Oklahoma vs. Nebraska score, takeaways: No. 3 Sooners survive scare, beat 'Huskers despite struggling offense
50 years after the Game of the Century, the Sooners and Cornhuskers met in a rivalry showdown
At least for one day, No. 3 Oklahoma vs. Nebraska lived up to the billing of being one of college football's historic rivalries. Ultimately, the Sooners survived an upset scare with a 23-16 victory over the Cornhuskers on the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century.
The offensive performance by Oklahoma ranks among the worst since Lincoln Riley arrived as offensive coordinator, much less when he took over head coach. The 23 points are the least scored by the Sooners since they matched the total in a 33-23 loss to No. 15 Houston to open the 2016 season. Quarterback Spencer Rattler completed 24 of 34 passes for 214 yards passing and both a passing and rushing touchdown. Running backs Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks combined for 159 yards on 29 rush attempts.
Nebraska's offense fought hard against a talented Oklahoma defense. Huskers QB Adrian Martinez completed 19 of 25 passes for 289 yards passing and 34 yards rushing while facing pressure all day from an Oklahoma defense that ranked top 15 in sacks nationally. His lone interception was an arm punt on a fourth down that pinned the Sooners within their 5-yard line. Nebraska actually averaged 6.1 yards per play to Oklahoma's 5.9, a shocker against one of the top offenses in college football.
Oklahoma's win gets the Sooners to 3-0 entering Big 12 play, though both FBS wins have been shaky at best. Before beating the Cornhuskers, Oklahoma defeated Tulane by just a 45-40 margin. Tests against West Virginia and on the road against Kansas State face Oklahoma as it enters Big 12 play. For Nebraska, the last three games -- even with a road loss -- give hope that the ceiling for this team is higher than a season-opening loss against Illinois suggested.
The victory gives Oklahoma a 46-38-3 advantage in the all-time series, including wins in nine of the last 10 matchups. Here are takeaways from the Sooners' narrow win over Nebraska.
1. Oklahoma's issues aren't a fluke
The final numbers don't look horrible, but the offense has been a real concern through the first few weeks. The Sooners averaged nearly 7 yards per play last season. Against Nebraska, it was just 5.9 yards per play. Four of Oklahoma's nine drives stalled after five or fewer plays. For whatever reason, this has become a boom-or-bust offense for Riley.
Nebraska relied on deep zone coverage to keep the game in front of it and limit big plays. Instead of trying to challenge it at any point, the Sooners made Rattler be quick and decisive. Even in his second season, that can be an inconsistent plan. Before December 2020, a team coached by Riley had never been held to fewer than 30 points. Now, the Sooners have been held to 27 points or fewer in three of its last four games against Power Five competition.
2. Martinez still has the juice
Quarterback has been a revolving door at Nebraska since Scott Frost arrived, but Martinez still clearly gives them the best chance to win. Even while facing pressure from Oklahoma's aggressive front, his craftiness kept Nebraska on schedule. The veteran compiled 323 of Nebraska's 384 total yards, a number held down by Oklahoma sacking him four times. Still, his craftiness helped Nebraska convert on six third downs and a fourth down attempt.
Martinez is by no means a perfect quarterback. His tendency to hold onto the ball and never-say-die attitude can get Nebraska behind the chains. Still, the 'Huskers don't have many sparks offensively. They need Martinez to be that.
3. Running back depth will hold OU back
Any team in America would take Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks as its top two running backs. But through three games, the lack of scholarship depth behind the top pair seems to be impacting Riley's playcalling. The pair combined for 29 carries -- 15 for Gray, 14 for Brooks -- despite finding great success against the Nebraska front. Six rushes came on the final Oklahoma drive as it tried to bleed clock. It's hard to interpret the lack of use as anything except Riley being concerned about keeping his only two scholarship running backs safe. Rattler has shown issues managing games when he has to fill every role. If Oklahoma doesn't feel comfortable leaning on the run game at any point, it's going to put Rattler into a position to fail every week. Oklahoma must find options.
4. Rivalries never die
Even though these teams have not played in more than a decade, the fight was still there. Oklahoma confronted Nebraska players at midfield during warmups. The crowd forced a pair of false starts on the Cornhuskers' first two plays. All the pomp and circumstance before the game really seemed to play a part in the close matchup.
That said, Oklahoma can't afford to sit on its laurels as it enters conference play. Having a slow start to the season is one thing. It happened in 2020 as well. But if the sluggish play continues into conference play, the Sooners can kiss their shot at playing for a national championship goodbye.
The only good news? Ohio State and Clemson already have losses on the schedule.
This one isn't over yet! Adrian Martinez with an absolute bullet to Omar Manning for a 21-yard touchdown and the lead is down to 23-16. Martinez has quietly been excellent, and now the Huskers have a chance.
Wow‼️‼️‼️— Neville Gallimore (@Path2Greatwork) September 18, 2021
Omg Dj😱— Ronnie Perkins™ (@7avageszn) September 18, 2021
What an interception from Oklahoma's DJ Graham. It wasn't an especially consequential play – it was actually more of an arm punt by Adrian Martinez to pin the Sooners on fourth down – but that'll be replayed for years to come. Oklahoma takes over up 23-9 halfway through the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma is finally playing with some urgency and it shows. For the first time since the game's opening drive, the Sooners marched down the field with relative ease. Spencer Rattler completed 5-of-8 passes for 41 yards. Oklahoma did not have a single negative play on the drive. This is the Sooners offense we expected to see today.
Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 9. 10:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Two-yard TD for Oklahoma makes it 23-9.— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) September 18, 2021
Touchdown, Adrian Martinez, but Oklahoma blocks the extra point and returns it for a conversion to keep the lead at 16-9 at the end of the third quarter. Martinez has quietly been masterful, completing 14-of-18 passes for 186 yards and leading Nebraska with 43 rushing yards. Oklahoma and Nebraska are knotted evenly at 290 total yards.
Huge overturned conversion gives Nebraska a first down, and Adrian Martinez responds with a huge throw to Travis Vokolek. Nebraska is on the precipice of its first touchdown. Martinez has been excellent today.