Nov. 7 is a red letter day on the Nebraska schedule, a day that Cornhusker fans and players alike have marked on their calendars
What is this red letter day, and why does it have the attention of so many?
The Oklahoma Sooners and the Sooner Schooner are paying a visit to Lincoln to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
For us old-schoolers, this game won't remind us of any classic Nebraska Vs Oklahoma games.
No, we won't see Barry Switzer roaming the sidelines, laughing it up and schmoozing with his players. Long gone is the wishbone offense, made so dangerous and effective by J.C. Watts, Billy Simms, and Jamelle Holiway.
The quiet confidence of Tom Osborne and the power I option attack with Gill, Frazier, Rozier, I.M. Hipp, Phillips, Frost, Green, and Co. That is gone too.
As I reminisce for a spell about the old Nebraska fullbacks, I miss the days of Schlessinger, Rathman, and the Mackovicka brothers with the busted face masks, the gnarly scratched up, gouged helmets and the bloody noses, both their own and ones given.
I miss watching those guys burst through the open gap on a search and destroy mission for the nearest linebacker.
The fullback finds his target and a great Nebraska running back is slashing and dashing his way into the second and third levels of the defense.
Oh well, those days are gone now and we are now left with Big 12 offenses, even Nebraska, spreading offensive players out all over the field trying to get favorable one-on-one matchups against the defense.
On to the game at hand.
Nebraska defense Vs the Oklahoma offense
In 2008 Oklahoma's offense was nearly unstoppable, at least that is, in the Big 12. From that squad the Sooners have to replace four of five starters in the offensive line, plus two of Bradford's favorite targets, Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson.
So, what do they have on offense?
DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown give Oklahoma an explosive two-headed monster at the running back position.
The biggest X-factor outside of Bradford returning, is the return of tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Gresham will be a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators at the next level, let alone in the Big 12.
Gresham torched Nebraska last year, and unfortunately for the Huskers, nearly the same group of linebackers and safeties that he ran away from in 2008 are back in 2009.
You can be sure that Oklahoma's offensive coordinator will get Gresham 10-12 opportunities against this Nebraska defense.
Nebraska might have a wild card though.
Although young, Sean Fisher, a highly sought after 6'6", 235-pound redshirt freshman strong side linebacker out of Omaha's Millard North High School with a 4.5 or better 40-yard dash. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables offered him a scholarship but he chose to follow in his dad's footsteps and play at Nebraska.
Fisher may have the size and speed to run with Gresham, but unfortunately, and I am sure Oklahoma's offensive coordinator will know this going in, Fisher will likely leave the field in obvious passing situations or in four wide receiver sets.
Starting the season, the Oklahoma offensive line might be a bit green, but eight weeks later when they play Nebraska, I have to assume they will be playing at a high level.
Oklahoma's offensive line will be facing what is very likely the strongest, deepest, and most athletic unit on the Cornhuskers' team.
The Nebraska defensive line is led by Suh, Allan, Turner, and Co.
Will this group be able to make a difference in the outcome for Nebraska? Could these guys get enough pressure and wreak enough havoc to create turnovers and missed opportunities for the Sooners' offense?
Well, even if Suh, Allan, Turner, and Co. could overwhelm the Sooners' offensive line, I think there will be some other outside factors and influences that don't allow this to happen.
Reference my article of three weeks ago, "Big 12 Office: Offensive linemen holding is ignored by Big 12 referees!"
Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are the proverbial "Golden Boys" of the Big 12. They are the "golden eggs" of the conference, the " bell cow" if you will.
Bradford and McCoy "bring home the bacon" for the Big 12.
However you want to put it, they butter the bread of the Big 12 and they will be protected.
What does this mean?
I think you know.
You can be sure that the Big 12 powers that be will make sure to protect these two and make sure they are in the Heisman or "Hypeman" race. They will both be protected.
That means their offensive lines will be allowed to grapple with, mug, and have their way with opposing defensive lines. Holding flags be damned!
Even with Oklahoma breaking in four new starters in the offensive line and having to replace a couple receivers, which I am sure they can find, I don't like the matchup of OU's offense on the NU defense.
Between Murray and Brown, Bradford being protected by the offensive line that will be allowed to mug and hold all day long, and Gresham, it just doesn't look good on paper for the Nebraska defense.
I have to give a sizeable advantage to the Oklahoma offense over the Nebraska defense.
Nebraska offense vs the Oklahoma defense
Although, in 2008, the Oklahoma defense improved through the year, they weren't nearly as dominant on that side of the ball as in previous years under Bob Stoops.
It all starts up front for the Sooners on defense, with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and end Auston English. In fact, the Sooners return the entire front seven of their starting defense in 2009.
At the second level of the defense they have record setting linebacker Travis Lewis.
The secondary for Oklahoma had its ups and downs last year and will be hurt by the departure of safety Nic Harris.
Nebraska is going to have to be able to run the ball efficiently and effectively with Helu and Castille to set up the passing game. I look for Shawn Watson and the Nebraska offensive staff to try to control this game by running some old school power football at the Sooner defense.
Watson will have Zac Lee take some shots down field at times, trying to exploit what could be a vulnerable secondary for the Sooners. Look for guys like Niles Paul, Marcus Mendoza, Brandon Kinnie, Tim Marlowe, and others to get some shots at big passes down the field.
But, it all starts up front. If Nebraska struggles to run the ball efficiently it could be a really long day.
Let us not forget the Nebraska tight ends. They are a very good group of athletes that may be able to help the Huskers in both the run game and the passing game. I look for some big catches from McNeil, Young, Cotton, and company.
I expect that the Oklahoma defense will be better than they were last year, but I also expect that Shawn Watson will devise a game plan that gives Nebraska the best shot to make some plays against what are some great Sooner athletes.
In the end though, I have to go with what is likely a very good Sooner defense over the Nebraska offense. Not in a landslide though. I expect the Nebraska offense will make plays, but the Sooners' defense will make a few more to keep the Huskers from scoring any more than, say, about 21 points.
Nebraska special teams Vs Oklahoma special teams
I noticed something last year during the Nebraska Vs Oklahoma game in Norman. The Oklahoma special teams' players, especially on kickoff coverage units, were so very fast at covering kicks and returning kicks.
Nebraska was at a decided speed disadvantage on both units. I hate to say that, but it is what it is.
Specials teams is where speed and depth really show itself because typically special teams players are the reserves, the younger players that aren't playing full time roles on offense or defense. Oklahoma had guys on special teams that were just flying down the field.
Well, hopefully some of Nebraska's 2008 class of redshirts, who are mainly defensive players with speed and athleticism, can start to bridge this speed gap a bit.
Unfortunately, one class of redshirts isn't enough to overcome the speed difference that I saw last year between Oklahoma and Nebraska.
I will give Nebraska an advantage in the kicking game with Adi Kunalic kicking off and Alex Herenry booting field goals, but overall, the special teams advantage has to go to Oklahoma in 2009.
I expect a great atmosphere, a revved up crowd that should inspire the Cornhuskers to play very well, and I think they will. They are just out gunned right now.
I expect a very hard fought game, one of those games that is actually closer than the final score might indicate.
Oklahoma gets a late touchdown to widen the margin in what is a one touchdown game.
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