Can Oklahoma avoid a possible trap waiting for them in Lincoln, Nebraska?
Kickoff is at 12 PM EST on 9/17 (FOX Sports)
Game of the Week: #6 Oklahoma @ Nebraska
After completely swinging and missing on everything I stated in Week 2, this Week 3 matchup is a game I am sure we were all hoping would have some sort of major implication to it. 6th-ranked Oklahoma has something to prove to the College Football world after head coach Lincoln Riley decided to throw up the peace sign (literally), and head out West to the beaches of sunny Southern California, while Nebraska just canned their head coach in Scott Frost. This further proves that no program is too big to fail, as the once-dominant Nebraska has shown in recent years. This makes it hard to rekindle one of the greatest rivalries the sport once had to offer.
So now what? Why am I still focused on a game that the majority of the largest sportsbooks have Oklahoma favored in by 10.5 or more points? Because it is still one of the biggest rivalries in the game’s history, and it is being played in Lincoln, Nebraska. The atmosphere in Lincoln is going to be electric, even for a crowd that watched their team lose to Georgia Southern last week. As an Oklahoma fan, I can acknowledge this feels like a trap game.
Nebraska went 3-9 last year, including a loss in Week 3 to Oklahoma in Norman. The Cornhuskers did not feel like a 3-9 team, however, playing tight games with Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa, all of which finished with double digit wins. The defense was strong, and it felt like every game came down to the final offensive drive of either side; it just never ended in Nebraska’s favor.
Over the offseason, Frost brought over Texas quarterback transfer, Casey Thompson. I felt like this was a move that would push them over the edge and flip their record from 3-9 to 9-3. Trust me, there are plenty of people who witnessed my outlandish predictions of what Nebraska would be in 2022. However, Nebraska disappointed me in the first week, basically handing away a game they should have had secured to Northwestern. Following the embarrassing Week 0 loss, they then had a hard earned win in Week 1…over North Dakota. Georgia Southern then made their defense look like “Wet Toilet Paper," as described by former Husker and ex-NFL Linebacker Will Compton on his podcast, “Bussin’ with the Boys."
Getting Up for the Sooners
With the embarrassing 1-2 start by Nebraska, they now welcome #6 Oklahoma. I have no doubt their motivation for this game will be at an all-time high. After losing to a Group-of-Five team, and their head coach, what kind of statement game would it be to take down a top-10 team in your house?
Oklahoma went through many changes over the last nine months or so. They lost some really good coaches and players, then brought in some really good coaches and players. Now led by defensive genius, Brent Venables, you can really see the shift in the program. The last few years, Oklahoma has been known for its explosive offenses and Swiss cheese defenses. However, through the first two weeks of the 2022 season, this is definitely no longer the case.
Facing pretty weak teams in UTEP and Kent State, Oklahoma took the opportunity to find the strengths and weaknesses of the many old and new faces in the program, treating the first two games almost like preseason games. That is not what I believe we will see in Week 3, as my guess is Venables now understands what he has and doesn't have, and is going to treat this matchup as a statement game. Facing his first Power-5 opponent as a head coach, I believe this is the game we are going to see him try and put a beatdown on a team. This means there will be less snaps for the younger guys who have seen the field a lot over the last two games. We'll get a better look at the team Oklahoma will be fielding the majority of the 2022 season.
Something that was very concerning to me in the Week 2 game was that it took Oklahoma around 28:30 to put any points on the board. Although that led to 34 unanswered points and blowout for the Sooners, a game against Kent State should have looked more like what Georgia did to Oregon in Week 1. On the other side of the ball, this Oklahoma defense is no joke, as the longest play they have allowed this season is 24 yards through the air and 17 on the ground. What changed? The players can actually tackle guys now, and if they miss those open field tackles, Venables is not afraid of pointing them towards the bench. Oklahoma has always had the athletes, just not the proper coaching and technique on the defensive side of the ball to keep the game under control. I know the sample size is small, but I am very excited for what is in store for Oklahoma's D.
Patience on Offense
On the offensive side, the scoring will come. The offensive line has looked very out of sync, which I am sure is something they have beat into the ground over the last few days. Tight end Brayden Willis is someone you should keep your eyes on throughout the game, as his blocking game has taken a huge step in the right direction. In fact, his entire game has taken a huge step forward; he matched his 2021 touchdown total in Week 1 of 2022.
Towards the end of the first Peanut Gallery Game of the Week, I mentioned a standings leaderboard that will be kept throughout the season. After Sheehan and I incorrectly chose Florida to take down Kentucky, we both stand at 0-1, meaning the leaderboard looks like this:
Even though this is not the game we were all hoping and expecting, in terms of stakes, I still believe this is going to be a good one. For the sake of my health, I hope Oklahoma does cover that 10.5-point spread. However, I am not sure that will be the case, as I do believe Nebraska is going to come out with a fire under their rear end that burns hotter than the seat Scott Frost was sitting on after his Week 2 loss to Georgia Southern. I think Oklahoma is still going to walk out of Lincoln with the win, but I also believe this is going to be a game to keep your eyes on. If Oklahoma does pull away and cover, I think it will be towards the end of the game, when Nebraska will just be worn away by a gritty Oklahoma defense. Boomer.
I'm taking the Sooners, but the spread scares me.
I'm eye-to-eye with Presley on this one. Last week we both picked the Gators, though my prediction was technically worse since I also thought they'd cover. But whatevs, a loss is a loss is a loss. In terms of this week, I'm always scared of teams with an interim head coach. There's an energy that changes when a disappointing coach gets fired midseason. Scott Frost is gone and Mickey Joseph is in as interim. Teams in this situation often come out SWINGING. Plus, they have nothing to lose, while OU does. I expect them to play with reckless abandon in front of the home crowd: trick plays on offense, fake field goals, the whole shebang. That makes them dangerous to a team like Oklahoma that hasn't played anyone significant yet. I think OU eventually sets things right and comes out on top, but I'd avoid that 10.5-point spread.