Date: November 7
Time: 8 pm EST
Venue: Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Vegas Line: OU -5.5
In the last three weeks, OU has:
- played No. 2 Texas within an inch of its life;
- rolled Kansas in Lawrence; and
- soundly defeated Big 12 North leader Kansas State.
In the last three weeks, Nebraska has:
- lost at home to Texas Tech by three touchdowns;
- lost at home to Big 12 doormat Iowa State, committing eight turnovers in the process; and
- beaten Baylor in unimpressive fashion in Waco.
Nebraska also is embroiled in a quarterback controversy, while OU redshirt freshman signal caller Landry Jones is coming off of a performance against K-State that earned him offensive player of the week honors from the big 12. To top it all off, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has spent the week answering questions about star defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh's strange car accident in the wee hours of last Sunday night.
And, yet, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have installed the Sooners as a 5.5-point favorite in the latest meeting in this storied rivalry.
Somebody much smarter than me clearly knows something about this matchup that is pretty favorable for the Cornhuskers. What could it be? Well, watch:
1. Jared Crick's Ability to Penetrate the OU Offensive Line
This game pits Nebraska's greatest strength, its defensive front, against the Sooners' weakest link, the offensive line.
Keeping Suh at bay will be the o-line's top priority, and double teams likely will be required to neutralize him. Diverting additional blockers to fend off a dominant defensive tackle has a trickle-down effect on the rest of his line mates, though, opening up opportunities for the front four to make plays.
Crick, a sophomore who has 8.5 sacks already this year, has been one of the chief beneficiaries of all the attention devoted to Suh. OU will likely call on tackles Trent Williams, Cory Brandon and fill-in Jarvis Jones to block Crick one on one and keep their quarterback upright. Also, look for offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to possibly keep a tight end in tight on some passing downs to help with protection.
2. The Forecast
At this point, the mere prospect of Landry Jones starting a road game at quarterback shouldn't worry Sooner fans. Jones already has started on road trips to Miami and Kansas. Additionally, he was thrown into fire at a couple neutral sites to relieve the injured Sam Bradford. He no longer needs the comforts of home to ensure his success.
What he has yet to face, however, is a cold, wet, rainy November night in Nebraska. If the temperature starts to drop and the rain starts to fall, how will that affect OU's young quarterback
(Currently, the folks at The Weather Channel say it should be darn near perfect in Lincoln on Saturday.)
3. Roy Helu's Carries in the Third Quarter
Helu, Nebraska's best runner, has seen limited action since suffering a shoulder injury last month. In the last two games, he's been given a total of 12 carries.
The junior running back has gone full speed in practice this week, suggesting he could play a bigger role in the offense versus OU. Pelini and his staff may decide to test Helu's health in the first half with limited reps, then open him up in the second half. If so, keep an eye on Helu's reps in the third quarter, especially on NU's opening drive of the half.
4. Oklahoma's Field Goal Attempts
Since OU coach Bob Stoops switched placekickers after the Texas game, circumstances have yet to force Tress Way to attempt a field goal.
If Way misses his first attempt, what will that do to his confidence? If OU coach Bob Stoops is forced to go back to the deposed Jimmy Stevens, where will his head be?
5. The Crowd on OU's Opening Drive
Frankly, the Sooners straight-up humiliated NU last season in their drive to the national championship game. A 62-28 beatdown is a loss 'Husker Nation won't soon forget.
Given some of the lackluster play they've witnessed in Lincoln this season and the revenge factor, look for NU's dedicated fan base to be charged up for this Saturday night showdown. The noise inside Memorial Stadium should pose a stiff challenge for the Sooner offense.
Similarly, if Nebraska easily marches down the field on its first offensive possession, it could really get the 'Husker faithful fired up.