Huskers vs Sooners Game Preview

It's the last Big 12 conference title game for the league for some time, but definitely the last one for the Huskers. Check out this game preview as we break it all down, top to bottom, front to back as the Huskers take on the Sooners....just as it should be.

Vince Campisi's Big XII Championship Game Preview
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

--by Vince Campisi

December 4th, 2010
7:00 PM CST
Cowboys Stadium
Arlington, TX
Television Coverage: ABC

#9 (BCS) OKLAHOMA (10 - 2) (6 - 2)
#13 (BCS) NEBRASKA (10 - 2) (6 - 2)

Latest Line
Opening: Oklahoma by 3.5.
Current: Oklahoma by 4.5.


09/04/10 - vs. Utah State - W 31-24
09/11/10 - vs. Florida State - W 47-17
09/18/10 - vs. Air Force - W 27-24
09/25/10 - at. Cincinnati - W 31-29
10/02/10 - vs. Texas* - W 28-20
10/16/10 - vs. Iowa State - W 52-0
10/23/10 - at. Missouri - L 27-36
10/30/10 - vs. Colorado - W 43-10
11/06/10 - at. Texas A&M - L 19-33
11/13/10 - vs. Texas Tech - W 45-7
11/20/10 - at. Baylor - W 53-24
11/27/10 - at. Oklahoma State - W 47-41
12/04/10 - vs. Nebraska**
* - in Dallas, TX
** - in Arlington, TX

09/04/10 - vs. Western Kentucky - W 49-10
09/11/10 - vs. Idaho - W 38-17
09/18/10 - at. Washington - W 56-21
09/25/10 - vs. South Dakota State - W 17-3
10/07/10 - at. Kansas State - W 48-13
10/16/10 - vs. Texas - L 13-20
10/23/10 - at. Oklahoma State - W 51-41
10/30/10 - vs. Missouri - W 31-17
11/06/10 - at. Iowa State - W 31-30 (OT)
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas - W 20-3
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M - L 6-9
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado - W 45-17
12/04/10 - vs. Oklahoma*
** - in Arlington, TX

Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the 86th all-time meeting between Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Oklahoma currently leads the series (44-38-3), and has won four of the last five games between the teams.  This match-up was one of college football's greatest rivalries from the late 1950's until the creation of the Big XII conference in 1996 when the teams were split into different divisions.  It is fitting that in the last season these teams are conference mates that they would meet for the conference championship.  Despite being two of the Big XII's top power programs, the pair has met just once before in the conference title game, in 2006.  That game was played on an extremely cold December night in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium.  The game's momentum was given early to the Sooners as Nebraska WR Maurice Purify fumbled on the opening play from scrimmage at the 8 yard line, setting up an easy touchdown for Oklahoma.  Just two Oklahoma possessions later, QB Paul Thompson would hit WR Malcolm Kelly for a 66 yard touchdown, extending their lead to 14-0.  That lead would prove to be insurmountable for Nebraska, as the Sooners claimed victory 21-7.  The last time these teams met was just a season ago, playing in Lincoln.  It was a defensive struggle throughout as Nebraska's offense mustered just 180 yards on the Sooners' defense.  Oklahoma did manage to pick up 325 yards, but the Huskers' ball hawking defense would be the difference in the game, picking off 5 Landry Jones passes.  One of those interceptions was taken by NU CB Prince Amukamara down to the OU 1-yard line, setting up the game's only touchdown, a 1 yard pass to Ryan Hill from Zac Lee.  The two teams went on to each score a field goal through the remainder of the game as Nebraska won 10-3.  This season's meeting marks the first time since 2001 in which both teams are ranked in the top 15.   

Personnel Breakdowns


Oklahoma Offense

Oklahoma's up-tempo spread offense has had their share of problems with consistent play this season, but seems to have gotten better over the past few games.  Over the past three games against Texas Tech, Baylor, and Oklahoma State, they have averaged 48.33 points per game.  While those opponents don't possess much in terms of defense, they are going out and executing.  Last week against OSU, Oklahoma put up 588 yards of total offense and 47 points, thanks largely to a lot of big plays in the passing game.  The Sooners are currently ranked 12th nationally in total offense (480.08 ypg), 4th in passing (336.33 ypg), 26th in passing efficiency (145.46 rating), 75th in rushing (143.75 ypg), 16th in scoring offense (37.50 ppg), 44th in interceptions thrown (10), 7th in fumbles lost (5), and 15th in giveaways (15).  

QB: So. Landry Jones (348 of 527, 3947 yds, 34 TDs, 10 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Sooners.  He has been playing well as of late, but does have his share of inconsistencies.  He'll have a few series' of great throws, then go off the mark for the next few.  When at his best, he's a decisive QB that gets rid of the football quickly and has a nice touch to his passes.  He tends to struggle when teams are able to get pressure on him, throwing a lot of dangerous passes.  Even when not under heavy duress, he throws too many dangerous passes, and should probably have at least a few more interceptions to his name.  Against a good pass defense, those dangerous throws are going to get picked off and turn the tide of a game.  Last week against Oklahoma State with 4 minutes left in a 2 point game, he threw a terrible deep ball to midfield that was nearly picked off by two Cowboys.  That throw could have easily changed the outcome of the game, because on the next snap, Jones threw an 86 yard touchdown to Cameron Kenney.  Overall though, he had a big day, passing for 468 yards and 4 touchdowns (and 3 INTs), thanks to a very strong second half.  He scrambles a little here and there, but isn't much of a rushing threat.  He has a net of negative 122 yards on 44 carries, with 191 yards lost on sacks and other negative rushes this season.  Behind Jones are RFr. Drew Allen (9 for 14, 89 yds) and Sr. John Nimmo (0 for 1).  Allen is a talented dual-threat QB that has much more mobility than Jones and has rushed for 17 yards and 1 touchdown on 5 attempts (lost 6 on sacks and other negative rushes).

RB: The Sooners' running game is led by Sr. DeMarco Murray (240 carries, 1053 yds, 14 TDs).  Murray's problem has never been talent, but staying healthy.  This year has been no exception as he is now fighting a knee injury suffered in the fourth quarter of last week's game against Oklahoma State.  When healthy, he's an elite talent that is nothing short of a complete back.  He's very quick on his feet with great speed, good power and often breaks tackles.  He's got a great pack of slick moves and excellent change of direction.  Backs in the reserve rotation include TFr. Roy Finch (77 carries, 361 yds, 2 TDs) and Sr. Mossis Madu (55 carries, 239 yds, 1 TD).  Finch is lightning quick, bounces off tacklers, and cuts on a dime.  He does a nice job of getting his shoulders turned up-field quickly after getting to the edge.  This young back is going to have a great career in Norman.  Madu has a pretty good skill set and nice speed, but isn't quite as explosive as Murray or Finch.  He's a dependable back that has good hands, but just lacks a lot of flash.  The backs are used often in the passing game, with Murray (64 catches, 535 yds, 5 TDs), Finch (9 catches, 39 yds), and Madu (10 catches, 51 yds) all contributing this season.  Murray is typically great out of the backfield, but will occasionally drop a pass.  At fullback is TFr. Trey Millard (24 carries, 74 yds, 3 TDs), with RFr. Marshall Musil (3 carries, 11 yds) backing him up.  Millard typically has good hands and has caught 16 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.  Last week against Oklahoma State, however, he dropped a pair of passes, one of which forced the Sooners to settle for a field goal in the fourth quarter of a close game.  

WR/TE: The Sooners' receiving corps is an overall solid group and possesses one of the best receivers in the nation.  Losing DeJuan Miller to an MCL tear in October hurt the unit, but some of the depth players have been stepping up in recent weeks.  The group does a very nice job finding openings against zone defenses, but has had some struggles against man coverage.  Starting at the receiver spots are Jr. Ryan Broyles (115 catches, 1391 yds, 13 TDs) in the slot, with TFr. Kenny Stills (50 catches, 630 yds, 5 TDs) and TFr. Trey Franks (26 catches, 238 yds, 1 TD) out wide.  Broyles is one of the top receivers in the country.  He has excellent hands, runs great routes, and does a very good job of finding openings in the secondary.  He's an intelligent receiver that always knows where the sticks are at and works hard to get beyond them.  His athleticism makes him a difficult match-up for most corners, and is difficult to bring down in the open field.  Because of his playmaking abilities, he draws so much attention of defenses, it opens things up for other receivers in the crew.  Stills has excellent speed and can really stretch the field.  Franks is a versatile athlete that has worked his way onto the field sooner than expected.  Reserves at receiver include Sr. Cameron Kenney (20 catches, 325 yds, 3 TDs), Sr. Brandon Caleb (4 catches, 32 yds), and TFr. Joe Powell.  Kenney hadn't done much this season going into last week's game against Oklahoma State, but performed at a very high level, catching 6 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns, including an 86 yard score.  He has nice hands, very good acceleration, and does a great job of getting yards after catch.  At tight end is Jr. James Hanna (14 catches, 251 yds, 6 TDs), with Jr. Trent Ratterree (9 catches, 183 yds, 1 TD) backing him up.  Hanna really had his coming out party against OSU last week.  He did an outstanding job of finding openings behind the linebackers, catching 4 passes for 130 yards and 1 touchdown.  That touchdown was a 76 yarder late in the 4th quarter that pretty much locked the game up for the Sooners.

OL: Oklahoma's offensive line has not been great this season, struggling with consistency snap-to-snap.  On the season they are leading the way for the offense to pick up 3.87 yards per carry (when taking sacks out of the equation).  They've given up 19 sacks this season, ranking 41st nationally (1.58 per game).  Last week against Oklahoma State, the Sooners averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, after taking the 2 sacks allowed out of the equation.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Donald Stephenson (6'6", 309 lbs) on the left and Sr. Eric Mensik (6'6", 288 lbs) on the right.  Stephenson has pretty good footwork, but lacks great quickness.  He struggles adjusting to certain situations, like picking up a blitzing linebacker off the edge.  Mensik is a former blocking tight end that put a few pounds on in the off-season and moved to tackle.  He's a strong lineman and has been very good at tackle, making first team All-Big XII.  The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Jarvis Jones (6'7", 277 lbs) and RFr. Josh Aladenoye (6'5", 316 lbs).  Jones is a versatile lineman that has played well at times this season, especially in pass protection.  Starting at guard is RFr. Gabe Ikard (6'4", 282 lbs) on the left and So. Tyler Evans (6'5", 316 lbs) on the right.  Ikard is an athletic guard that has been fair in both run blocking and pass protection, but not great in either.  Evans is more of a road grater that can manhandle undersized defensive linemen.  Top back-ups at guard include Jr. Stephen Good (6'6", 299 lbs) and TFr. Bronson Irwin (6'4", 316 lbs).  Good is a former starter at guard that does a nice job of downfield blocking and staying with his man.  He doesn't always display good technique, however, playing high and has been pushed around by strong defensive linemen.  Starting at center is So. Ben Habern (6'3", 292 lbs), with Sr. Brian Lepak (6'4", 299 lbs) backing him up.  Habern is in his second full season as a starter and has been a bit more consistent than his redshirt freshman campaign.    

Oklahoma Defense

Oklahoma's defense has been all over the map this season, at times looking like a stout unit while at other times looking like a sieve against mediocre competition.  It is certainly not one of the more physical defenses that Oklahoma has had for much of the Bob Stoops era, with consistency being one of the biggest issues.  They looked did a nice job against Oklahoma State last week, holding the explosive Cowboys' offense to under 400 yards of offense.  They really shut down OSU's star RB Kendall Hunter, allowing him just 55 yards on 13 carries.  The Sooners are currently ranked 63rd nationally in total defense (369.83 ypg), 62nd in pass defense (217.50 ypg), 13th in pass efficiency defense (110.11 rating), 63rd in rush defense (152.33 ypg), 36th in scoring defense (22.08 ppg), 18th in interceptions forced (16), 40th in fumbles recovered (10), and 18th in total takeaways (26).  

DL: The Sooners' defensive line hasn't been as good across the board as they've been in recent memory, but do have some big time players on the line.  Injuries have plagued the unit this season and the depth in the middle has not been great.  The defense has picked up 27 sacks this season, which ranks 40th nationally.  On the season, they are allowing their opponents an average of 5.18 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation, many of the yards coming right at the tackles.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Jeremy Beal (60 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 6 PBU) at left end and Jr. Frank Alexander (30 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) at right end.  Beal is the all-star of the group and the best defensive lineman in the Big XII.  He's lightning quick off the edge, but also strong enough to muscle into the backfield and be a disruptive force.  He's not only a good pass rusher, but also in stuffing the run as he does not let go of the ball carrier once he gets his hands on him.  Alexander is a solid end that has decent feet coming out of his stance and good enough speed to run wide around opposing OT's.  Top reserves at end include So. David King (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) and So. Ronnell Lewis (28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 2 PBU).  The pair has played well this season, giving the Sooners a great two-deep on the edges.  Starting at the defensive tackle spots are So. JerMarkus McFarland (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU) and So. Stacy McGee (22 tackles, 2 QBH).  McFarland is a talented lineman, as is McGee, but the interior really misses Gerald McCoy and the injured Adrian Taylor.  The tandem of McFarland and McGee should get much stronger as they gain more experience, but as for right now they lack snap-to-snap consistency in plugging running lanes and getting into the backfield.  Top back-ups at defensive tackle include Sr. Pryce Macon (16 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) and So. Casey Walker (5 tackles).  Macon is just 249 pounds, extremely small for a defensive tackle in Big XII football.  He's not the strongest guy on the line, but his quickness can be a nice change of pace in the second half of games against tired offensive linemen.  

LB: Oklahoma's linebacking corps has gone though some growing pains this season after having to replace two starters from the phenomenal 2009 group.  An injury to Austin Box earlier in the season didn't help matters, but now that he is back in the line-up, the group is as good as they've been all season.  Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Austin Box (23 tackles, 1 INT, 2 QBH), with RFr. Tom Wort (61 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5 QBH) and So. Jaydan Bird (10 tackles, 1 FF) backing him up.  Box is a very good athlete and his return to the line-up a few games ago really seems to have solidified the group.  He hasn't been making big plays all over the field, but he's a steady performer that doesn't make many mistakes.  He picked off a pass against Oklahoma State last week in the fourth quarter that helped the Sooners extend their lead to 9 at the time.  Wort is a solid looking young linebacker, but still has to work on his pass coverage skills.  He's done a great job as a blitzing backer, and tackles well when he's in position to make a play.  So. Ronnell Lewis (28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. Joseph Ibiloye (11 tackles, 1 FR, 1 PBU) backing him up.  R. Lewis is a monster hitter with above average athleticism.  He's played well on defense this season and has been an excellent special teamer.  Ibiloye is listed as an "or" with R. Lewis, but Lewis has seen a majority of the snaps this season.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Travis Lewis (93 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 QBH, 3 PBU), while TFr. Corey Nelson (18 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 BLK) backs him up.  T. Lewis has been the best of the group, by far, making plays all over the field.  He has excellent speed and flies to the ball.  He's improved his pass coverage skills this season and is a crushing hitter.

DB: Oklahoma's defensive backfield has been an average unit this season in terms of yardage given up, but they've been getting better as the season has gone along and have been looking pretty strong as of late.  Last week against Oklahoma State, they allowed the high octane passing attack just 257 yards, 100-plus yards less than the Cowboys had been averaging.  The group can be a bit over aggressive, however, and give up some big plays for every great play they do make.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Jamell Fleming (63 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 11 PBU) at boundary corner and So. Demontre Hurst (39 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 9 PBU) at field corner.  Fleming has played well this season and leads the group in passes broken up and interceptions.  He's not the biggest corner you'll see and sometimes has an issue against physical receivers blocking downfield for the running game.  Hurst is the smallest of the defensive backs at 5'9", and has gotten beat quite a few times this season.  He is a good tackler that is tough to shake.  He has a slight ankle injury and because of that has not had great explosion out of his break.  Players in the reserve rotation at corner include TFr. Aaron Colvin (30 tackles, 1 FF, 3 PBU) and RFr. Gabe Lynn (1 FR, 1 PBU).  Colvin has played well this season despite being a true freshman.  Starting at strong safety is Jr. Jonathan Nelson (87 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 6 PBU), with So. Javon Harris (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU, 1 BLK) and TFr. Tony Jefferson (60 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 7 PBU) backing him up.  Nelson is a hard hitting safety that has done a nice job against balls in the air this season.  Harris has great speed, but tends to over pursue in run support and ends up watching the back run by him.  Jefferson is a very talented young player, but as expected, still makes freshman mistakes.  On the whole, though, he is smart and doesn't give up on plays, even after getting knocked down.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Quinton Carter (85 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 FR, 5 PBU), with Jr. Sam Proctor (15 tackles) performing back-up duties.  Carter is an opportunistic safety that plays an aggressive style of football.  That aggressive style can get the best of him, however, and he'll get caught out of position every now and then.  Playing the role of the nickel back is So. Joseph Ibiloye or TFr. Tony Jefferson.

Oklahoma Special Teams

Oklahoma's special teams units have been very good and are one of the top groups in the Big XII.  There's an occasional breakdown here and there with the coverage units, but overall it is a very solid squad.  The Sooners currently rank 4th in net punting (40.82 yd avg), 44th in kickoff returns (22.62 yd avg), 68th in punt returns (7.46 yd avg), 39th in kickoff coverage (20.72 yd avg), and 2nd in punt coverage (2.15 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Jimmy Stevens has made 14 of his 17 field goal attempts with a long of 42 this season.  He doesn't have a great leg, but was busy last week against Oklahoma State, making all 4 attempts.  They weren't tough kicks, though, with the long being just 31 yards.  So. Tress Way serves as the kickoff specialist for the Sooners and has pushed 9 of his 66 kickoffs for a touchback, kicking between the 6 and 7 yard line.  

P: So. Tress Way is the top punter for the Sooners and ranks 22nd nationally, averaging 44.10 yards on his 62 punts with a long of 85 this season.  17 of his 62 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He's got a strong leg and has been a nice weapon again this year for the team.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Sooners consists of Sr. DeMarco Murray (10 kick returns, 24.9 yd avg, 48 yd long) and TFr. Trey Franks (3 kick returns, 25.7 yd avg, 44 yd long).  Jr. Ryan Broyles (24 punt returns, 6.4 yd avg, 31 yd long) works as the top punt return man.  These groups have been better than solid this season, thanks to some good blocking up front and the return men being able to find the openings.

: The Sooners' coverage units have been up and down this season.  Their numbers look pretty good, but will occasionally let some big returns through.  Through twelve games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 20.7 yards on 68 kickoff return attempts, also allowing 3 touchdowns.  Last week against Oklahoma State, the Sooners allowed an 89 yard kickoff return for touchdown late in the 4th quarter that got the Cowboys right back into the game.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 2.2 yards on 20 punt return attempts, also allowing one touchdown.  


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread option offense had been very successful this season when QB Taylor Martinez was healthy.  He hasn't been healthy in many weeks, struggling with a high ankle sprain and turf toe.  With him less than 100%, the offense has really struggled to get things going consistently.  The Huskers used RB Rex Burkhead in the wildcat to help out last week, and put up 407 total yards (142 passing, 265 rushing) and 45 points against Colorado.  They weren't great, but found a few things that worked without Martinez in the line-up.  Nebraska currently ranks 31st nationally in total offense (424.33 ypg), 108th in passing (155.17 ypg), 33rd in pass efficiency (141.91 rating), 8th in rushing (269.17 ypg), 25th in scoring offense (33.75 ppg), 7th in interceptions thrown (6), 91st in fumbles lost (12), and 36th in giveaways (18).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (97 for 163, 1435 yds, 9 TDs, 5 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Huskers.  Martinez is the fastest of the QB's and is an explosive playmaker on the ground, rushing the ball 134 times for 974 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 135 yards on sacks and other negative rushes) this season.  While Martinez has shown to be a dynamic playmaker, he still will make freshman mistakes.  He doesn't always make the best reads in the zone-read option, as there have been a number of plays this season that would have gone for bigger gains had he either handed off or kept it depending on the situation, but he has gotten better.  There is room to improve in all facets of the game for Martinez and his decision making should improve as he continues to gain experience.  Martinez appears to have a pretty solid arm, but needs to increase his consistency.  His arm can be quite erratic; he has shaky footwork in the pocket, and also has had issues with staring down his receiver.  His arm strength is somewhat of a question because while he throws at a high velocity, he does occasionally under-throw open receivers.  As the season has gone along, he has turned into a true dual-threat.  He suffered a high ankle sprain on his right leg five games ago against Missouri, and missed the following game against Iowa State.  He re-aggravated the injury against Texas A&M two weeks ago and also suffered turf toe injury to his left foot.  He didn't play last week against Colorado and may not play on Saturday night.  Sr. Zac Lee (11 for 20, 102 yds), last year's starter, has bounced between second and third on the depth chart this season.  He has a strong arm and can be successful when he has protection.  Lee has decent speed and has rushed for 57 yards on 15 attempts this season.  He's been fair when he has played this year, and finally returned to the field last week after suffering an arm injury a few weeks ago.  So. Cody Green (30 for 48, 295 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT) is another option at quarterback and the likely starter for Saturday night.  He started last week's game against Colorado and was accurate, completing 10 of 13 for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns.  At times Green looks as though he has the tools to be a good quarterback, but is very inconsistent and really lacks pocket awareness.  He fits the mold of a true spread QB much more than the spread option offense Nebraska has employed this season.  Green has pretty good speed, but lacks the extra burst that Martinez possesses.  He has carried the ball 34 times for 98 yards this season (lost 23 on sacks and other negative rushes).  One problem that Martinez and Green both have is with fumbles, as they don't take proper care of the football at all times.  Green especially has trouble with taking snaps and at the mesh point in the zone read.  

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (166 carries, 1120 yds, 10 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He is a complete running back that can beat defenders by running around, by, and over them.  He broke the single game rushing school record against Missouri this season, with 307 yards on 28 carries.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (144 carries, 822 yds, 7 TDs), an impressive back that does a very nice job running between the tackles.  He hits the hole quickly and breaks tackles well.  He also has the speed to pick up chunks of yards running to the outside.  As his vision continues to improve, he'll only be more dangerous to defend.  He has been excellent in the wildcat this season, and has thrown 2 passes for 30 yards and 2 touchdowns (both last week vs. Colorado).  The duo of Helu Jr. and Burkhead is one of the best in the Big XII, and has been more of a 1A and 1B option rather than a clear 1 and 2 in the depth chart.  So. Dontrayevous Robinson (24 carries, 67 yds) and Jr. Austin Jones (14 carries, 58 yds, 1 TD) are splitting 3rd back carries this season.  Robinson has potential to be a quality power back, but really isn't quick enough to produce in the spread offensive sets and is much better suited out of the I-form where he can get some momentum going and has a fullback in front of him.  Jones has looked solid in his limited carries, albeit the carries have come late in games against tired defenses.  In the passing game, Helu Jr. (5 catches, 46 yds) and Burkhead (12 catches, 125 yds) have good hands, but with Nebraska's offense becoming less pass oriented, they've seen fewer opportunities than in recent years past.  At fullback, Jr. Tyler Legate (1 catch, 1 yd, 1 TD) is the top guy but hasn't really seen much time on the field.  He's a good blocker, but hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.

WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers, while talented, have had their share of struggles with consistency in catching passes and their route running.  The unit has been plagued with dropped passes as well as the occasional lazily run route.  There is good potential in the group, however, some of the depth receivers need to step up.  With Sr. Niles Paul (39 catches, 516 yds, 1 TD) breaking his foot, it makes the depth even more important.  Starting at "Z" and replacing Paul could be Jr. Curenski Gilleylen or So. Tim Marlowe.  Gilleylen has a history of dropping passes, but has great speed and is a deep threat.  Marlowe is a decent athlete that has done little more than special teams work so far.  Starting at "X" is Jr. Brandon Kinnie (40 catches, 455 yds, 5 TDs).  Kinnie has great measurables (6'3, 220 lbs) and is Nebraska's best wide out.  He is a physical receiver, throwing some big blocks to open big runs downfield.  He typically has great hands and turns up field quickly after the catch.  Sr. Mike McNeill (14 catches, 250 yds, 1 TD) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end in the off-season.  McNeill has a knack for getting open and does a nice job of picking up yards after catch.  Top reserves at receiver include Sr. Will Henry (2 catches, 32 yds), TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), Sr. Joe Broekemeier (3 catches, 34 yds), and So. Khiry Cooper.  Henry is a big body (6'5") but has yet to make an impact in his career.  Enunwa shined in fall camp and saw his first catch in the second half of the season opener.  Cooper has plenty of upside, but needs to be more physical and work to get open.  Nebraska's top TE's are So. Ben Cotton (3 catches, 34 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (17 catches, 323 yds, 6 TDs).  Cotton is a better blocker than Reed, but Reed is a better athlete and pass receiver.  Reed's athleticism makes him a tough match-up for linebackers and safeties, and his role has been increasing as the season has gone along.  His 6 touchdown receptions lead the team this season.  

OL: Nebraska's offensive line, when they are at their best and fully engaged, can do a great job of taking on defenders and imposing their will on them.  When they are focused, they have shown the ability to dominate the opposition.  Unfortunately, they seem to be getting increasingly inconsistent as this season goes along.  On the season, they have paved the way for 6.26 yards per carry average (when taking sacks out of the equation).  The splits on the line this season are a bit wider than in years past, as Nebraska has transformed into more of a spread option team.  Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs).  Both have played pretty well this season, with Sirles starting and Hardrick coming off the bench.  Sirles has picked up the offense quickly, and will likely be a four-year starter, while Hardrick is a JUCO transfer that has the potential to be a force.  Starting at right tackle is Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs), with Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) backing him up.  D.J. has performed fairly well this season, however, he doesn't have great torque in his hips and will get beat by athletic ends.  Marcel has the potential to be a rock on the right side; however, he has shown some difficulties against athletic defensive ends.  He has struggled with a back injury for much of the season and has only played in three games this season.  Starting at left guard is Sr. Keith Williams (6'5", 310 lbs), while Sr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 305 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a solid blocker that has had trouble staying healthy during his career.  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 often gets the better of him, drawing flags.  When he's not committing penalties, he's the line's top pancake blocker.  So. Brandon Thompson (6'6", 290 lbs), RFr. Brent Qvale (6'7", 320 lbs), and TFr. Andrew Rodriguez (6'6", 325 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Jr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Cole Pensick (6'2", 270 lbs) backing him up.  Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and use of leverage.  He has been pretty solid so far in his first season as a starter, but will occasionally get overpowered by big defensive tackles.  

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's Blackshirt defense has been getting better as the season has gone along.  They've had moments where they have looked vulnerable to the run, but they look like one of the better defenses around the country more often than not.  Against Colorado last week, they allowed a resurgent Buffaloes offense to gain just 262 yards of total offense and 17 points.  The Huskers led 31-3 before giving up a pair of passing touchdowns with the game already in hand.  The Huskers are currently ranked 5th nationally in total defense (291.75 ypg), 2nd in pass defense (144.75 ypg), 2nd in pass efficiency defense (94.11 rating), 56th in rush defense (147.00 ypg), 8th in scoring defense (16.75 ppg), 7th in interceptions (18), 115th in fumbles recovered (4), and 45th in total takeaways (22).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play has been up and down this season, with the loss of Ndamukong Suh being glaring at times.  They play a two gap system, in which the d-linemen line up square with the opposing o-lineman, and attempts to take responsibility for the gaps on either side.  What this does is allow for fewer men in the box and keeps the secondary numbers up, so it doesn't become an opportunity for the offense.  The group is talented, but needs to show more consistency snap to snap, especially in controlling the A and B gaps if they want to be a great unit.  They are allowing 4.60 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (51 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 11 QBH, 2 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (54 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 10 QBH, 1 PBU) on the left.  Allen is a great athlete that does well against the run and also as a pass rusher.  Meredith has a good first step and enough strength to power by opposing tackles.  He's been used as a "Spinner", allowing him to come out of the typical three point end stance and play the role of an outside linebacker.  So. Josh Williams (11 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Jason Ankrah (1 tackle, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Both were outstanding high school players, and each possesses excellent athleticism and the ability to become great pass rushers.  Williams appears to be a step ahead of Ankrah at this point.  So. Eric Martin (24 tackles) has been a back-up linebacker since he arrived at Nebraska, but has now been moved to DE.  He is a physical defender that hits like a freight train and is a special teams all-star, his athleticism should be an asset to the line.  Jr. Jared Crick (60 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 FF, 9 QBH, 1 PBU) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (6 tackles, 1 QBH) providing back-up.  Crick is big, strong, and has good speed to get into the backfield to cause problems for opposing offenses.  Randle has a great motor and a good first step, but still has a ways to go in terms of beating his blocks.  Starting at nose tackle is So. Baker Steinkuhler (43 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 PBU) backing him up.  Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks this season, but is getting better with more experience.  Moore had a close race with Steinkuhler in fall camp, and like many on the line, just lacks consistency.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has had problems with injuries this season, but is now as healthy as they'll be all season since Will Compton returned from a broken foot.  The group has had some issues with misreading running plays and hitting the wrong gap, which has resulted in some sizeable gains for the opponent.  This has gotten better, but there is still room for improvement.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Will Compton (12 tackles, 1 sack), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 tackles) backing him up.  Compton brings more game experience into the unit after starting a season ago.  His return to the lineup should help the rush defense.  Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and has worked as a back up since.  Jr. Lavonte David (128 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 QBH, 10 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (9 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (4 tackles) proving back-up.  David is a JUCO transfer that didn't arrive in Lincoln until the summer, yet quickly proved to be a playmaker.  He is one of the top backers in the Big XII and will continue to be a big time player for the defense as he gets more experience in the system.  Nebraska calls their hybrid strongside linebacker/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (38 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 4 PBU).  Hagg is a great athlete and gets into the backfield quickly on the blitz and making tackles in the open field.  After struggling with coverage earlier in his career, it appears he is finally coming into his own.    

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield is one of the best in the nation, especially on the edges.  This group as a whole spends a lot of time watching film and studying their opposing receivers to the point that they know every route they'll run.  This has resulted in them jumping many routes, picking up 18 interceptions and returning 4 for scores this season.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (50 tackles, 1 sack, 13 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (23 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) starting at RCB.  Amukamara is a great athlete and an outstanding cover corner.  He is one of the nation's best defensive backs, making it tough on potential receivers and forcing opposing offenses to game plan away from him.  He has been named the Big XII defensive player of the year and is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back.  Dennard has shown to be a star in his own right across from Amukamara.  He's a physical corner that makes outstanding plays on the football and is a very solid tackler.  Top reserves at corner include TFr. Ciante Evans (8 tackles, 2 PBU), So. Antonio Bell, and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Evans quickly worked his way onto the field this season, and has looked pretty good for being such a young player.  Starting at free safety is Jr. Austin Cassidy (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF), with Sr. Rickey Thenarse (34 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and So. P.J. Smith (38 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 PBU) backing him up.  Cassidy went from the back-up "Peso" to being a starting safety four weeks ago.  He has provided a smart, sound tackling presence.  Thenarse is a hard-nosed, big hitting safety.  His problem, though, is that he always goes for the impressive looking big hit and will miss tackles instead of wrapping up for a sure tackle.  Smith has the tools to be a very good safety and should continue to improve as time goes on, but really needs to get better at making sure tackles.  At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (89 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 6 PBU), with So. Courtney Osborne (31 tackles, 1 sack) and Sr. Anthony West (11 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) being his top back-ups.  Gomes is an excellent playmaker in the defensive backfield.  He's solid in coverage and has great ball-hawking ability, but needs to be better at taking down physical running backs.  Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it.  Osborne will take Gomes' place at SS when in dime, and has started a few games, looking good for a young player and his size (6'3") is a definite asset.  West is a former starter at corner, but fell down the depth chart due to lackluster play.  He has only been average in his career, and has made a switch to safety for his senior season.    

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units are some of the best in the nation.  They have some of the top kickers in the nation, and the return men have the ability to break free on any given return.  The coverage teams have been weak, however, due to some sloppy tackling and taking poor angles on the return man.  The Huskers are currently ranked 38th in net punting (37.33 yd avg), 22nd in kickoff returns (24.13 yd avg), 15th in punt returns (13.30 yd avg), 98th in kickoff coverage (23.76 yd avg), and 97th in punt coverage (11.52 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 16 for 17 with a long of 52.  He has made 50 of his last 51 kicks from under 50 yards.  As he closes out his time as a Husker, Henery is just two games away from breaking most of the statistically significant NCAA career kicking records.  He holds an incredible 89.2% career average (NCAA record is 87.8%), 77.4% from 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 72.1%), and 97.7% from inside 40 yards (NCAA record is 97.0%).  Sr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and has been among the best kickoff specialists in the nation throughout his four year career.  Kunalic has pushed 35 of his 78 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.7 yard average, kicking between the 1 and 2 yard line.  

P: Sr. Alex Henery ranks 31st nationally, averaging 43.55 yards on his 55 punts with a long of 69 this season.  23 of his 55 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He added punting duties to his repertoire last season, and has been a key weapon for the Huskers.  When directional punting or attempting to get the ball downed inside the 10, he is exceptional.  

KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Brandon Kinnie (6 kick returns, 23.7 yd avg, 39 yd long) and So. Tim Marlowe (8 kick returns, 24.9 yd avg, 42 yd long).  At punt returner is So. Rex Burkhead (3 punt returns, 4 yd avg, 8 yd long).  Sr. Niles Paul (16 kick returns, 25.2 yd avg, 1 TD, 100 yd long) (14 punt returns, 11.4 yd avg, 31 yd long) has been the team's top kick and punt returner, but a broken foot suffered a week ago will keep him out until at least the bowl game.  These units can be very good, but can also be very inconsistent.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty poor this season.  Their problems have been missed tackles and taking poor angles to the opposing return man.  Against teams with good return units, this is a problem and has yet to be solved through the course of the season.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 23.8 yards on 42 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 11.5 yards on 21 punt returns (24 yd long).  

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

Injury Report

RB - DeMarco Murray - Knee - Probable
DT - Adrian Taylor - Achilles - Out for Season
RB - Jermie Calhoun - Knee - Out for Season
DT - Daniel Noble - Undisclosed - Out Indefinitely
WR - DeJuan Miller - Knee - Out for Season
DL - Casey Walker - Knee - Out Indefinitely
OL - Tavaris Jeffries - Suspension - Out Indefinitely

QB - Taylor Martinez - Ankle/Turf Toe - Probable
QB - Zac Lee - Arm - Questionable
WR - Niles Paul - Foot - Out Indefinitely
TE - Dreu Young - Back - Out Indefinitely
OL - Jesse Coffey - Foot - Out for Season
LB - Sean Fisher - Leg - Out for Season
OT - Mike Smith - Leg - Out for Season
CB - Anthony Blue - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

1.) QB Landry Jones Must Be at His Best - The Sooners can't afford to have Jones throwing haphazardly against Nebraska's stellar pass defense, which is possibly the best group in the nation.  He threw 5 picks last year against Nebraska, and simply cannot have a repeat.  Stick to high percentage throws, while only occasionally looking for the big shot downfield.
2.) Work on Keeping Nebraska Running Game in Check - Nebraska hasn't thrown the ball particularly well this season and their offense is predicated on getting big plays out of the run game.  Keep them from making big plays and make them drive the field.
3.) Get Some Big Special Teams Plays - With DeMarco Murray likely playing, his presence on kickoff returns could be big against a Nebraska kick coverage unit that hasn't been great this year.  On the other end, Ryan Broyles returning punts to try and win the field position battle should also prove to be an advantage.

1.) Must Play a Clean Game - It's been the same all year for Nebraska.  Fumbles and penalties.  Nebraska has lost 12 fumbles this year, not a disastrous number, but has fumbled a total of 37 times, a shocking stat.  Nebraska ranks 115th nationally in penalty yards per game (73.00 ypg).  These penalties and fumbles have caused drives to stall and taken potential points off the board.  They can't be making these mistakes against the Sooners in the biggest game of the year.
2.) Make Oklahoma One-Dimensional - The rush defense has been getting stronger as the season has gone along.  Keeping DeMarco Murray and the OU rushers from making much headway will put the pressure on QB Landry Jones.  He's been susceptible to throwing dangerous passes and if he gets into that situation, will be in trouble against Nebraska's defense.
3.) Offense Has to Produce - QB Taylor Martinez is operating well below 100% health, but still might get the start on Saturday.  Can he be effective against a very fast Sooner defense?  If not, expect to see a lot of Wildcat with RB Rex Burkhead at the helm.  Nebraska is going to need to show they can throw the ball a little to keep OU honest, or they'll find it very difficult to sniff the endzone.

Final Outlook

It's the final Big XII championship game as we know it.  The conference loses Nebraska and Colorado, dropping to a 10 team league next season and will also be dropping the title game.  In a lot of ways, this game represents the end of an era.  An era that dates back to 1921, when Nebraska and Oklahoma first became conference mates.  Many memories of the series will arise, most notably the classic match-ups between Barry Switzer's Sooners against Tom Osborne's Huskers.  Those annual meetings typically had Big Eight championship implications with an Orange Bowl bid on the line.  And everyone knows about the Game of the Century in 1971 between Bob Devaney's Nebraska versus Chuck Fairbanks' Oklahoma.  The rivalry was ended in 1996 with the formation of the Big XII, but we will get one last battle between the big reds before they part ways.  They may play again in the future, but never again as conference foes.  This was the game everyone seemed to want dating back to June when Nebraska made the decision to bolt for the Big Ten Conference, since the Huskers and Sooners would not meet in the regular season.  With this game coming to fruition, Nebraska will end up meeting all 7 of their old Big Eight Conference foes this season.  The question now is will Nebraska ride off into the sunset with a Big XII championship in their last season or does Oklahoma turn out the lights on the Huskers' hopes?

Both of these teams have shown a lot of inconsistencies this season, which makes this game a tough one to project.  Nebraska looks like they should be able to run the ball between the tackles with a pretty good level of success, if their offensive line plays to their capability and consistently.  Oklahoma will likely load the box and force whomever Nebraska has at QB to show he can beat them with his arm.  If NU QB Taylor Martinez plays and can be effective with his arm and can run around a bit, it will help Nebraska's chances greatly.  The tandem of Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead should be busy as well, with Helu seeming to have a knack for playing well in big games.  Oklahoma's offensive strength, their air attack, plays right into Nebraska's defensive strength, their back 7.  It will be an interesting match-up to watch as Oklahoma really hasn't played against a defense that is as physical, especially at the corner spots, as Nebraska is.  The Sooner receivers look great running open against soft zones against weaker defenses, but how they play against stingy man coverages will be important to the success or failure of the OU offense Saturday night.  Oklahoma has some talented running backs, led by DeMarco Murray, and they'll need to get some things going to keep QB Landry Jones from feeling like he needs to force throws to move the ball.  In a strange way, it seems like everything has been leading up to a Nebraska vs. Oklahoma match-up since June.  The storybook ending, of course, is Nebraska leaving the conference as champions, which has been their main goal since the heartbreaking loss to Texas in last year's title game.  This game should be close, and could easily end up being a low-scoring kicking battle.  Nebraska earns a victory in a physical game because of the leg of Alex Henery, possibly the best kicker in NCAA history.

Oklahoma - 16
Nebraska - 19

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