Sunday, September 18th 2022, 6:28 am
The Saturday morning forecast in Lincoln, Nebraska called for scattered showers and a few rumbling thunderstorms.
As the 11 a.m. kickoff neared, the storms were gone and the showers thinned out, leaving an overcast sky.
Down on the field, however, the environment remained electric.
Nebraska fans are among the most loyal in college football. The lion’s share of the 87,161 announced came to Memorial Stadium in their Saturday Best.
If they could, Husker fans would wear their NCAA-record 385-game sellout streak -- which dates back to the 1962 season -- for themselves. And do so with pride.
Former All-American Husker Zach Wiegert came back. Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers came back.
Of course, these two came back, too.
The energy was on Nebraska’s side. The Huskers scored first, and the crowd loved every second.
Then, the tide turned. The Sooner offense couldn’t be stopped. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby really dipped into his bag of tricks when tight end Brayden Willis connected with Marcus Major for a trick play early in the second quarter.
The hits kept coming. Oklahoma (3-0) ran away from Nebraska in its 49-14 win Saturday in Lincoln.
First Takeaway: Let’s Get Physical
After falling behind, Oklahoma’s first team played as close to a perfect game as you could hope to see.
It all started on the Huskers’ third offensive possession. The Nebraska offensive line, who protected quarterback Casey Thompson remarkably well early, surrendered back-to-back sacks to linebacker DaShaun White and defensive lineman Jonah Laulu to end the drive.
The Husker offense went three-and-out on its next possession after fellow defensive lineman Jalen Redmond recorded a sack of his own.
Towards the end of the first half, game broadcasters Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt noted how the Sooners “looked physical. … on both sides of the football.”
Oklahoma finished the game with nine tackles for loss, four sacks and forced a fumble to boot.
The defense looking good against UTEP and Kent State is one thing. Putting on a show in a loud, hostile environment is another.
Second Takeaway: Shades Of ‘Gray’
Running back Eric Gray felt like he needed a fresh start after an uneven career as a Tennessee Volunteer.
He arrived in Norman last season to fill in big shoes left behind by Kennedy Brooks, but the struggles continued.
If you saw Gray out there Saturday, you probably did a double take.
Yeah, that’s his No. 0 jersey. Hmm. The name on the back says “Gray.”
Maybe this “Gray” is some sort of interloper or shapeshifter.
Whatever it was, he looked like a brand-new player.
Let’s see if he could do something like that again.
That right there is a devastating change of direction.
Gray finished with a season-high 113 rushing yards on 11 carries, but let’s take a look into those numbers. His longest run of 25 yards came in the first half. If you take out that carry, Gray would have still had an eye-popping yard per carry average of 8.8 yards.
He had a lot of help from his offensive line as well as Nebraska’s putrid defense. The Cornhuskers (1-3) had the “advantage” of getting a head start on the season when it opened Big Ten play against the Northwestern Wildcats last month in Ireland.
Some elements from their opener – miscommunication among defensive players and poor tackling – reared their ugly heads once again Saturday. The Huskers allowed 492 yards of offense per game through three games, which is eighth worst among 131 FBS programs.
Nebraska surrendered 580 yards Saturday to Oklahoma. Three hundred twelve of those yards were given up on the ground.
Still, Saturday marked Gray’s second 100-yard rushing game of the young 2022 season.
It looks like the new offense is serving him well.
Third Takeaway: Test Passed
I wondered aloud Friday if the Sooners’ offense had enough firepower to go stride for stride with Nebraska’s offense on the road.
Obviously, they did and then some. Anyone with a working pair of eyes could see that.
Sideline reporter Jenny Taft asked Sooners coach Brent Venables about Venables' personal "highlight” from Saturday’s game.
“The highlight?” Venables said during the postgame interview.
He didn’t have just one highlight when, you know, there were a mountain of highlights to choose from.
However, as I said earlier, it was not a perfect game. Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel had good moments, but there were at least five first-half passes of his that sailed over receivers' hands or heads.
Analyst and former quarterback Joel Klatt shared in Gabriel's frustration, saying it was "one of the worst feelings" a quarterback can have "other than a pick-six."
Next week, when OU faces a competent Kansas State defense next week in Norman, it will likely have a better chance to convert those turnover opportunities.
When Oklahoma subbed out Gabriel for junior Davis Beville early in the third quarter, Beville also committed the team's first turnover of the season on a fumble.
“The hardest time to coach is when you’re having success,” Venables said after the game. “I was really proud of the maturity, the poise, the determination these guys showed all day.”
I still consider Saturday a success for Oklahoma. Now, the real season begins.
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