NORMAN, OK–(NU Athletics Sept. 18)–Nebraska took No. 3 Oklahoma down to the wire on the road at Memorial Stadium in Norman, but came up just short in a 23-16 setback to the Sooners in the Battle of the Big Reds on Saturday.
The Huskers (2-2) held a high-powered Oklahoma offense in check for most of the day, limiting the Sooners to 408 yards of total offense, including 214 through the air. Nebraska nearly matched OU yard-for-yard, managing 384 total yards, including 289 through the air. The two teams also matched each other yard-for-yard in penalties (70) and were within a minute of each other in time of possession, as the Sooners held a slight edge at 30:50 for the game.
Oklahoma (3-0), which entered the game as a greater than three touchdown favorite, survived by converting three drives into touchdowns and adding a defensive two-point conversion after a blocked Nebraska extra-point attempt late in the third quarter. The Huskers were able to answer with two touchdowns and a career-long 51-yard field goal from Connor Culp. Trailing by a touchdown, Nebraska got the ball back with just under a minute left in the game but was unable to move down the field without any timeouts.
Nebraska had other chances in the game, missing on a pair of field goals (35, 51) and the blocked extra point, while the Sooners also missed a long field goal (54).
Nebraska’s Blackshirts kept the Huskers in it on the road with outstanding performances against a dominant OU offensive line and a talent-laden Sooner offense. JoJo Domann led the Huskers with 12 tackles and a pass breakup, while Deontai Williams added nine stops and a quarterback hurry. Luke Reimer, Nick Henrich and Quinton Newsome all added seven tackles while Garrett Nelson pitched in six stops and Ben Stille five.
Spencer Rattler marched the Sooners 75 yards on 14 plays in just under seven minutes to open the game. Rattler capped the drive on a one-yard plunge to five OU a 7-0 lead. Nebraska answered with Culp’s 51-yard field goal after a 14-play drive of its own to make it 7-3 at the end of the first quarter. The Huskers overcame five penalties to put points on the board on their opening drive and were flagged for just three penalties the rest of the game.
The two teams held each other off the board in the second quarter, exchanging missed 50-plus yard field goal attempts in the quarter.
Nebraska started the second half with the ball and marched into field goal range before the drive stalled in the red zone. The Huskers attempted a 35-yard field goal that missed wide left.
The Sooners then put together another long drive, covering 80 yards in 10 plays on a march that took 5:29 and was capped by Rattler’s one-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Hall to take a 14-3 lead with 3:50 left in the third quarter. Rattler finished 24-of-34 for 214 yards and one touchdown through the air.
But Nebraska answered with eight seconds left in the third on Adrian Martinez’s four-yard touchdown run to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive to cut the margin to 14-9. But NU’s extra-point try was blocked and picked up on the run by Patrick Fields who returned it 100 yards to put the Sooners up 16-9 heading to the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma firmed its grip on victory on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown run by Kennedy Brooks that put the Sooners up 23-9 with 10:24 left. Brooks finished with 75 rushing yards, while Eric Gray led the OU with 84 yards on 15 carries.
Martinez and the Huskers quickly marched into striking distance before their drive stalled. On 4th-and-17 at the OU 24, Martinez threw his only interception of the day with a spectacular leaping, one-handed interception by D.J. Graham at the OU 3-yard line. The Sooners celebrated as if they had secured the victory with 8:16 left, when in fact, the interception cost the Sooners 21 yards of field position and put the Husker defense in position to attack.
Rattler and the Sooners went nowhere on a quick three-and-out and after a low line drive punt by Michael Turk and a quick 10-yard return by Samori Toure, the Huskers were 1st-and-10 at the OU 38 with 6:40 left.
The Huskers then produced the quickest strike of the game for either team, as Martinez hit tight end Austin Allen for a seven-yard gain before rushing for a quick 10 yards to put NU 1st and 10 at the OU 21. Martinez then found Omar Manning streaking across the middle of the end zone for a touchdown to cut OU’s lead to 23-16 after Culp’s extra point.
Martinez finished 19-of-25 for 289 yards and a touchdown through the air in the game, but was sacked five times by the Sooners. He still managed 34 yards rushing, while Rahmir Johnson led the Huskers on the ground with 42 yards on 11 carries. Allen led the Huskers with six receptions (43 yards) on the day, while Zavier Betts added three catches for 61 yards. Manning finished with two receptions for 52 yards and a score.
After Nebraska’s touchdown, Oklahoma misplayed a low, hooking line drive kick by Brendan Franke, as Marvin Mims scooped up the ball at the OU 8 and dove out of bounds. But the Sooners strung together three first downs to cross into Nebraska territory and chew up more than four minutes off the clock before the Blackshirts forced a Sooner punt on 4th-and-5 at the NU 48.
The Huskers took over with 57 seconds left and no timeouts and were unable to get anything started on the drive before Martinez’s final completion for 14 yards on 4th-and-16 ended the game.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten Conference road action next week, when the Huskers travel to unbeaten Michigan State. The Spartans improved to 3-0 with a 38-17 victory at No. 24 Miami on Saturday.