Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Oklahoma Sooners
--by Vince Campisi
November 1st, 2008
7:00 PM CT
Television Coverage: ESPN
NEBRASKA (5 - 3) (2 - 2)
# 4 OKLAHOMA (7 - 1) (3 - 1)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
Latest Line - Oklahoma by 21.5.
08/30/08 - vs. Chattanooga - W 57-2
09/06/08 - vs. Cincinnati - W 52-26
09/13/08 - at. Washington - W 55-14
09/27/08 - vs. TCU - W 35-10
10/04/08 - at. Baylor - W 49-17
10/11/08 - vs. Texas - L 35-45
10/18/08 - vs. Kansas - W 45-31
10/25/08 - at. Kansas State - W 58-35
11/01/08 - vs. Nebraska
11/08/08 - at. Texas A&M
11/22/08 - vs. Texas Tech
11/29/08 - at. Oklahoma State
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri - L 17-52
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech - L 31-37 OT
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State - W 35-7
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor - W 32-20
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Oklahoma's offense is very explosive, led by a great passing attack. After playing eight games, they rank 4th nationally in total offense (542.13 ypg), 3rd in passing (364.4 ypg), 3rd in passing efficiency (180.58 rating), 35th rushing (177.75 ypg), 2nd scoring offense (48.25 ppg), and 10th in turnover margin (+1.13 mrg).
QB: So. Sam Bradford (183 of 270, 2775 yds, 29 TDs, 5 INTs) has continued to be one of the country's best quarterbacks week in and week out this season. He is ranked third in the nation with his outstanding 185.90 QB rating. His arm is strong as well as precise, and coupled with his decision making ability, he is tough for any defense to shut down. He wasn't at his best last week against Kansas State, as he was just 13 of 32, but did have 255 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Some of the reason his completion percentage was off last week was due to Bradford being off the mark, but also due to some rare dropped passes by his receiving crew. Bradford won't run the ball unless it is the absolute last option, as he has rushed forward for just 44 yards (-13 net yds) and 3 touchdowns with a long of 7. Behind Bradford is Sr. Joey Halzle (16 of 22, 140 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT). Halzle is a decent all-around QB that does fairly well in many phases of the game, but nothing great.
RB: Oklahoma's running backs are very talented and seem to have hit their stride over the past few weeks. The tandem of So. DeMarco Murray (125 carries, 624 yds, 9 TDs) and Jr. Chris Brown (106 carries, 576 yds, 8 TDs) gets most of the carries. They are hard-running, quick, and difficult to bring down. They'll take defenders head-on and get the better of them, bouncing ahead for extra yards. So. Mossis Madu (69 carries, 223 yds, 3 TDs) has also gotten plenty of work this season, much of it coming in mop-up duty. Combined, the three backs average 4.74 yards per carry. The running backs also see work through the air, with Murray (18 catches, 220 yds, 2 TDs), Brown (6 catches, 49 yds), and Madu (5 catches, 40 yds) all getting receptions this year. At the fullback position, Jr. Matt Clapp (7 carries, 21 yds) is the starter, with Jr. Brody Eldridge backing him up. Don't expect to see much from either on Saturday. Eldridge also plays tight end, where all of his touches have come from this year.
WR/TE: The Sooners' receiving corps has been fantastic again this season, putting up great numbers each week. There were a few dropped passes last week, but on the whole, this unit has great hands and scoring ability. Starters at WR are Sr. Juaquin Iglesias (44 catches, 746 yds, 5 TDs) and Sr. Quentin Chaney (14 catches, 232 yds, 1 TD). Iglesias is one of the best in the nation, and the second best statistically all-time in receptions and receiving yards at Oklahoma (171 receptions for 2457 yards). Chaney is a big target for the offense at 6'5", but has excellent speed, making him a great deep threat. Top reserves at wide receiver include Sr. Manuel Johnson (33 catches, 574 yds, 8 TDs) and So. Brandon Caleb (4 catch, 52 yds). Johnson has typically been a starter at WR this season, but after suffering a dislocated elbow a couple of weeks ago against Kansas, Chaney took over. Johnson's status is still up in the air for this week, but he is being listed as a reserve at this point. Starting at flanker is RFr. Ryan Broyles (24 catches, 370 yds, 4 TDs), with Sr. Manuel Johnson serving as the top reserve. At tight end are Jr. Jermaine Gresham (29 catches, 467 yds, 7 TDs) and Jr. Brody Eldridge (2 catches, 12 yds). Gresham is a big, strong tight end that has great hands as well as the speed to get open and score. He is definitely a premier Big XII TE. For an idea of how explosive this group of receivers is, five of them average over 15 yards per reception.
OL: Oklahoma's offensive line is probably the best in the Big XII this season and one of the best in the country, especially in pass protection. Through eight games this season, they are allowing for an average of 4.1 yards per carry and have given up just 8 sacks and 36 tackles for loss. Starting at tackle is Sr. Phil Loadholt (6'8", 337 lbs) on the left and Jr. Trent Williams (6'5", 308 lbs) on the right. Loadholt is one of the best tackles around, expected to be a high draft choice due to his great size and strength. Williams is a versatile performer that has plenty of experience and has worked well on the right side this season. So. Cory Brandon (6'7", 308 lbs) and Sr. Branndon Braxton (6'6", 304 lbs.) are the top reserves at tackle. Braxton is a veteran with starting experience but due to a leg injury is questionable for Saturday's game. Starting at guard is Sr. Duke Robinson (6'5", 335 lbs) on the left and Sr. Brandon Walker (6'3", 284 lbs) on the right. Robinson is an All-American caliber performer that is a rock on the left side of the line. Walker isn't as heavy as the rest of the starters, but that isn't a weakness for him. He utilizes that speed to get off the ball first and get position. Top back-ups at guard are Jr. Brian Simmons (6'5", 304 lbs) and RFr. Alex Williams (6'6", 300 lbs.). At center is Sr. Jon Cooper (6'3", 290 lbs), with RFr. Jason Hannan (6'3", 283 lbs) backing him up. This will be Cooper's 33rd consecutive start. This line does a great job of keeping defenses away from QB Sam Bradford.
Oklahoma's defense has struggled a bit in Big XII play, especially against the pass. Injuries have been a problem for this unit. Through eight games, they rank 54th nationally in total defense (345 ypg), 78th pass defense (239.98 ypg), 33rd pass efficiency defense (112.79 rating), 20th rush defense (105.60 ypg), 50th in scoring defense (22.5 ppg), 40th in fumbles recovered (7), and 33rd in interceptions (9).
DL: Oklahoma's defensive line isn't the best unit they've had in Norman, but they are doing a great job of getting after the QB. They are still young at the top, with just one upperclassman starter. Through eight games, they are allowing 3.1 yards per carry while also helping the defense to pick up an impressive 21 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Auston English (23 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 QBH) on the left end and So. Jeremy Beal (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) on the right end. English picked up right where he left off last season (9.5 sacks in 2007), and continues to be a solid pass rusher. Beal has looked very good, especially for a Sophomore, and currently leads the line in tackles. Top reserves on the ends are So. Pryce Macon (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Sr. Alan Davis (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 PBU). Starting at nose guard is So. Adrian Taylor (12 tackles, 2.5 sacks), with Jr. Cordero Moore (3 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) performing back-up duties. Taylor isn't a dominant nose, and has been run against with some success. Starting at defensive tackle is So. Gerald McCoy (18 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Cory Bennett (8 tackles, 2 sacks) serving as the top reserve. McCoy does a nice job of taking on double teams, as well as getting into the backfield to disrupt the QB. He leads the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (9).
LB: Oklahoma's linebackers were doing very well this season until an injury to starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds (44 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) a few weeks ago changed the look of the group. Since his injury, the Sooners' defense has looked very suspect, giving up more yards and more points than usual. Now starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Austin Box (13 tackles), with Jr. Mike Balogun (3 tackles) providing back-up. Box has great speed, but with his inexperience, there has definitely been a drop-off between him and Reynolds. Balogun started last week's game, but was moved to back-up during the week. At weakside linebacker is RFr. Travis Lewis (83 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs), while Jr. Mike Balogun also backs him up. Lewis has been impressive this season, leading the Sooners in tackles, tackles for loss (9) and interceptions. He has excellent speed and athleticism and should turn into a perennial all-conference performer. Jr. Keenan Clayton (51 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 FF, 5 PBU) starts as the strongside linebacker, with Jr. Lamont Robinson (2 tackles, 2 PBU) serving as his top reserve. Clayton is a converted safety that is very quick and great leaping ability, helping him to lead the linebackers in passes broken up.
DB: The Sooners' secondary has been having a tough time as of late stopping teams with good passing offenses. They have been giving up more scores than typical lately, but they have also balanced that by picking up some big takeaways. The Sooners have given up seven passing touchdowns in the past three weeks after giving up just three in the previous five games. On the season, opponents are completing just 53.90% of their passes with 12 yards per completion average. Some of this has been increased over the past few weeks as the Sooners' have been experiencing difficulties with smaller, speedy receivers. Starting at field cornerback is So. Dominique Franks (21 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBU), while So. Jonathan Nelson (7 tackles) backs him up. Franks is an athletic corner that has made some nice plays this season, but has also been beaten more than a few times recently. At boundary corner is Jr. Brian Jackson (37 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR, 7 PBU), with RFr. Jamell Fleming (10 tackles) backing him up. Jackson has nice size for a corner (6'1"), and leads the team in pass breakups, but like Franks, has been suspect especially lately. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Nic Harris (38 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU), with Jr. Quinton Carter (16 tackles, 1 PBU) serving as his top back-up. Harris is an all-conference safety that is a good tackler, and can be very good in pass coverage. He isn't having the same impact he did last season at free safety, but it still a solid player. At free safety is Sr. Lendy Holmes (46 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 PBU, 1 BK), while RFr. Desmond Jackson (8 tackles, 1 PBU) serves as the top reserve. Holmes has been the Sooners' top playmaker in the defensive backfield this season, responsible for five takeaways while doing a solid job in run support as well.
Oklahoma Special Teams
Oklahoma's special teams units have been fair this season. The return game is solid, but the coverage units and kicker have not been very good. The Sooners currently rank 106th in net punting (31.63 yd avg), 46th in punt returns (10.55 yd avg), and 14th in kickoff returns (24.62 yd avg).
K: RFr. Jimmy Stevens handles field goals and extra points for Oklahoma. He has made 3 of his 5 field goal attempts with a long of 36. He hasn't shown a particularly powerful or accurate leg this season. On kickoffs, RFr. Matthew Moreland has pushed 11 of his 64 kickoffs for touchback and has a 64.2 yard average.
P: Jr. Mike Knall has a pretty mediocre net punting average, but that isn't due to lack of leg strength. Some is due to shallow punts inside the opponents' 20 and the other reason is due to some missed tackles from the coverage units. He is averaging 34.9 yards on his 36 punts with a long of 60. 10 of his 36 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Oklahoma's top kickoff returners are So. DeMarco Murray (15 kick returns, 24.9 yd avg, 38 yd long) and Sr. Juaquin Iglesias (10 kick returns, 24.3 yd avg, 69 yd long). The top punt returnman is RFr. Ryan Broyles (12 punt returns, 14.8 yd avg, 1 TD, 68 yd long).
Coverage: The Sooners' kick and punt coverage units have been spotty this season. They have allowed a number of big returns, but not consistently. For every big return that is sprung, there has typically been a few that went nowhere. They are allowing an average of 25.1 yards on 54 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage team is allowing an average of 10.6 yards per return on 20 punts. Opponents have been able to take 2 kickoffs and 1 punt return for touchdowns this season.
Nebraska's offense is an interesting mix of West Coast Offense and the Spread. Typically a very potent attack, they have the tools to score on anyone. After eight games, Nebraska ranks 15th nationally in total offense (446.13 ypg), 12th in passing (297 ypg), 14th in pass efficiency (155.85 rating), 58th in rushing (149.13 ypg), 29th in scoring offense (33.13 ppg), and 96th in turnover margin (-0.75 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (189 for 270, 2303 yds, 15 TDs, 6 INTs) is doing very well at this point in the season, not making many major mistakes. He has the 14th best QB efficiency rating in the nation at 155.50. His has a pretty accurate arm and throws a decent deep ball on occasion. While he has been playing great football the past few games, he has struggled this season as well. He has a tendency to keep plays alive too long, taking unnecessary sacks or forcing throws that aren't there which have resulted in turnovers. He is at his best when on the roll-out, and also in quick timing patterns. He can run with the football, and has executed a number of option plays this season. He has rushed for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns on 53 carries (13 sacks) this season. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (4 for 6, 40 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Neither has seen meaningful snaps, but Witt has shown a problem handling snaps in the two games he played in this season.
RB: Nebraska crew of running backs is very good, and even better when the offensive line cooperates. The line has played well the past two weeks, which has led to an increase of successful carries for the group. Sr. Marlon Lucky (103 carries, 455 yds, 7 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (50 carries, 294 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (58 carries, 228 yds, 3 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart, with Lucky getting a majority of the carries this season. Lucky has done a great job since holes have been opening for him. He has a slight foot injury that has limited him in practice this week, but he should be ready to go for Saturday. Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He does a solid job at finding the hole, and has a nice burst as well. Castille is the strongest runner of the group that likes contact and has been the top option inside the 5. He has a tendency to fumble though, so he can be a liability (he lost a fumble inside the 5 last week). Lucky (20 catches, 272 yds, 1 TD) has great hands out of the backfield and has made two spectacular one-handed grabs this season for big yards. He is seeing more passes come his way over the last three games, and if he is healthy, it should continue. Helu Jr. (10 catches, 137 yds) and Castille (5 catches, 66 yds) have also caught passes this season. RFr. Marcus Mendoza (5 carries, 45 yds) has also had a few touches this season, but hasn't been a big part of the offense. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) starts, however, is used as little more than a blocker. Sr. TE Hunter Teafatiller has also played the position.
WR/TE: Nebraska's group of receivers is overall pretty solid, but has had a pair of consecutive unusual games. Against Iowa State they fumbled 4 receptions (losing 2) while they dropped a few key passes last week against Baylor. Dropped passes and fumbles hadn't been a problem for this unit at all this season, until the past two weeks. Sr. Nate Swift (44 catches, 607 yds, 6 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the group. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance which serve him well for yards after catch. He holds Nebraska's career receptions record with 147. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (40 catches, 454 yds, 2 TDs), a dependable receiver with great hands. Top back-ups at "X" have been Jr. Menelik Holt (25 catches, 278 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks. Holt suffered a knee injury last week and will be out indefinitely. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (16 catches, 145 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (1 catch, 5 yds). Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters that could break some big plays. Gilleylen dropped two passes last week. RFr. RB Marcus Mendoza (2 catches, 7 yds) is also being looked at to help fill in for Holt. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (18 catches, 250 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (6 catches, 90 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (3 catches, 9 yds, 1 TD) as the top pair of back-ups. McNeill emerged as a solid TE this season, which has been helpful for the offense in getting better each week.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line has shown a lot of improvement over the past few games, but still has a long way to go. Over the entire season, the line committed many false starts and holding penalties, however, has had just one false start over the past two games (vs. Iowa State). This season the line is allowing 4.3 yards per carry. Starting at tackle is So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. They have been a big reason why this line is improving. So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Smith and Burkes have rotated as starters this season, and both play a lot no matter who the starter is. Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play hasn't been very good this season, but Slauson has been the best of them. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Williams and Huff will share time at the LG spot. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force by any means.
Nebraska's defense is improved from where it was a season ago, but still isn't back to Nebraska standards of old. Numerous injuries have really been troubling for this group. After playing eight games, the Huskers rank 66th nationally in total defense (358.75 ypg), 78th pass defense (221.50 ypg), 76th pass efficiency defense (129.22 rating), 61st rush defense (137.30 ypg), 60th scoring defense (24.3 ppg), 99th in fumbles recovered (3), and 91st in interceptions (5).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, with excellent performers at each starting spot. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per rush this season, a number that rose this week after Baylor QB Robert Griffin had a huge first half against the Huskers. The unit responded well in the second half of that game, limiting Baylor's production on the ground. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (34 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (30 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 3 QBH, 3 PBU, 2 BK) on the left. Potter is the best all-around player on the line, while Allen is also playing well and flying to the ball. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BK), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (7 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes a lot of plays for someone at the nose. Suh has had some personal foul problems, but has avoided those over the past two games. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (34 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler is having a solid season after suffering through many injuries throughout his career.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps continues to struggle with injuries this season, a large problem for a unit that is not deep. As a whole, they haven't been great in coverage and have also had issues with angles to the ball carrier. They do play hard, however, and do a good job of getting after the football. They lack lateral speed, though, which has helped opponents pick up big chunks of yards. Jr. Phillip Dillard (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) has been the starter at middle linebacker, however, will be out this week with an ankle injury. TFr. Matt Holt (14 tackles) and Jr. Colton Koehler (3 tackles), among others, will fill in for Dillard. Koehler recorded a safety last week against Baylor. Sr. Cody Glenn (44 tackles, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB after converting from RB in the off-season. He flies to the ball and is the team's top tackler this season. So. Blake Lawrence (5 tackles) performs back-up duties for Glenn. Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (7 tackles, 1 PBU), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups. Filling the gap left by Dillard will be a primary issue for the Huskers this week, and when the team is in nickel packages, Wortman may slide to MLB.
DB: Nebraska's secondary has been lackluster this season against good passing teams. Wide-open receivers are not an uncommon event for the Husker defensive backfield. Tackling has been a problem this season as well, with numerous big plays sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (30 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 7 PBU) starts at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (28 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (1 tackle) backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but does get beat on occasion. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (20 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played well for Sophomores, but have also given up big plays this season. Amukamara recorded his first career sack last week against Baylor. At strong safety Jr. Larry Asante (42 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) starts, with Jr. Major Culbert (7 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a good athlete that is getting better in many phases of the game, but still has much room for improvement in coverages. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (8 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (33 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) share the top spot at free safety. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is the harder hitter and better athlete.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been a mixed bag this season. While their kickoff and punt return teams have been outstanding, the punters and coverage units have been quite poor. The Huskers rank 118th in net punting (29.15 yd avg), 15th in punt returns (14.54 yd avg), and 32nd in kickoff returns (23 yd avg).
K: So. Alex Henery (9 for 12, 48 yd lng, 1 BK) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs because of his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 22 of 48 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 66.4 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages 36.8 yards on his 21 punts with a long of 54. 6 of his 21 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He hasn't performed as well as he did last season when he averaged over 41 yards per punt. Sr. Jake Wesch has also had some punting opportunities, but wasn't any better, returning the starting job to Titchener. Wesch averaged 40.2 yards on 5 punts, with a long of 55. 2 of his 5 punts sailed for touchbacks.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (25 returns, 25 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (3 returns, 10.7 yd avg, 12 yd long). At punt returner is Sr. Nate Swift (7 returns, 17.3 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long) and So. Niles Paul (6 returns, 11.3 yd avg, 28 yd long). The return game has been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams continue to struggle with missed tackles leading to extra yards for opponents. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 22 yards on 28 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 10.6 yards on 10 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Oklahoma's Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz had yet another solid outing last week against Baylor, as he is quietly putting together a nice season. Over the past three games, he has completed 75% of his throws for 1,013 yards and 6 touchdowns with just one interception. The Nebraska offense has been adding elements of the spread offense and that has resulted in Ganz throwing over 40 passes in two of the three games. When Ganz gets time to throw, he has done very well this season. The Sooners' defense has been giving up a lot of yards through the air lately, and their middle is very suspect since LB Ryan Reynolds went down with a torn ACL. Look for Ganz to attack the middle of the Sooner defense with shallow to intermediate routes. The only problem with that might be the Sooner defense likes to challenge receivers. TE Mike McNeill might be one of the better options for Nebraska on Saturday. On the season, Oklahoma is allowing opponents to complete just 53.9% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 70% of his attempts. Ganz does a good job of bootlegging and making plays, but will be up against a very speedy Oklahoma defense, so rolling out won't give him as much time to make plays as it did against the likes of Iowa State and Baylor.
Nebraska has some good receivers, but they are going to be hurting a bit with the injury to third option, Menelik Holt. WR's Nate Swift and Todd Peterson are still healthy, however, and match-up their experience against the Sooners' suspect corners, Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. Swift has deceptive speed and has made some nice moves in the open field. He can be used in the slot successfully, but with Holt out, someone like a Niles Paul could slip into that spot. While Oklahoma has been giving up more passing yardage than usual, they aren't a bad unit, just having a few struggles recently. They have talent at both safety spots and they will force turnovers. Kansas State had more success on short to intermediate passes that went for big yards rather than deep passes last week against the Sooners. The question is whether or not Nebraska has that same type of speedy playmaker at receiver that Kansas State has like a Brandon Banks. The Huskers have some speed guys, but they have either not had many reps or have had issues with catching the football.
Nebraska's ground game has made some progress over the past three weeks, putting together three consecutive games of over 100 yards on the ground. Because of this success on the ground, it has allowed Nebraska to control the time of possession. This gives the defense more rest and can wear on the opponents' defense. Nebraska possesses some solid talent in the backfield, and starting RB Marlon Lucky is really starting to come into his own. This is in large-part due to the improvements made by the offensive line to open some holes for the backs. Oklahoma's rush defense is pretty solid although they did have some problems with Texas' Chris Ogbonnaya. Texas has a great offensive line though, much better than Nebraska's, so it might be tough sledding for the Huskers on Saturday. Nebraska needs to have their run game working well though to make this a tight game, which will put a lot of pressure on the offensive line to step up.
Nebraska' top rushers of Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu Jr., and Quentin Castille are very good backs, and Lucky is proving to be the best of the group. There could be a problem with his foot however, as he has struggled since injuring it late in the Baylor game last week. He will be ready to play, but if it isn't 100% he might not be able to take a full load. This means that Helu Jr. could see more touches this week, and he might see more carries anyway because of Castille's prowess for fumbling. Oklahoma's defensive line is pretty tough against the run, and even though LB Ryan Reynolds is injured, the Sooners haven't experienced too many problems in their rush defense.
Eight games into the season, Nebraska is converting 50% of their third downs (12th nationally), and is scoring on 86% of red-zone opportunities (26 TDs, 5 FGs) (38th nationally). The Sooners' defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 28.8% of their third downs (6th nationally), and allowing them to score on 77% of their red-zone chances (18 TDs, 6 FGs) (34th nationally). Third down conversions will be big for Nebraska. Third downs will be a key for Nebraska's chance for success Saturday. Maintaining long drives will keep the Oklahoma offense off the field.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Baylor's average defensive lineman is 6'4", 274 lbs. Nebraska's offensive line will be up against probably the best defense they've seen since Virginia Tech. The Sooner defensive front can get into the backfield and get after the QB very well. QB Joe Ganz has some problems when he faces heavy pressure, so it will be paramount for the Husker line to play their best game of the season on Saturday night. Nebraska has given up 13 sacks and allowed 48 tackles for loss on the year, while Oklahoma has picked up 28 sacks and 68 tackles for loss through eight games this season. On the season, Nebraska averages 4.3 yards per carry while Oklahoma is giving up 3.1 yards per carry.
Oklahoma's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Oklahoma's passing attack is one of the best in the country, and is largely due to the play of QB Sam Bradford. He was great last season, and isn't having a Sophomore slump this year. With a strong, accurate arm, as well as good football knowledge, he has all the tools to be a great NFL QB. Bradford does a great job of spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, not allowing defenses to key in too much to one or two guys. He also just doesn't make many mistakes. With a QB like Bradford, the Sooners don't have to worry too much about him forcing too many passes and giving away possessions. He had a mediocre outing last week against Kansas State, but that was a rarity and it shouldn't be expected to happen again this week. Bradford is completing 67.8% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 60.6% of their passes.
Nebraska's pass defense is pretty young and not very good. They have some of the worst safety play in the Big XII, especially at free safety. On more plays than not, the Husker defense leaves receivers wide open all over the field. If that doesn't change this week, Bradford and company will put up astronomical numbers. They've looked better the past two weeks against lesser passers, but are unable to force interceptions, ranking as one of the worst teams in takeaways (110th).
Oklahoma's receivers have some great playmakers, and even if Manuel Johnson doesn't play this week, still have great advantages over the Huskers match-up wise. Nearly all of the top receiving threats need to be considered guys that can take it to the house on any play. Of the top 5 receivers and tight ends, all have had at least one play of 48 yards or more, and average at least 15.4 yards per catch. Nebraska doesn't have anyone in the defensive backfield that is big enough or physical enough to match up with TE Jermaine Gresham, so he may be poised for a big day. Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney should also have solid days. The Sooners shouldn't have too much trouble getting points through the air on Saturday.
Oklahoma's run game is led by the duo of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. They have combined to rush for 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns in 8 games this season. Last week against Kansas State, they had 246 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 6.65 yards per carry. They can do it all, able to run over and by the opposition. Slowing them down has been a difficult chore, and most teams have been unsuccessful in their attempts. TCU and Texas are the only teams that have held the Sooners under 180 yards rushing this season. With the Nebraska defense susceptible to missing tackles and not having great speed, the Sooners should be able to find some good gains on Saturday.
Nebraska's defense is pretty good against run, however, had many difficulties last week containing the blazing fast Baylor QB Robert Griffin. In a strange first quarter, the Huskers allowed Baylor to rattle off 3 rushes of 40 or more yards. They stiffened up in the second half however, not allowing much on the ground, with the longest gain being a 19 yard rush by Griffin. Considering that the Bears had 130 of their 216 rushing yards on three plays, Nebraska's defense held them in check fairly well otherwise. Taking those three rushes out of the equation, the Bears rushed 30 other times for an average of just 2.86 yards per carry. With the injury to Nebraska's MLB Phillip Dillard, it will make it more difficult on the Huskers to slow down the Sooners this week.
Oklahoma is converting 45.5% of their third downs (29th nationally), with an outstanding 98% red-zone scoring average (39 TDs, 3 FGs) this season (1st nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 36.2% of their 3rd down attempts (48th nationally), and has allowed a solid 74% red-zone scoring percentage (16 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (24th nationally). Nebraska's third down defense has been phenomenal the past two weeks, holding opponents to a paltry 8.7% conversion rate. Of course, it should also be noted that those opponents were Iowa State and Baylor. Oklahoma is coming off a season low 4-for-14 on third downs last week against Kansas State.
Up front, Oklahoma's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. Oklahoma's line doesn't allow QB Sam Bradford to get touched too much, and even though the Nebraska defensive front is the strength of the defense, it might not be good enough to get back to Bradford either. Nebraska's LE Zach Potter will be lined up against Oklahoma LT Phil Loadholt, which should prove to be a stalemate through the night. The real match-up of interest might be surging Husker RE Pierre Allen against Sooner RT Trent Williams. Allen has looked very good of late, and might be Nebraska's best chance to get pressure on Bradford. Oklahoma is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 4.2 yards per carry this season. The Sooners have allowed just 36 tackles for loss and 8 sacks, while the Huskers have accumulated 53 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in eight games this season.
Keys to the Game
1.) Own Time of Possession and Finish the Drives - Have to keep the Oklahoma offense on the sidelines as much as possible, but also need to put points on the board at the end of long drives. Maintaining a high 3rd down conversion percentage will help with this.
2.) Possess Consistent Run Game - Nebraska has to be able to run and pass to have a shot. The talent is there at RB, will the execution be there from the OL too?
3.) Eliminate Penalties and Turnover - Nebraska is doing a better job in penalties, but still had too many on defense last week. Oklahoma feeds off of turnovers, Nebraska probably cannot afford one unless their defense is lights out.
1.) Start Fast - The Sooners typically get off to a lead quickly and stay there. Nebraska hasn't shown themselves to be a great come from behind team, and an early lead may force Nebraska into a gun slinging match, forcing mistakes from QB Joe Ganz.
2.) Attack Nebraska's Porous Defensive Backfield - Bradford should be highly successful at picking apart the Husker secondary.
3.) Limit Giving Up the Big Plays - Not only on defense, but special teams as well. Too many big plays from players being out of position.
Special Teams: Even
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - illness - questionable
LB - Phillip Dillard - ankle - out
WR - Menelik Holt - knee - out
RB - Marlon Lucky - foot - probable
OL - Branndon Braxton - leg - questionable
WR - Manuel Johnson - elbow - doubtful
LB - Ryan Reynolds - knee - out for season
DB - Jonathan Nelson - knee - out indefinitely
TE - Eric Mensik - ankle - out indefinitely
Saturday marks the 84th all-time meeting between Oklahoma and Nebraska. Oklahoma currently holds the lead in the series at 43-37-3 since first meeting in 1912. Oklahoma has won the last three games and four of the last five. The last time these two teams met was in the 2006 Big XII Championship game. The Sooners were victorious 21-7 in a bitterly cold game in Kansas City. The last game in Norman, OK, saw the Sooners win a non-competitive game 30-3 over the Huskers. Nebraska's only score in that game came on a field goal as time expired in the 4th quarter. There should be a bit more scoring from both squads this time around.
Oklahoma is sitting at (7-1) with an outside chance to get into the national championship game if they are able to get through a tough November slate that includes two currently ranked top ten teams in Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. They can't win the Big XII South division unless Texas loses two games, however. Nebraska sits at (5-3) with an outside chance to win the Big XII North division. There are a couple of ways they can do it, and none of them all too likely. An upset victory over Oklahoma would certainly help their cause, though.
The Oklahoma/Nebraska rivalry isn't what it used to be since the inception of the Big XII, so this game doesn't have the same meaning to many, other than some of the fans. This isn't #1 versus #2 for the Orange Bowl. This is a #4 Oklahoma team against an un-ranked Nebraska squad that's first goal is go bowling this season. Nebraska could certainly be sitting better at this point in the season, and made one huge mistake in each of the Virginia Tech and Texas Tech games that cost them. The Huskers are very close to being a (7-1) team like the Sooners, as odd as that seems looking at the current state of things.
The most likely scenario to play out on Saturday, and one that the oddsmakers agree with is a blowout victory for Oklahoma. Top-to-bottom, the Sooners have more talent than the Huskers. At some positions it is a push, but it is very hard to find any one position where one could say Nebraska has an advantage. Certainly, one could have said the same thing just three weeks ago when Nebraska went into Lubbock, Texas, and played Texas Tech. Nebraska was a big underdog, but ended up outplaying the Red Raiders, forcing overtime. The Red Raiders missed their extra point in the first overtime, and if Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz wouldn't have thrown an interception, the Huskers could have won the game. Do they have enough in their tank to put another performance like that together? Against a better team in Oklahoma? It doesn't look real good, but anything is possible given the right circumstances.
One of those circumstances is if Nebraska is able to control the clock like they were against Texas Tech. Limit your opponents' possessions, hope they make a couple of mistakes on the limited drives they do have and it could be close in the 4th quarter. It won't be easy though, as the Sooners have a much better defense than the Red Raiders.
The bottom line is that Nebraska's defense is going to have an incredibly difficult time slowing down the Oklahoma offense, especially with the injury to MLB Phillip Dillard. If Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford is on target this week, he's going to have a big day and the Huskers will be playing from behind the whole game. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz can run the offense well and put up huge numbers, but he will have a hard time coming out ahead of Bradford in a shoot-out. He'll have to manage clock with the Nebraska offense and keep Bradford and the Sooner offense on the sidelines. With Oklahoma's MLB Ryan Reynolds injured, the middle of the field has been open. If Nebraska can exploit that weakness and run the ball with some efficiency, they'll keep this game close going into the later stages of the game.
Oklahoma is the total package offensively and one has to be pretty confident that they will be able to have success on the ground and through the air on Saturday night. Nebraska has gained some confidence in themselves over the past few weeks and should be able to play a pretty competitive game. Expect the Sooners to jump out to an early lead and maintain it going back and forth with Nebraska playing hard and keeping it from getting too out of hand. Oklahoma by around two touchdowns.
Nebraska - 30
Oklahoma - 45
Nebraska vs Oklahoma
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