Husker Tornado's Game Preview

Check out the latest game preview from Big Red Red Report as the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Kansas City to take on the Oklahoma Sooners for the Big 12 title.

GAME: 13

DATE: December 2nd, 2006

TIME: 7:00 PM CT


PLACE: Kansas City, MO

#18/19 NEBRASKA (9 - 3) (6-2)


#8/10 OKLAHOMA (10 - 2) (7-1)

Player Breakdowns

Oklahoma Offense

The Oklahoma Sooners enter the Big XII Championship Game against Nebraska following a 27-21 victory over in-state rival Oklahoma State. The Sooners currently average 370.67 yards in total offense, placing them 39th in the nation. Oklahoma also ranks 80th in passing (182 ypg), 25th in passing efficiency (145.03 rating), 14th rushing (188.67 ypg), 23rd scoring offense (30.08 ppg), and 79th in turnover margin (- 0.33). The strength of the Sooners is in their rushing attack, despite Adrian Peterson's absence through much of the season.

QB: Sr. Paul Thompson (166 of 270, 2169 yds, 18 TDs, 7 INTs) has been steady as of late, completing 61.5 percent of his passes on the season. Thompson has improved as this season has gone along since taking over for the departed Rhett Bomar just before the season started. Thompson has average wheels, rushing for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns on 59 carries this year. Oklahoma has stuck with high percentage passing plays with Thompson at the helm, but occasionally Thompson gets streaky and makes throws not normally associated with his play. It helps that he has a quality group of receivers to throw to. Depth is the problem at quarterback, although it hasn't been needed yet this year. So. Joey Halzle (1 of 2, 15 yds) is the only back-up with playing time this year, appearing in just two games.

RB: Even without the supremely talented Jr. Adrian Peterson (168 carries, 935 yds, 10 TDs), Oklahoma's ground game has not suffered. Jr. Allen Patrick (143 carries, 665 yds, 3 TDs) and TFr. Chris Brown (63 carries, 339 yds, 6 TDs) have been excellent in place of the injured Peterson. Oklahoma's third option at tailback is Jr. Jacob Gutierrez (45 carries, 220 yds), is a small back that has done well coming back from an injury riddled last half of 2005. Together, this running back crew is averaging 5 yards per carry without Adrian Peterson. Don't look for many throws to go to the backs, as Adrian Peterson is the only one to be used in the passing game (8 receptions, 127 yds, 1 TD). At FB, RFr. Brody Eldridge, a 6'5" converted TE hasn't rushed the ball this season, however, has 3 receptions for 18 yards.

WR/TE: The Sooners have a talented crew of young receivers, which has helped Thompson become a more competent QB. Oklahoma's leading wide-outs are sophomores Malcolm Kelly (52 catches, 851 yds, 8 TDs), Juaquin Iglesias (33 catches, 368 yds, 2 TDs), Manuel Johnson (25 catches, 274 yds, 2 TDs), and Fred Strong (9 catches, 73 yds) . Kelly is the best of the receivers, with a great combination of size and speed. He will present mismatches in the Nebraska secondary. The Sooners are also solid at TE, with Jr. starter Joe Jon Finley (19 catches, 241 yds, 3 TDs) playing well this season. TFr. back-up Jermaine Gresham (7 catches, 126 yds, 1 TD) looks to be a great tight end for the future at Oklahoma, with great size (6'7", 250 lbs) and hands.

OL: The Oklahoma offensive line has done a nice job this year. The Sooners' line giving the ground game room to average 4.6 yards per rush. Through twelve games, the line has allowed just 13 sacks. Starting on the line at tackle is Sr. Chris Messner (6'6", 280 lbs) at left, and TFr. Trent Williams (6'5", 321 lbs) on the right. At guard is So. George Robinson (6'5", 330 lbs) on the left side, while So. Brandon Walker (6'3", 306 lbs) starts on the right. Starting at center is So. Jon Cooper (6'2", 285 lbs). This is one of the younger starting lineups in the Big XII conference, and they have played above their age.

Oklahoma Defense

Entering their thirteenth of the season, Oklahoma's defense ranks 14th nationally in total defense (273.08 ypg), 27th pass defense (174.08 ypg), 11th pass efficiency defense (102.38 rating), 19th rush defense (99 ypg), and 18th in scoring defense (16 ppg). The Sooners have been tenacious on defense, which will be interesting to see how they match up against the Big XII's best balanced offense in Nebraska.

DL: Following Oklahoma's first twelve games, the defensive line is allowing opponents 3.2 yards per rush. After a slow start to begin the year, the line play has solidified as the season has rolled along. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Larry Birdine (36 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 2 PBU) on the left, and Sr. Calvin Thibodeaux (28 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right. Top back-ups include Sr. C.J. Ah You (36 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 QBH, 3 PBU) and Jr. Alonzo Dotson (7 tackles, 2 sacks). At the tackle spots are Jr. Steven Coleman (15 tackles, 3 sacks) and So. Cory Bennett (25 tackles, 1 QBH). Top back-ups at the interior line include Jr. Carl Pendleton (9 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. DeMarcus Granger (19 tackles, 1 QBH). This is one of the best defensive fronts in the Big XII.

LB: Oklahoma's linebacking corps is among the best in the Big XII. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Zach Latimer (73 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU). Latimer is one of the better linebackers in pass coverage. On the outside, Sr. Rufus Alexander (95 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) at WLB, while So. Curtis Lofton (28 tackles, 1 FF) starts at SLB. Alexander has been named Big XII defensive player of the year for 2006, with his outstanding senior campaign. Alexander is backed up by Jr. Lewis Baker (30 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with Lofton sharing time with Jr. Demarrio Pleasant (11 tackles, 2 FR).

DB: Oklahoma's has talented youth in the defensive backfield. Possibly the only "weakness" for the defense, the secondary will get tested this week against the Huskers passing attack. This group is full of ball hawkers that have played very well this season. Starting at cornerback is Jr. Marcus Walker (27 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 INTs, 8 PBU) at LCB and So. Lendy Holmes (34 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) at RCB. So. Nic Harris (60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 4 QBH, 6 PBU) serves as the Sooners' nickel back. Top back-ups include Jr. D.J. Wolfe (16 tackles, 1 FR, 3 PBU) and RFr. Keenan Clayton (13 tackles, 1 PBU). At safety, So. Reggie Smith (36 tackles, 2 INTs, 8 PBU) starts at SS, with Sr. Jason Carter (26 tackles, 1 PBU, 2 blkd kicks) serving as his back up. Jr. Darien Williams (62 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at FS, and backing him up is TFr. Quinton Carter (1 tackle) .

Oklahoma Special Teams

The Sooners' special team units have been very good this season. Oklahoma currently ranks 24th in net punting (37.17 yd avg), 63rd in punt returns (8.50 yd avg), and 9th in kickoff returns (24.45 yd avg).

K: Jr. Garrett Hartley has made 17 of his 18 attempts, with a long of 46. His only missed kick was blocked against Oregon. On kickoffs, he is averaging 61.4 yards with 29 of his 67 kickoffs going for a touchback.

P: RFr. Michael Cohen and So. Mike Knall have both taken their share of punts. Cohen has punted 37 times for an average of 42.1 yards. 6 of his 37 punts have been downed inside of the opponents' 20. Knall is averaging 33.5 yards per punt, with 9 of his 11 punts being downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: Sophomores Reggie Smith (9 returns, 23.8 yd avg) and Juaquin Iglesias (10 returns, 29.9 yd avg, 1 TD) handle kickoff return duties for the Sooners. On punt returns, So. Reggie Smith (31 returns, 8.4 yd avg, 1 TD) is the top man.

Coverage: The Oklahoma kick coverage teams are stingy, allowing just 17 yards per return off of 40 kickoff return attempts. Opponents are also averaging just 4.6 yards per punt return on 14 returns.

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska is coming into the Big XII Championship Game with Oklahoma following a 37-14 victory over Colorado last week. Nebraska's 434 yards places them 9th nationally in total offense. The Cornhuskers also rank 18th in passing (250.75 ypg), 5th in pass efficiency (164.92 rating), 18th in rushing (183.25 ypg), 9th in scoring offense (33.92 ppg), and 38th in turnover margin (+ 0.33). Nebraska will need to utilize their balanced attack to beat the Sooners this week, and keep that turnover margin in their favor.

QB: Sr. Zac Taylor (196 of 315, 2789 yds, 24 TDs, 4 INTs) has had a very good 2006 season, being named this season's Big XII offensive player of the year. He now holds nearly every Nebraska single season and career record for passing. Taylor, however, will stay in the pocket too long, sometimes forcing throws into double coverage and throws behind and over receivers. When he is on target he has the ability to pick apart any opposing defense. Zac also has one of the best touchdown to interception ratios in the nation. Zac had a nice outing against Colorado last week, but had issues with his receivers dropping too many passes. So. back-up Joe Ganz (7 for 13, 122 yds, 3 TDs) got in last week for a fake field goal, throwing a touchdown pass to So. DE Barry Turner.

RB: Nebraska has four capable running backs on the roster, and it is not a stretch to see all play a part in a single game. Jr. Brandon Jackson (168 carries, 881 yds, 7 TDs) possessing excellent cut back abilities as well as hard nosed running, leads the bunch. Jackson earned AP first-team All Big XII this past week, quite an honor for a back that started the season tied for third on the depth chart. So. Marlon Lucky (116 carries, 640 yds, 6 TDs) is a solid second back, showing great hands out of the backfield. So. Cody Glenn (71 carries, 370 yds, 8 TDs) is most effective in short yardage situations, mostly becoming a third-down back. Glenn's foot injury could keep him sidelined this week, but is expected to be ready to go. Jr. Kenny Wilson (74 carries, 337 yds, 4 TDs) has been up and down. He finished last week's game with a nice 8 yard touchdown run in which he ran over and through a pair of tacklers. The backs are a critical piece in the passing game as well, with Brandon Jackson catching 26 passes for 291 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Marlon Lucky has caught 24 passes for 272 yards. Sr. FB Dane Todd (2 catches, 9 yards, 1 TD) is a solid lead blocker that rarely sees the ball.

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving crew, top-to-bottom is one of the better groups in the Big XII conference. This unit has a nice mix of quality deep threats and possession receivers. Jr. Maurice Purify (30 catches, 584 yards, 7 TDs) is the team's biggest target and has become the go-to guy for QB Zac Taylor. Jr. Terrence Nunn (37 catches, 552 yds, 3 TDs) leads the team in receptions, a solid threat on medium routes. So. Nate Swift (18 catches, 312 yds, 1 TD) has seen his role get smaller since last season, but has been making key plays in the past few weeks. Jr. Frantz Hardy (14 catches, 317 yds, 3 TDs) is a real speedster, a dangerous threat in the open field, but has disappeared since the early season. So. Todd Peterson (17 catches, 235 yds, 2 TDs) has excellent hands that have been garnering him more field time. Tight ends seem to have become less of a factor in the offense over the past few games. Sr. Matt Herian (12 catches, 150 yds, 2 TDs) has didn't resemble the player he was prior to his compound leg fracture, and Jr. J.B. Phillips (12 catches, 75 yds, 2 TDs) has been a decent second option, but not a type of tight end that the West Coast Offense prefers to thrive on.

OL: Nebraska's top four running backs are averaging 5.19 yards per carry thanks to a good effort by this offensive line. The Husker offensive line is young, and improved over last season's line. However, they still have their struggles, getting beat by quick, athletic defensive linemen. Through twelve games, the line has allowed 25 sacks. Starting at the tackle positions are Jr. Chris Patrick (6'4", 290 lbs) at LT, and So. Matt Slauson (6'5", 335 lbs) at RT. So. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) and Jr. Carl Nicks (6'5", 325 lbs) will also shuffle in and see a lot of work, especially if Slauson isn't 100% yet. Nicks was impressive against Colorado a week ago. Sr. Greg Austin (6'1", 295 lbs) should be back to start at LG after injuring his knee a few weeks ago with So. Andy Christensen (6'3", 300 lbs.) backing him up. RFr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 280 lbs.) has started at RG, in place of So. Mike Huff (6'4", 305 lbs). Starting center, Sr. Kurt Mann (6'4", 290 lbs), has struggled with a viral infection for most of the season, and is trying to get back to where he was. Jr. Brett Byford (6'3", 300 lbs), will remain the starter in his place after playing very well this season.

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's Blackshirt defense comes into game thirteen ranked 71st nationally in total defense (346.75 ypg), 84th pass defense (219.83 ypg), 37th pass efficiency defense (116.62 rating), 48th rush defense (126.92 ypg), and 30th in scoring defense (18.17 ppg). The pass defense is improving, but tackling is not. This has made the defense very mediocre against the rush. This would be a solid defense if the fundamentals were present.

DL: Nebraska's defensive line is anchored by seniors Adam Carriker (48 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 INT, 11 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 blkd kick) at base end, and Jay Moore (36 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 QBH, 3 PBU) as the open end. So. Barry Turner (17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 6 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick) is a quick end, using his great athleticism to get into the backfield in a hurry. Sr.'s Ola Dagunduro (22 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 blkd kick) and Barry Cryer (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) start at nose tackle and defensive tackle, respectively, doing a nice job this season plugging up the middle. Back-up sophomore tackles Ndamukong Suh (18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH) and Ty Steinkuhler (20 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF) have played well this season, as Suh looks poised for big things in the future, while Steinkuhler is getting better weekly. Nebraska's opponents currently average 4.1 yards per carry on the season, a number that continues to rise. This is one of the better defensive lines in the country, however, consistency from game to game is an issue.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has had problems with staying healthy, slowing down what was expected to be one of the better units in the conference. Jr. Corey McKeon (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at MLB for the Huskers. McKeon is traditionally a bit small to play in the middle, but plays bigger than his 6'1", 225 lb. frame would let on. Jr. Lance Brandenburgh (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF), serves as back-up McKeon, and is one of the better tacklers on the team. Jr. Bo Ruud (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FF, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at WLB, with Jr. Steve Octavien (26 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) currently serving as his back-up. Octavien has been hampered with injuries this season. When healthy, he is a dynamic player, always flying to the ball. Sr. Stew Bradley (67 tackles, 2 FF, 3 FRs, 1 PBU, 5 QBH) starts at SLB, and rarely comes out of the game. Bradley's listed back-up, So. Clayton Sievers (1 tackle) has played in just 7 games due to injuries.

DB: Nebraska's much maligned secondary has been the biggest weakness of the defense, giving up a number of big passing plays this season. Cortney Grixby (43 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 PBU), a three year starter at WCB is picked on because of his 5'9" frame, but has played well as of late. Jr. Andre Jones (62 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU) starter at SCB, is a JUCO transfer that has done a fair job this season, but hasn't become the shut down corner the team desperately needs yet. Both corners tend to give up first downs, due to soft zones, typically giving a 5-8 yard cushion to the opposing receiver. Jr. Tierre Green (61 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 PBU) starts at SS and Sr. Andrew Shanle (50 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 4 PBU, 4 QBH) is the starter at FS. Safety play has been very lackluster this year. Both tend to take poor angles and miss tackles. True freshmen Major Culbert (10 tackles, blkd kick), Rickey Thenarse (8 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), and Corey Young (12 tackles) are getting more playing time as reserves, breathing some new life into the backfield. Since depth has been the major concern this season due to the large number of injuries, the experience of these younger athletes is critical for the future success of this defense.

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams play has been decent this year, with the exception of the kick return game, in which they really struggle. The Huskers rank 14th in net punting (37.64 yd avg), 65th in punt returns (8.38 yd avg), and 114th in kickoff returns (17.35 yd avg).

K: So. Jordan Congdon is 5 for 7 on field goals, with a long of 40. So. Jake Wesch now handles kickoff duties. On the season, he has averaged 61.1 yards per kickoff, with 8 of his 29 attempts going for a touchback.

P: So. Dan Titchener has played well through eleven games this season. He is averaging 39.7 yards on 54 punts with a long of 58, having 18 punts downed inside the opponents' 20. He has an above average leg, with solid consistency.

KR/PR: Jr. Brandon Jackson has a 17.3 yard average on his seven returns and So. Marlon Lucky has returned six kickoffs, averaging 18.8 yards per return. Punt returning has also been underwhelming. Jr. Terrence Nunn averaged 8.5 yards on 18 punt returns, before being relieved of duties due to fumbling issues. So. Nate Swift has returned three punts for an average of 16.7 yards, Jr. Cortney Grixby has averaged 7.3 yards per return on nine returns.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been mostly solid this season, with just a few busted plays this season. The Huskers kick coverage unit is allowing 17.3 yards on 57 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing just 5.4 yard average on 13 punt returns.

Nebraska's Offense vs. Oklahoma's Defense

Nebraska's second half offensive slumps appeared to have come to an end last week. Against a solid Colorado defense, Nebraska scored 23 second half points. This snapped a four game streak in which the Huskers were held scoreless in the 3rd quarter. It was also the most second half points for Nebraska since the Troy game on September 23rd. This should provide some confidence heading into this week. Nebraska owns one of the Big XII's better 3rd down conversion percentages at 48%. This has been a key to their success this season, as the Huskers managed just a meager 33% in 2005.

The Oklahoma defense has been outstanding this season. They have really stiffened up defensively since Big XII play started, allowing just 249 yards per game against conference foes. Oklahoma's defense had troubles at times, however, against Oklahoma State last week, giving up 362 yards and nearly gave up a game losing touchdown pass. The Sooners have one of the best 3rd down defenses, with opponents converting just 31% of the time. The Sooners do not get into the backfield for tackles as often as other Big XII teams, amounting for 20 sacks and 78 total tackles for loss. They will face off against a young Nebraska offensive line that is looking for more consistency.

Nebraska was able to run the ball effectively against Colorado's stingy rush defense last week, gaining nearly double the number of yards that the Buffaloes averaged giving up. Oklahoma has a similarly tough rush defense, giving up just 99 yards per game on the ground. Nebraska will need their ground game to average a minimum of 3.5 yards per carry to win this game. The Huskers possess an excellent crop of running backs, but, the offensive line will need to pave the way. Nebraska's offensive line play has been spotty though, but played a good game against Colorado. They need to show that they can play well week to week. Against Colorado, the Husker running backs averaged 4.37 yards per carry. Going into that game, the Buffaloes gave up just 3.1 yards per rush.

Nebraska's QB Zac Taylor will have a challenge in front of him Saturday night against Oklahoma's 11th ranked pass efficiency defense. Taylor is 9th nationally in pass efficiency, which will make this an interesting battle. Against Colorado, Taylor completed 68% of his passes while throwing for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nebraska's receivers have been dropping passes over the past couple of games, which has hurt Taylor's numbers slightly. If the Nebraska offensive line can play well in pass pro, Taylor will be able to pick apart the Sooners.

Oklahoma's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Oklahoma's offense has played well enough to win games, but rarely goes above and beyond the call of duty. QB Paul Thompson threw just 11 passes last week against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma gained just 315 total yards against Oklahoma State, content to stick with the running game and control the clock. Someone that nearly backfired, as the Cowboys were in position to win the game at the end, just coming up short. The Sooners will need to muster more yardage than that, especially if Nebraska's offense finds any rhythm. Oklahoma's third down conversions percentage of 43% and 93% to score when in the red zone.

The Nebraska defense will need to shut down the Sooner ground game. To do so, the team cannot be lazy about tackling. Far too often the Nebraska defense tries to simply arm tackle, resulting in a miss and a big gain for the opposition. Oklahoma's running backs are no slouches, and a missed tackle here or there can mean 6 points on the board for the Sooners. The Huskers' pass defense has been improving over the past few weeks, but the safeties still have trouble getting into position to make plays. The Huskers will look to get a good presence in the backfield, disrupting Thompson and his crew of running backs, and trying to force turnovers. Nebraska's defense has one of the better 3rd down defenses in the Big XII, allowing opponents to convert on just 33%.

Oklahoma's rushing attack is the core of the offense, and will be relied upon heavily to get the victory this weekend. The Sooners have a couple of solid running backs in Allen Patrick and Chris Brown that will get the bulk of the carries. Patrick runs with a similar panache as Adrian Peterson, as he can run over you or by you. If he is healthy, he will give Nebraska's rush defense fits as the Huskers have been struggling to stop a good ground game.

When Oklahoma's running game is working well, the Sooners will rarely risk throwing the ball and getting intercepted. Thompson has played admirably after making the switch back to QB from WR, but isn't the prototypical NFL style QB. He will usually be called upon to make high percentage throws to his talented group of wide receivers. He has shown the ability to have a big game, however, as he completed 77% of his passes while throwing for 309 yards against Texas Tech a few weeks ago. Nebraska's defensive backfield is far from the nation's best, so won't be surprising to see Oklahoma throw for more than 11 times this week. Keep a close eye on what goes on inside the trenches, as Nebraska's defensive front is a real challenge to keep back.

Keys to the Game

For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Oklahoma's ground game must not be allowed to run free. Fail at this and the game becomes un-winnable.
2.) Ground game needs to be consistently effective. 3.5 yard per carry minimum.
3.) Pass Protection has to be there for QB Zac Taylor. He took a few very hard shots against Colorado. He's tough, but can't take a shot on every passing down.
4.) Must win turnover battle. Lost 2 fumbles against Colorado last week. Won't cut it against the Sooners.
5.) Better tackling needs to be present. This Nebraska defense has tendencies to arm tackle and not wrap up. This has given opponents big gains that could have been stopped behind the line of scrimmage or immediately after catch.
6.) Penalties must be kept to an absolute minimum. The 10 penalties drawn in last week's game are unacceptable.

For Oklahoma to Win:
1.) Shut down the Nebraska rushing attack. Texas A&M found success at this a few weeks ago, really stagnated the Husker offense.
2.) Put the heat on Nebraska QB Zac Taylor. He's as solid as they come with time to throw, but has been shaky with a deluge of pressure.
3.) Offensive balance must be present. 11 passes were enough to beat the Cowboys, but at this stage, that will not get it done.
4.) Allen Patrick needs to have an Adrian Peterson like day. If he isn't able to break some big runs, the Sooners could find themselves in trouble.
5.) Must handle Nebraska blitz. The Huskers blitz as much as anyone in the Big XII, and if the Sooners can neutralize this, it will go a long way in helping them achieve a victory.
6.) Can't be overconfident riding into Kansas City, after easily disposing of the three regular season North division foes.

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

Latest Line - Oklahoma by 3.5.

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

Injury Report
CB - Zack Bowman - knee - out for season
CB - Isaiah Fluellen - knee - out for season
MLB - Phillip Dillard - knee - out for season
OLB - Nick Covey - knee - out for season
OT - Matt Slauson - ankle - questionable
RB - Cody Glenn - foot - questionable
OG - Greg Austin - knee - probable

OL - Branndon Braxton - ankle - out for season
RB - Adrian Peterson - collarbone - out for game

Game Breakdown & Outlook

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are meeting the Oklahoma Sooners Saturday night for the 83rd time in series history. Oklahoma currently holds a 42-37-2 record over Nebraska, with the Sooners winning the last two meetings. Since this is the Big XII Championship game, many will be reminded of the Big 8 days, when this game was played on the day after Thanksgiving and typically decided the conference champion. Surprisingly, this is the first time these two teams have met in the Big XII title game in its 11 seasons. Last season, Oklahoma defeated Nebraska 31-24 in Lincoln. This is the third meeting between Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. Stoops holds a 2-0 advantage against Callahan, with a 3-1 record against Nebraska overall. One major question involving this game is whether or not this game is a rivalry anymore. It may still be for the fans, but for the players that are only guaranteed to play each other twice in their careers, it likely is not. Still, this will be an exciting game, as is typical when the Huskers meet the Sooners.

Nebraska and Oklahoma are playing the best football in the Big XII at this point in the season, and appear to match-up well statistically on paper. Nebraska's outstanding offense will line up against Oklahoma's stalwart defense, while Oklahoma's strong run game matches up against a struggling Nebraska rush defense. Because of how well these teams match-up, this could very well be one of those games that are won and lost in the trenches.

Nebraska's offense will be the most balanced offensive attack Oklahoma has faced this year. With running backs Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky playing near the top of their game, the Sooners will look first to limit their per carry stats. Nebraska's run game was able to have a lot of success against a top 25 rush defense last week in Colorado, but against the 14th ranked Sooner rush defense, things should get tougher. Filling the box with 8 men has been effective for many defenses that can afford to leave their defensive backs on their own. Texas A&M was able to have some success slowing the Husker ground game down a few weeks ago, holding them to just 123 yards. QB Zac Taylor will likely need to have a big day Saturday to put Nebraska into a position to win. A season ago, Taylor threw for 249 yards, but was picked off twice, one of which was returned for a touchdown. For him to have a big day, the Husker receiving crew will need to be more consistent catching the football. Against Texas A&M and Colorado, there were too many dropped balls. A few dropped balls against the Sooners and they will struggle to get the victory.

Oklahoma, whose offense has been pretty average this season, will need QB Paul Thompson to have a solid, mistake free game to beat Nebraska. He wasn't a huge part of last week's game-plan against Oklahoma State, but did what he needed to do and didn't get picked off. His receiving corps is full of young playmakers, highlighted by Malcolm Kelly, who should be able to find some space against a decent Nebraska secondary. Nebraska's defensive backfield doesn't have any big hitters, very rarely will you see one of them square up and hit someone. The Sooners should find success with their ground game with Nebraska's recent struggles to tackle opponents one-on-one. If the Huskers continue that trend, Allen Patrick or Chris Brown could be ready for a big evening.

Nebraska and Oklahoma shared 6 mutual opponents this season. Those teams were Iowa State, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State. In that stretch, Oklahoma lost to only Texas, while Nebraska dropped games to Texas and Oklahoma State. A stat of note is that both teams defeated Texas A&M by one point at College Station in back-to-back weeks. In both of those games, the Huskers and Sooners were out-gained by the Aggies, despite their victories. For the most part in these games against mutual opponents, Nebraska's offense was more explosive, while Oklahoma's defense was stingier.

It was interesting how this game came to be. Nebraska QB Zac Taylor, a Norman, Oklahoma native, following losses to Oklahoma last season, and Oklahoma State this season, didn't look like he'd get another chance to beat a team from his home state while at Nebraska. It seemed impossible that Texas would lose to Kansas State and Texas A&M back-to-back to push the Sooners into Arrowhead Stadium, but that is exactly what happened. It seemed improbable that Oklahoma, after losing QB Rhett Bomar and also RB Adrian Peterson that the Sooners would be talking about a BCS bowl, but this is where they are at. Zac Taylor will get his second chance against his hometown team Saturday night, as a senior in a Nebraska uniform. It is ironic that a kid from Norman, Oklahoma would be so responsible for putting Nebraska football back on the map. One thing is for sure, no matter who replaces Zac in the coming years, no one in Nebraska will forget what he did for the program. It will be Taylor's show, the last conference game for the Big XII offensive player of the year, and how well he performs on the big stage will likely determine the outcome of this game.

Nebraska likes to work their ground game to start things off, and will run right into the strength of the Oklahoma defense - their front seven. If Nebraska is able to have success on the ground, this will take a lot of pressure off of QB Zac Taylor. If not, Taylor will have to have the game of his career - and so will his receivers to pull out the win. The Huskers' passing attack should be able to have success, based on how well Taylor is playing right now and Oklahoma's struggles against Oklahoma State's passing attack (243 yards). This has the makings of an old-fashioned "in-the-trenches" type of game. It is clear that whichever quarterback has more time to make their throws, the higher the odds that team has of winning. Nebraska has been better this season at getting into the backfield and making noise, but hasn't played as well overall on defense as Oklahoma. The Sooners will likely have success on the ground early, but to win this game, Paul Thompson will have to be at his best. He hasn't really shown the ability to take a game on his shoulders on the road when the chips were down. This is the kind of game where it could come down to that.

The weather is expected to be very cold, with temperatures in the low 20's. With Nebraska being able to take a couple of days to practice in similar temperatures, this could be an advantage for them. Talent wise, Oklahoma gets the nod, but it isn't a great difference. The intangibles for Nebraska outweigh those for Oklahoma, with much more to gain by winning this game. The Huskers would like to avoid going 0 for 3 against top 10 teams this season, and it will take a spirited effort to get it done. Behind Zac Taylor's leadership, Nebraska will take this game by 4 or less.

Nebraska - 28
Oklahoma - 24

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