match.  He's been battling injuries, as has been the story through his career, but is healthy now.  And when Murray is healthy, he is scary good.  With lanes to run through, this tandem has the skills to be great.  We'll find out soon if the offensive line is really coming together, or if it was a one game anomaly.  Other backs in the reserve rotation include TFr. Jonathan Miller (18 carries, 130 yds, 1 TD) and RFr. Jermie Calhoun (18 carries, 60 yds, 1 TD).  The backs are a big part of the passing game, with Murray (23 catches, 289 yds, 2 TDs), Brown (12 catches, 103 yds, 1 TD), and Calhoun (2 catches, 22 yds) all catching passes this season.  Murray has the best hands of the group, and is explosive in the open field.  At fullback is Sr. Matt Clapp (1 carry, 1 yard), with Jr. Brandon Crow backing him up.  The fullback doesn't touch the ball much in the offense, used mostly as an occasional lead blocker.

WR/TE: The Sooners have some very talented athletes in their receiving corps that have been doing a pretty good job of catching the ball, although consistency could be slightly better.  Starting at the receiver positions are Jr. Brandon Caleb (26 catches, 408 yds, 2 TDs) and So. Dejuan Miller (20 catches, 203 yds, 1 TD) out wide, with So. Ryan Broyles (44 catches, 591 yds, 10 TDs) on the inside.  Caleb suffered an ankle injury in last week's game, and has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Saturday's game.  Caleb has great leaping ability, good hands, and good speed which have served him well this season in his first real action at WR.  Miller is a pretty explosive athlete that has very good size (6'4") and speed, a knack for getting open, and ability to break tackles.  He's been great at catching passes on short routes and turning them into sizeable gains.  Broyles is the best of the group, and leads the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.  He's been tearing defenses apart on quick slants and slipping tackles.  His great speed is put on display in the running game, as he will be used in reverses and the like.  Top reserves for the Sooners include Sr. Adron Tennell (17 catches, 207, 2 TDs yds), Jr. Cameron Kenney (16 catches, 193 yds, 1 TD), and Jr. Mossis Madu (5 catches, 32 yds).  Tennell is another big target at 6'4", but is yet to live up to expectations.  Madu is a converted running back that has worked in the slot behind Broyles.  At tight end is So. Trent Ratterree (6 catches, 51 yds), with So. James Hanna (3 catches, 31 yds) backing him up.  Neither was expected to have to do much this season, since Sr. Jermaine Gresham had decided to come back for his final season, however, a season-ending knee injury severely weakened the group of receivers and pushed Ratterree and Hanna into a role with big shoes to fill.  Without Gresham, there has been less focus on getting the ball to a tight end.  Hanna did look good on a 19 yard reception last week, quickly getting up-field after making the grab.  

OL: Oklahoma's offensive line has been the weak link for the offense this season.  Their inability to maintain their blocks led to Sam Bradford getting knocked around often and separating his shoulder.  The line looked like they might have gotten it together though last week against Kansas State.  They blocked well and gave QB Landry Jones time to throw, as well as opening some nice holes in the running game.  Starting at tackle is Sr. Trent Williams (6'5", 318 lbs) on the left and Jr. Cory Brandon (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Williams is the best blocker on the line, and is looking like the Williams of last year now that the line seems to have gotten some things going in the right direction.   RT has been a sore-spot, and although Brandon had one of his better games of the year last week against Kansas State, he still needs to continue getting better to solidify the ends.  The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Jeff Vinson (6'8", 350 lbs) and So. Jarvis Jones (6'7", 297 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Brody Eldridge (6'5", 265 lbs) on the left and So. Stephen Good (6'6", 291 lbs) on the right.  Eldridge has played all over the field including TE and H-back, but has seemed to settle in well at LG since the injury to Brian Simmons.  Good has been inconsistent this season, and has started just 3 games this season.  TFr. Tyler Evans (6'5", 280 lbs) serves as the top back-up at both guard spots since Sr. Brian Simmons (6'4", 318 lbs) has been out for a while with a knee injury.  Simmons is questionable this week, but has been left off the depth chart.  At center is RFr. Ben Habern (6'3", 288 lbs), with Jr. Brian Lepak (6'4", 275 lbs) backing him up.  Habern has started every game this season except for the season opener, and although he's been pretty inconsistent - as expected for a red-shirt freshman, he should turn into an excellent center for the next three years.


Oklahoma Defense

Oklahoma has one of the most stifling defenses in the country this season.  They have been tough against the run and the pass, and have helped keep the Sooners in games when their offense has struggled.  The Sooners currently rank 11th nationally in total defense (277.25 ypg), 37th in pass defense (197.25 ypg), 17th in pass efficiency defense (100.89 rating), 3rd in rush defense (80 ypg), 8th in scoring defense (12.63 ppg), 9th in interceptions forced (13), 55th in fumbles recovered (7), and 13th in total takeaways (20).  

DL: The Sooners' defensive line is once again among the nation's elite.  They've been a tough front against the run, and have also been doing a very good job of getting after opposing QB's.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Jeremy Beal (42 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) on the left and Sr. Auston English (22 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 BK) on the right.  Beal is an excellent pass rusher, but also a sturdy tackler in stuffing the run.  His 8.5 sacks ties what he put up in 14 games last year.  English has also been doing a very good job off the end this season.  The bookend pair of Beal and English is one of the best in the Big XII.  Top reserves on the ends are So. Frank Alexander (7 tackles, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), RFr. R.J. Washington (1 tackle), and RFr. David King.  Alexander has played well when given the chance, but it's hard to see a lot of time considering the tandem in front of him.  Starting at defensive tackle are Jr. Gerald McCoy (19 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 8 QBH, 1 PBU) and Jr. Adrian Taylor (18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 BK).  McCoy is one of the top defensive players in the nation this season, and is constantly double-teamed by opposing offensive lines.  Taylor, too, has been excellent this year, taking advantage when McCoy is getting doubled-up on.  This pair is constantly disrupting opposing offenses, even when it might not show up in a stat column.  Top reserves at tackle include Sr. Cordero Moore (3 tackles) and RFr. Casey Walker (2 tackles, 1 FR).  

LB: Oklahoma's linebacking corps has also been outstanding this season.  Stacked at all three positions, this is one of the better groups in the Big XII conference.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Ryan Reynolds (57 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR), with TFr. Ronnell Lewis (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) backing him up.  Reynolds is coming off of last season's knee injury with a vengeance, making plays all over the field . He's disruptive in the backfield, delivering big hits, and doing a pretty decent job in pass coverage.  At weakside linebacker is So. Travis Lewis (71 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), while So. Austin Box (14 tackles, 1 PBU) backs him up.  Lewis is following up his huge freshman year with a stellar sophomore campaign.  He leads the Sooners in tackles this season and uses his speed to fly to the ball.  Box has looked better this season than he did a year ago, but with the great starters, it's hard to crack the top 3.  He did get his first start of the year last week at SLB, to help defend KSU power back Daniel Thomas, but he isn't expected to start there this week.  Sr. Keenan Clayton (38 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 4 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with RFr. Joseph Ibiloye (11 tackles, 1 PBU) providing back-up.  Clayton has also been making plays all over the field, blitzing well, and doing a solid job in pass coverage.  

DB: The Sooners' defensive backfield has been doing a very good job this season, ranking third in the Big XII in both pass defense yards and pass efficiency defense.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Dominique Franks (24 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 3 PBU) at field corner and Sr. Brian Jackson (34 tackles, 4 INTs, 4 PBU) at boundary corner.  Franks is probably the best athlete of the group, and had a phenomenal 85 yard interception returned for touchdown two weeks ago against Kansas.  Jackson has also been a stand-out this year, leading the team in interceptions and tied for the lead in pass breakups.  These corners have been tough on opposing receivers this year.  Players in the reserve rotation include So. Jamell Fleming (10 tackles), TFr. Demontre Hurst (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU), and Jr. Jonathan Nelson (20 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU).  Nelson has been playing pretty well this season, and had a nice game last week, recording 4 tackles.  Starting at strong safety is So. Sam Proctor (31 tackles, 2 PBU), with TFr. Javon Harris (1 tackle) providing back-up.  Proctor is a fair athlete that has been playing well this season, but hasn't really been a playmaker in the secondary like Nic Harris was last year at SS.  At free safety is Jr. Quinton Carter (55 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 4 PBU), while TFr. Marcus Trice (2 tackles, 1 BK) backs him up.  Carter has been playing at a high level this season, doing a good job in run support, and also tied for the team lead in pass breakups.  He has been providing some big-time hits for the Sooner secondary this year.  


Oklahoma Special Teams

Oklahoma's special teams units have been solid this year in pretty much every area.  The Sooners currently rank 18th in net punting (38.08 yd avg), 65th in kickoff returns (21.52 yd avg), 14th in punt returns (14.74 yd avg), 59th in kickoff coverage (21.45 yd avg), and 2nd in punt coverage (0.13 yd avg).  

K: RFr. Tress Way is listed as the top kicker this week, despite missing his only attempt this season, from 54 yards (occurred in season opener).  So. Jimmy Stevens has been starting this season and has made 11 of his 13 field goal attempts with a long of 39 this season.  He has been 0 for 2 beyond 39 yards this year, most recently missing a 45 yarder three weeks ago against Texas.  Jr. Matthew Moreland works as the kickoff specialist, pushing just 3 of his 52 kickoffs for a touchback this season.  He is averaging 62.8 yards per kickoff, kicking to between the 7 and 8 yard line.  

P: RFr. Tress Way is averaging 43.1 yards on his 36 punts with a long of 71 this season.  8 of his 36 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  Epperson's 43.1 yard average ranks 3rd in the Big XII and 20th nationally.  

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Sooners consists of Jr. Mossis Madu (15 kick returns, 21.3 yd avg, 35 yd long) and So. Ryan Broyles (4 kick returns, 20.2 yd avg, 32 yd long).  It has been surprising considering the speed of these two that 35 yards has been the longest return on the season.  The top punt returnmen are Jr. Dominique Franks (11 punt returns, 17 yd avg, 51 yd long) and So. Ryan Broyles (11 punt returns, 12 yd avg, 32 yd long).  Nationally both Franks and Broyles rank in the top 22.

Coverage: The Sooners' kick and punt coverage units have been excellent this season, with the one anomaly being a 98 yard kickoff return for touchdown allowed last week to KSU's Brandon Banks.  On the season, the kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 21.4 yards on 49 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 98 (for touchdown).  The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of just 0.1 yard on 8 punt return attempts, with a long of 6.



NEBRASKA

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense continues to slide down the rankings week after week.  The unit has looked inept in every game they've played this season involving BCS conference opponents.  Last week against Baylor, the Huskers scored just one offensive touchdown.  That isn't acceptable for a team hoping to win their division.  The turnover numbers are negatively skewed, thanks to an 8 turnover day two weeks ago against Iowa State.  The Huskers currently rank 68th nationally in total offense (367.88 ypg), 57th in passing (221.75 ypg), 62nd in pass efficiency (128.17 rating), 62nd in rushing (146.13 ypg), 54th in scoring offense (27.63 ppg), 55th in interceptions thrown (8), 86th in fumbles lost (9), and 80th in giveaways (17).  

QB: TFr. Cody Green (31 for 54, 313 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) took his first career start at QB last week against Baylor.  He didn't provide the spark many had hoped, but had a couple of nice plays, including a 45 yard strike that set up Nebraska's only offensive touchdown of the game.  Green has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB, but still has a ways to go.  He should progress well with the added experience of being the starter.  He can run well and has shown a very strong arm, but his talents have yet to really be put on display.  He has carried the ball 16 times for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns (lost 11 yards on sacks).  While Green started last week, Nebraska's coaches won't reveal the starter for this Saturday.  Jr. Zac Lee (118 for 197, 1461 yds, 10 TDs, 6 INTs) looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt opposition this year, but did not produce against BCS opponents, which led to his demotion.  He went 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions against Virginia Tech, was 14 of 33 (42%) at Missouri, was abysmal against Texas Tech (16 for 22, 128 yds, 4 sacks), and threw 3 interceptions against Iowa State two weeks ago.  He seems very hesitant to throw downfield, instead choosing to check down to much shorter routes.  He doesn't have great pocket presence, and when pressured chooses to run to the perimeter instead of stepping up into the pocket.  This has been an issue because he just isn't great throwing on the run.  When Lee has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy.  He has decent speed and has rushed for 73 yards on 43 attempts (has lost 55 yards on sacks).  Once again, it will be a game time decision as to who the starter will be, however, it would be difficult to see Nebraska go back to Lee right away.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (117 carries, 668 yds, 6 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them.  He has really turned into a complete back over the past season.  He has been bothered by an injured shoulder and hasn't been 100% for since before the Missouri game.  He is getting contact in practice this week, which would lead you to believe he might be healthy enough to take the full load this week.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. was TFr. Rex Burkhead (23 carries, 118 yds, 1 TD), an impressive young back that has had some nice rushes early this season.  He broke his foot a few weeks ago and could miss the remainder of the season.  A solid #2 back needs to emerge from the group of TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson (28 carries, 138 yds, 2 TDs), So. Marcus Mendoza (4 carries, 10 yds), So. Austin Jones (6 carries, 15 yds), RFr. Lester Ward (8 carries, 24 yds), and RFr. Collins Okafor (1 rush, 9 yds).  Robinson has been the best out of that group and should be ready to go on Saturday after suffering a leg injury last week.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, with Helu Jr. (16 catches, 134 yds), Burkhead (8 catches, 66 yds, 1 TD), Mendoza (7 catches, 45 yds), Robinson (3 catches, 22 yds), and Jones (1 catch, 2 yds) each catching passes on this season.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time on the field.    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers need to be more consistent if the passing game is going to be viable threat.  There are too many instances of dropped passes and lackadaisical play at this point in the season.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (25 catches, 413 yds, 3 TDs).  He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills.  He is very inconsistent, however, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones.  Starting at "X" this week will probably RFr. Khiry Cooper (9 catches, 67 yds, 1 TD).  He's probably got the most up-side of Nebraska's receivers, and saw his first start last week.  Reserves include Sr. Menelik Holt (15 catches, 175 yds, 1 TD), So. Curenski Gilleylen (16 catches, 299 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (13 catches, 177 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (5 catches, 42 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds).  Holt had been the starter at "X" until last week.  Dropped passes and poor blocking led to his demotion.  Gilleylen is a speedster that developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat, but may have also been demoted this week after continuing to drop passes this year.  Brooks turned into a solid possession receiver this year and probably has the best hands of the entire group.  He is trying to return to the lineup after suffering a back injury a few weeks ago.  Kinnie has great measurables, but can't seem to hold onto the football.  Henry is a big body (6'5") but is yet to make an impact.  Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (16 catches, 182 yds, 3 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 61 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (5 catches, 52 yds) competing behind McNeill.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  Reed has a nice 22 yard reception last week, but injured his knee on the play.  This is a deep and talented group of tight ends, which are a big strength for the Huskers' offense, however, aren't being taken advantage of properly.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line still has a long way to go in terms of being a good unit.  The group is far too inconsistent at this stage in the year.  At times they do a nice job, but more often than not they are committing costly penalties and getting beat by opposing linemen.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Smith is typically among the best linemen for the Huskers, but has had his share of issues as well this year.  Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side.  He's young and has made a number of mistakes, however.  Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones, even though Marcel sees more snaps.  D.J. doesn't have great torque in the hips and gets beat often by athletic linemen.  TFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) is another possibility to see in a reserve role at tackle.  Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a pretty solid blocker and should only get better.  He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which has caused a few personal foul flags this year.  Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up.  Hickman is the leader of the group and a typically solid center.  He's battling an ankle injury, but should continue to start.  Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and leverage.


Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense has been very good this season, much better than they have performed in about a decade.  They have been keeping their team in games while the offense has been sputtering.  The one thing they really need to work on, however, is creative turnovers, which has been severely lacking.  They got three last week, and that trend needs to continue.  The Huskers are currently ranked 9th nationally in total defense (267.63 ypg), 13th in pass defense (171.38 ypg), 7th in pass efficiency defense (95.97 rating), 10th in rush defense (96.25 ypg), 4th in scoring defense (11.25 ppg), 63rd in interceptions (7), 73rd in fumbles recovered (6), and 76th in total takeaways (13).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line is one of the best in the nation.  They're big, strong, athletic, and just make plays.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (31 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (29 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 8 QBH, 2 PBU) on the left.  Both Allen and Turner have excellent athleticism, but have been fairly inconsistent this season.  They've been getting better, and some of that has to do with the d-tackles pushing the play to the outside.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Williams (3 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith has been impressive in his back-up role, and is pushing for more playing time.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (49 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 14 QBH, 7 PBU, 2 BK), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up.  Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers.  He very rarely comes off the field, yet still has the energy to bring it in the fourth quarter.  So. Jared Crick (49 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 2 FR, 10 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (17 tackles) providing back-up.  Crick has really turned into a big time d-tackle this season, making opponents think twice about always doubling up on Suh.  Last week Crick had a single-game school record tying 6 sacks against Baylor.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has been playing very good football since the start of conference play.  With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they should continue to get better each week.  Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU).  Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that that has been doing a great job at WILL this year.  He brings athleticism and experience to the field that has been invaluable.  Behind Dillard is So. Matthew May (8 tackles).  May has not seen much action this season.  Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (31 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (5 tackles) is the top reserve.  Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and will make mistakes.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (32 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR. 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (7 tackles, 1 BK) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up.  Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense.  Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, he'll be a good one.  

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played very well this season, and kept up a pretty high level of play no matter the competition.  Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (41 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 7 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (20 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Amukamara has been pretty solid and has great athleticism, and getting better at consistency in coverage.  Gomes has looked very good when on the field, and has seen more time against the spread offenses this year.  So. Alfonzo Dennard (15 tackles, 4 PBU) took over the role as starting RCB a few weeks ago and has performed very well.  He makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler.  He went down with an upper body injury last week, but is expected to play on Saturday.  Jr. Anthony West (8 tackles, 3 PBU) will likely get the call, even though Gomes is probably a better option.  West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel.  He was beaten a few times after replacing the injured Dennard in last week's game.  So. Lance Thorell (5 tackles, 1 PBU) is another reserve at corner that occasionally sees time.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (41 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 6 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. P.J. Smith (6 tackles) backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter.  He's probably the best of the defensive backfield, with Amukamara coming a close second right now.  Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (36 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU) starts at free safety.  O'Hanlon is often picked on and susceptible to being burned, however, has made some big plays in his career as well.  He is usually a dependable tackler and blitzes well.  Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (6 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).  


Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units, like the Husker offense, have been inconsistent this year.  They have some of the best kickers in the nation, but the return and coverage units aren't always upper tier performers.  The Huskers rank 105th in net punting (33 yd avg), 63rd in kickoff returns (21.62 yd avg), 40th in punt returns (10.89 yd avg), 45th in kickoff coverage (20.77 yd avg), and 99th in punt coverage (12.41 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He has made 11 of his 13 attempts this season, with a long of 46.  He's made 24 straight kicks from under 50 yards, but has missed both attempts from 50+ this season.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation.  Kunalic has pushed 21 of 47 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.6 yard average, kicking between the 1 and 2 yard line.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 40.4 yards on his 38 punts with a long of 76 this season.  17 of his 38 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20 so far this year.  He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and has been somewhat inconsistent when required to punt for length.  When directional punting, or attempting to get the ball to down inside the 10, he's been outstanding.  

KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (11 kick returns, 23.8 yd avg, 33 yd long), and RFr. Tim Marlowe (6 kick returns, 21.3 yd avg, 30 yd long).  At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (22 punt returns, 9.2 yd avg, 55 yd long).  These units have been very good at times, but have been pretty average since starting conference play.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but have had occasional tackling problems.  They seem to allow one good sized kick return each week.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.8 yards on 26 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 12.4 yards on 17 punt returns (62 yd long).    



Unit Match-Ups

Oklahoma's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Oklahoma's passing game isn't as prolific under Landry Jones this year as it was last year under Sam Bradford, but it isn't really Jones' fault.  He's playing behind a mediocre offensive line and throwing to good, but inconsistent receivers.  Jones has played well when his offensive line has given him time, and there was a great example of that last week against Kansas State.  It was a sharp performance, as he got comfortable and threw the ball all over the field.  His final numbers last week were 26 of 37 for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns.  At times in the second half, the Sooner offense got stagnant, but every time KSU got the score close, Bradford led his team down the field to extend the lead.  Being a redshirt-freshman, he'll likely get better and better each week, and he's got plenty of ability to lead this offense for years to come.  Against better defenses, such as Texas, he wasn't great, throwing 24 of 43 for 250 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.  Since that point three weeks ago, though, the supporting cast has gotten better for Jones.  Playing in eight games, Jones is completing 62.4% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 51% of their passes this season.   
As stated earlier, Oklahoma's receiving corps has all kinds of talent, but just hasn't been terribly consistent on the season.  Last week was a very solid performance against KSU, and it all starts with Ryan Broyles.  Broyles is a pure playmaker with tremendous speed and hands.  He'll get the ball in all kinds of situations, deep, short, and in the running game.  He's clearly the best of the Sooners' receivers, missing two games with injury and still leads the team in all receiving categories.  Broyles is the small (5'11"), quick receiver, while Dejuan Miller is the big, 6'4" receiver that has all of the tools to be an All-Big XII performer over the next couple of seasons.  He's a strong receiver that won't be brought down by arm tackles.  The offense employs a large number of short routes, which helps get QB Landry Jones into a rhythm and also puts a premium on getting yards after catch.  Pretty much all of the OU receivers do well in that area.
Nebraska's pass defense continues to give up the least amount of yards through the air among Big XII teams this season (171.4 ypg), which is impressive considering where they were last year (233.4 ypg in 2008).  The secondary has been a really solid force since changing the line-up around a little bit about a month ago when CB Alfonzo Dennard took over for Anthony West.  Dennard has been struggling with shoulder problems the last few weeks, and did not participate in contact drills this week in practice.  He is expected to play on Saturday, however.  This defensive backfield does really well in coverage, but continues to give up one or two big plays every week.  They need to also do a better job of forcing turnovers, with just one interception in the past three games.  It will be interesting to see how this unit plays against the speedy Oklahoma receivers, as the Huskers can't afford to give big plays.  Look for plenty of nickel and dime packages from the Huskers.  In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 7th nationally, allowing a rating of just 95.97, while Oklahoma's Landry Jones ranks 28th nationally in pass efficiency (142.48).  

Oklahoma's running game has struggled to get much going this season, due to some mediocre offensive line play and DeMarco Murray getting the injury bug again this year.  Now that Murray is healthy, the run game is getting a bit of a boost, and if the line continues to show progression, it could be a very formidable force by the end of the season.  Between Murray and Chris Brown, success on the ground can be had if the line plays well.  Last week Murray and Brown combined for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries.  They are going to match-up against the best defensive front they've seen since Texas, and the Longhorns held the Sooners to (-16) yards rushing on 22 carries.  It will imperative for Oklahoma to establish a sound running game on Saturday.
Nebraska's rush defense is among the best in the country, ranking 3rd in the Big XII and 10th nationally (96.2 ypg against).  The Huskers' front four has done a great job of shutting down opposing run games.  The d-tackles have been manhandling opposing guards and centers, while the linebackers have filled in gaps nicely.  LB Phillip Dillard has been especially good this year, and is going to be focusing on stopping DeMarco Murray from getting past the second level in both running the football as well as catching passes out of the backfield.  Oklahoma will likely have trouble getting a consistent run game going against this Nebraska defense.  

Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Oklahoma has converted a decent 41.38% of their third downs (49th nationally), with an excellent 94% red-zone scoring average (23 TDs, 10 FGs) (8th nationally).  The Sooners were an outstanding 77% (10 of 13) on 3rd downs last week against Kansas State, and were a perfect 5-for-5 in red-zone chances (5 TDs).  Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 33.60% of their 3rd down attempts (21st nationally), and has allowed a solid 77% red-zone scoring percentage (7 TDs, 3 FGs) (33rd nationally) this season.  Against Baylor last week, the Huskers allowed the Bears to convert on just 31% of their 3rd downs (5 of 16) and did not allow a red-zone score (0 for 1).

Up front, Oklahoma's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 294 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  On the season, Oklahoma is averaging 4.2 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out).  The Sooners have allowed 41 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in their eight games, while the Huskers have picked up 70 tackles for loss and 25 sacks in their seven games.  Oklahoma's offensive line production has dropped sharply from a season ago due to having mostly new starters in the group.  It's taken a while to find the right mix on the line, and after a pretty solid performance a week ago against Kansas State, there might not be much tinkering left to be done.  Although the line played well last week, there were some issues with picking up some holding penalties that need to be cleaned up.  They'll have to prove this week that it wasn't a fluke performance, as it's easy to remember two weeks ago against a porous Kansas defense where the Sooners averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.  Nebraska's defensive line is the best group that Oklahoma has seen since the Texas game, and will match up against the best defensive player in the country, Ndamukong Suh.  He draws constant double teams, yet still makes a huge impact each week.  His partner in crime, DT Jared Crick, has stepped up his level of play and picked up a school record 5 sacks against Baylor last week.  An offense can't afford to focus all of their attention on Suh, or Crick will make them pay.  The Husker defensive ends need to be better, though, as they just don't seem to get as much pressure as you'd assume with the great play in the middle.


Nebraska's Offense vs. Oklahoma's Defense

Nebraska's "hybrid" offense, a mix of spread, west coast offense, and supposedly a power running game, has fallen off the map this season in every game played against BCS conference opposition.  Nebraska made a change at starting QB last week, putting true freshman Cody Green into the line-up instead of  Zac Lee.  There wasn't much of a difference seen last week against Baylor in terms of play calling or out-put, with the typical lateral passing game, short outs, and stale run game leading to just one offensive touchdown.  Green is more mobile than Lee, so you would expect Nebraska to use that to their advantage, but they did not last week.  If Nebraska is going to win another game this year, they really need their offensive line to wake up out of their slumber, and give the QB time to make plays.  Green has a nice arm, but because of his inexperience, is going to struggle, which is why Nebraska needs to call a game that utilizes their strengths.  Get Green running the ball, and he can move the offense down the field.  The Nebraska coaches have not ruled out using Zac Lee this week, which could be interesting to see how they would work both QB's in.  The Sooners' defense has allowed their opponents to complete just 55.4% of their passes this season, while Nebraska QB's Zac Lee and Cody Green have combined to complete 59.4% of their attempts on the year.   
Nebraska's receivers are running out of time this season to step up.  Two-thirds of the way through the year, no one has really stepped up besides Niles Paul as a playmaker for the offense.  Even Paul has been inconsistent, not just week to week, but play to play.  There's talent in the group, especially young talent that for whatever reason hasn't made their way onto the field often.  Veteran Menelik Holt has been a disappointment this season, and deep threat Curenski Gilleylen has been less of a factor since the offense quit throwing the ball deep.  In a game against a great defense like Oklahoma, someone's got to step up, and step up in a big way.  A big plus for the Huskers this week is getting Chris Brooks back from injury, and he's has had the most consistent hands in the group and needs to see more time on the field.  
Oklahoma's secondary just keeps playing well every week.  The Sooners are giving up 197.2 yards per game through the air while allowing 7 total touchdowns and picking up 13 interceptions.  Corners Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson have been very good, getting interceptions and tipping passes away.  FS Quinton Carter has also been excellent this year delivering some big hits and making plays on the ball.  There hasn't been many playmakers showing up in Nebraska's receiving corps this year, and unless there is a complete 180, the Sooner secondary should be just fine on Saturday.  In pass coverage, Sooners' secondary ranks 17th nationally, allowing a rating of 100.89, while Nebraska's QB's rank 62nd nationally in pass efficiency (128.17).  

Nebraska's run game has been in trouble since starter Roy Helu Jr. injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Missouri game a month ago.  Since that point, he's continued to play, despite not being near 100%.  This week, he's supposedly as healthy as he's been all year, so he might be able to add a big-time playmaker to the Nebraska offense, which is desperately looking for one.  It's unlikely that he's 100% though, so don't expect the same Helu you might have seen against Virginia Tech earlier in the year.  The back-ups have been fair, with true freshman Dontrayevous Robinson performing the best, but he's also dinged up now.  The biggest issue here is the offensive line.  The backs have the skills to get the offense going, but without support from the front five, nothing gets done.
Oklahoma's rush defense has been very good this season, ranking second in the Big XII and third in the nation as they give up just 80 yards per game on the ground.  They've been pretty consistent this season, however, last week, Kansas State picked up 159 yards on the ground (when taking sacks out) on 27 carries.  Few teams have had much success against the Sooners, with Kansas State (159), Texas (167), and Miami (172), having the best luck on the ground.  The linebackers are a big part of why this defense is so tough on the run, with Travis Lewis, Ryan Reynolds, Keenan Clayton, and Austin Box all doing a very good job of making plays on the ball carrier.  Nebraska's run game hasn't been going in Big XII play to this point, and it's not likely to suddenly "turn on" against the Sooners on Saturday.  

Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 43.24% of their third downs (37th nationally), and scoring on an average 77% of red-zone opportunities (17 TDs, 7 FGs) (93rd nationally).  After going 3-for-9 in the red zone against Iowa State and Texas Tech, Nebraska got back on track last week going 2-for-2 against Baylor.  Third down conversions were not very good last week, converting just 33% (5 of 15).  The Sooners' defense is allowing their opponents to convert solid 35.94% of their third downs (42nd nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on just 65% of their red-zone chances (10 TDs, 3 FG) (3rd nationally).  Oklahoma allowed Kansas State to convert 50% (7 of 14) of their 3rd downs and score on 4 of their 5 red-zone opportunities last week (3 TDs, 1 FGs).

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Oklahoma's average defensive lineman is 6'3.5", 275 lbs.  On the season, Nebraska is averaging 4.9 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Oklahoma is giving up 3.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out).  Nebraska has allowed 10 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in eight games this year, while Oklahoma has picked up 27 sacks and 69 tackles for loss in their eight games this season.  Nebraska's offensive line has continued to struggle this season.  They have started cleaning up their play a bit, drawing fewer penalties, but the ones they are still drawing have been drive killers.  It's simply not an offense that can afford to go an addition 5 or 10 yards each time out.  Both pass and run blocking still needs to be more consistent, and it's going to be tough to look better against an outstanding Oklahoma defensive front.  The Sooners' d-line is a pass rushing machine, and is going to give Nebraska's offensive line fits.  Last week against Kansas State was not their best outing, however, as the Wildcats found a lot of running room in the second half.  They had a decent amount of success running between the tackles as well as running options to the perimeter.  Sometimes their aggression in pass rushing results in overpursuit by the ends, allowing for some big lanes to run through.  But until Nebraska's offensive line shows that they can push good players around, you have to like Oklahoma's front four by a wide margin in this match-up.  Nebraska just doesn't have good enough tackles to keep ends Jeremy Beal and Auston English out of the backfield.  Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor will also give the Husker interior trouble.



Position Advantages
Position/Advantage
QBs: Oklahoma +
RBs: Oklahoma +
WR/TE's: Oklahoma +
OL: Even
DL: Even
LB: Oklahoma +
DB: Even
Special Teams: Nebraska +
Coaching: Oklahoma ++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large


Injury Report

Oklahoma:
WR - Brandon Caleb - Ankle - Probable
OL - Tavaris Jeffries - Suspension - Questionable
OL - Brian Simmons - Knee - Questionable
DT - DeMarcus Granger - Back - Out Indefinitely
LB - Mike Balogun - Eligibilty - Out Indefinitely
QB - Sam Bradford - Shoulder - Out for Season
TE - Jermaine Gresham - Knee - Out for Season
LB - Tom Wort - Knee - Out for Season

Nebraska:
RB - Dontrayevous Robinson - Shoulder - Probable
C - Jacob Hickman - Foot - Probable
RB - Roy Helu Jr - Shoulder - Probable
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Shoulder - Probable
WR - Chris Brooks - Back - Probable
TE - Kyler Reed - Knee - Questionable
RB - Rex Burkhead - Foot - Out Indefinitely
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season
LB - Blake Lawrence - Concussions - Ended Career


Keys to the Game

Oklahoma:
1.) Offensive Line Needs to Prove Last Week Wasn't a Fluke - It was a very nice performance against an over-achieving KSU defense.  Was it simply a one-game anomaly, or does the line have it figured out?
2.) Take Away Nebraska's Running Game - With Nebraska's problems at offensive line and QB, shutting down their running game, which probably won't be a huge problem, will put even more pressure on the struggling QB's.  That pressure will lead to turnovers.
3.) Don't Get Complacent - It seemed like the team let off the gas last week against Kansas State, allowing them back into the game in the second half.  That's not the mark of a great football team.  If you get on top and are having offensive success, don't let Nebraska believe they can win in the 4th quarter.

Nebraska:
1.) Be Fundamentally Sound - In a game like this, it all starts with fundamentals.  Blocking and tackling.  With the explosive playmakers on the Oklahoma offense, Nebraska cannot afford to miss tackles and allow big plays. They also cannot have sloppy offensive line play against a great Oklahoma defensive front.  They'll need a stable run game to have a chance.
2.) Quick Start - Too many times against BCS competition, Nebraska's offense seems to be stuck in the mud right out of the gates.  They need a confidence booster after struggling for so many weeks, and an opening drive score would be huge in this game that could easily be a defensive battle.
3.) Force Multiple Turnovers - Best way to do this will be making Oklahoma one-dimensional and force Landry Jones into mistakes.  If the Huskers are to win this game, they might even need to return at least one of those turnovers for a score.



Final Outlook

This is clearly a game of two meandering offenses matching up against a pair of very good defenses.  Oklahoma's offense showed a few sparks last week against Kansas State while Nebraska continued sinking in the quick sand against Baylor.  The Huskers scored just one offensive touchdown against a mediocre Baylor defense.  Oklahoma's defense is much, much better and it's going to be tough sledding without the light suddenly coming on for Nebraska's offensive line, QB, and receivers.  Hard to see that happening based on what has been seen out of Nebraska this year.

Oklahoma's offense hasn't exactly been lighting up the scoreboards with any regularity, either, but they have been performing better than their Nebraska counterpart, and had a nice outing against KSU a week ago.  While the Husker defense is playing great football and doing a very good job of keeping opponents off the board, and Oklahoma probably won't get out of the 20's on Saturday unless the Nebraska offense turns the ball over to the Sooners.

Nebraska would have to play a complete game, leave nothing on the field, and not make the big mistakes they've been making this season to pull off the win.  They haven't shown the ability to beat a team like Oklahoma this year, and it's unless their defense scores a time or two, it's safe to say that Oklahoma gives Nebraska their fourth loss on the season with a win by 10-14 points.

Oklahoma - 24
Nebraska - 13

 

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