Through two games, the No. 3 Oklahoma football team has managed to score 116 total points, the most recent a 76-0 demolition of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Western Carolina.
It took Nebraska’s offense six games to crack the 116-point mark in 2020.
So, referring to the Sooners as, “just another opponent,” which several Nebraska football players — particularly on the defensive side of the ball — did at Monday’s press conference, can be considered from two perspectives.
The first, obviously, is that Oklahoma is much more than just another opponent. Over the last half-decade, the Sooners have blossomed into a period of national dominance on the college football landscape, existing a tier below only Alabama and Clemson.
Oklahoma has made four College Football Playoff appearances, had two quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years and is currently led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler, who has great odds to deliver the program its third Heisman since 2017.
“[Oklahoma’s] a talented team,” Nebraska football head coach Scott Frost said on Monday. “You turn [their film] on and the speed pops right away at every position, the size and speed of the guys.”
There’s another perspective here, though, one best viewed from the lens of a Blackshirt defense that has allowed 10 points in their last two games and that has not given up a touchdown in its last six quarters of play.
The prestige of the opponent or the nationally-televised stage will not have an impact on how the Huskers prepare defensively for Oklahoma’s quick-strike, high-powered offense according to the team on Monday.
“There’s going to be more publicity to this game, but for me it doesn’t change [my preparation]. It’s just a nameless, faceless opponent for us ,” sophomore linebacker and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Luke Reimer said in a Monday press conference. “You just have to prepare the exact same way for any team you play... Nothing really changes for me.”
Silencing an offense like Oklahoma’s is almost always easier said than done, but the Husker defense is brimming with confidence it did not appear to have following Nebraska’s season-opening defeat to Illinois.
That confidence could be buoyed by Frost’s decision to uncharacteristically defer the opening coin toss last Saturday against Buffalo, sending his defense on the field first.
“We’re tonesetters, I mean, we’re going to go out there and let you know how the game is going to go for 60 minutes,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Ty Robinson said on Monday. “I’m really happy they put us out there first so we can kind of set that tone, set that edge and let them know what’s going to happen.”
An early defensive stand against the Bulls set the standard for a dominant day from Nebraska’s defense. To Robinson, though, the Huskers’ defensive performance can always be improved upon.
“Our standard [defensively] is no points given up, every game a shutout,” Robinson said.
A shutout is an extremely unlikely outcome against the Sooners, and while Nebraska didn’t entirely divulge its defensive game plan on Monday, it did note areas of needed improvement.
Robinson mentioned the importance of forcing turnovers, an area where Rattler has proven vulnerable in his collegiate career, and in getting Oklahoma’s offense off the field in third down situations. Senior defensive lineman Ben Stille gave a brief look into the specifics of Oklahoma’s offense on Monday, and said that Nebraska will need to limit the Sooners’ effectiveness in their bread-and-butter gap scheme running concepts.
Then there is, of course, Rattler, whose immense talent drew praise from Frost and every Husker player that spoke on Monday. His counterpart on Saturday, Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez, referred to the Phoenix, Arizona native as “a special talent.”
“[Rattler] can make any throw, he’s really nifty,” Frost said. “[Oklahoma] does a great job of coaching their quarterbacks, and they have had some super talented ones.”
Nebraska’s defense, at least at this point in the week, knows what it must do to limit the dual-threat Rattler. While he is a capable rusher, making plays with his feet when called upon, Robinson believes the key to slowing down Oklahoma’s star quarterback lies when he’s inside the pocket.
“[Rattler’s] definitely gonna be comfortable in that pocket, he’s gonna have a lot of trust in his o-linemen I feel like,” Robinson said. “So that’s where we need to take advantage and kind of slice those o-linemen so we can get back there and take advantage of that.”
Not only does Oklahoma present the type of offensive challenge Nebraska only normally sees when it plays Ohio State, but the Sooners are also a fierce rival. Nebraska and Oklahoma represent one of the most storied rivalries in all of football, and the importance of the series’ renewal, on the 50th anniversary of “The Game of the Century” no less, was not lost on Frost and the players that spoke on Monday.
The importance of this Saturday’s game overshadows a massive test for Nebraska’s defense to make a statement against one of the most potent offenses in college football.
If Monday is any indication, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit appears to know what it has to do in order to pass that test.