By Michael Kinney
NORMAN– The hype heading into No. 3 Oklahoma’s contest with Nebraska would have seemed to be over the top for an opponent that had struggled on the season. But with it being the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Game of the Century, most of the hype surrounded the rivalries past rather than its present.
Yet, Saturday afternoon the Cornhuskers had designs on the upset and gave the Sooners everything they could ask for. But in the end, OU was able to make enough plays on both sides of the ball to hold on to a 23-16 victory at Memorial Stadium.
It was a hard-fought game. You knew it would be,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “There’s a lot of pride in these two programs. Both these programs have won a lot of games, a lot of championships. To bring this game back — I think everybody sensed how special it would be. Both teams rose to the occasion and gave us a great college football game.”
Oklahoma (3-0) held a seven point lead late in the fourth quarter and tried to run the clock out. On 3rd down and long, quarterback Spencer Rattler attempted a shovel pass, but the Cornhuskers (2-2) blew the play up in the backfield and OU was forced to punt.
Nebraska got the ball with 57 seconds on the clock and needing a touchdown to keep their hopes alive.
However, on the first play Huskers’ quarterback Adrian Martinez was sacked by Perrion Winfrey. Two plays later Nik Bonitto got in on the action with another sack. That sealed the win for the Sooners.
In the victory, Oklahoma saw its 65-game streak of scoring at least 27 points come to an end as the offense failed to show the explosiveness Riley’s teams are known to produce. The 23 points were its fewest in a win since beating OU beat TCU 20-17 in 2013.
Rattler finished the day throwing for 214 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-24 passing. His lone TD pass came in the third quarter hit connected with fullback Jeremiah Hall.
Rattler had a 1-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the game.
While Rattler’s numbers may be considered pedestrian considering he is a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Riley liked how his signal-caller handled the game.
“There’s an art to playing QB because you have so much control of the game decision-making,” Riley said. “I thought he had a good feel on that. He really didn’t put the ball in danger.”
Jadon Haselwood collected six receptions for 61 yards to lead all receivers. Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks combined to rush for 159 yards and each averaged more than five yards per carry.
“It’s very important,” Brooks said of the run game. “It starts with us. It opens everything up.”
Brooks also found the endzone on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma held Nebraska to 95 yards on the ground. However, Martinez lit up the Sooners’ pass defense for 289 yards on 19 of 25 passing.
“Our guys aren’t into moral victories,” Martinez said. “We want to win games. Simple as that. There are definitely a lot of positives to take away from today. And we will do that once we watch the film. But at the end of the day, we lost the game. So that is that.”
While Oklahoma was missing two starters in the secondary, they made enough plays when it counted. That included a superhuman effort by D.J. Graham to pick off Martinez in the fourth quarter on 4th down. His one-handed, flying through the air interception even had his coach in disbelief and almost forced him to do something he never thought he would ever consider.
“I might have been the first coach in history to challenge a play we got an interception on,” Riley said. “I was hoping it would’ve gone down. I thought it juggled around a bit.”
If Graham had just knocked the ball down, it would have given the Sooners better field position. But with the INT, they were backed up near their endzone and ended up having to punt.
Nebraska went on to score and with 5:38 on the clock the lead was down to 23-16.
Regardless, Oklahoma was able to overcome a myriad of miscues, penalties and a lackluster offensive performance to remain undefeated. They head into Big 12 action next week when West Virginia comes to Norman.
“To play at an elite level against, you have to be sharp,” Riley said. “We’re just a tick off. We’re going to get there, though. I promise you. We’re going to get there soon.”
Michael Kinney Media