OU v Western Carolina Football

OU’s Lincoln Riley talks to his team on Sept. 11 during the Sooners’ game against Western Carolina at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

The Sooners took some time this week to appreciate the history of their rivalry with Nebraska.

But the focus is still on beating them this weekend.

OU coach Lincoln Riley said the team reviewed some highlights from previous games in the rivalry and discussed some of the key players. But attention quickly shifted to today’s game.

“I think you can feel that there’s something unique and special about this game, but other than a few minutes in a team meeting, I don’t know, honestly, that this changed one part of my week for our guys,” Riley said Thursday. “...I kind of felt like it’d be a little bit better for us to watch the 2021 version of Nebraska right now and try to get ready to play them.”

There’s plenty of reason for the Sooners to stay focused on what’s ahead.

The Sooners had no issue moving past Western Carolina with a dominant 76-0 win, but it was a drastic step down in competition compared to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had a disappointing season-opening loss to Illinois, but they present more of a challenge than either of the Sooners’ first two opponents.

“We’re not confused as to what this Saturday versus last Saturday is,” said Alex Grinch, OU defensive coordinator. “We don’t play in the Southern Conference [like Western Carolina], and that’s no lack of respect for that group.

“This is a major test this weekend.”

The Sooners will have their hands full defending quarterback Adrian Martinez and the Nebraska offense that is averaging 513 yards a game.

Martinez is the leader of the Cornhuskers’ read-option attack, leading the team in rushing while completing 62% of his passes. He also has a real threat down the field in receiver Samori Toure.

“[Martinez is] one of those guys you can have somebody account for him, but at the same time, sometimes, he can just beat that guy, too,” Riley said. “His athleticism, it jumps off the screen. I think he’s really improved as a passer. You can tell they’re settling down with what they want to do with him, and he does it well.

“So, he looks, to me, improved on the on-script stuff and then the things that get off script is when he gets really, really good. It’ll be a big challenge, and he’ll be as athletic as we play all year.”

The Sooners’ offense should have all weapons at its disposal. The Nebraska defense struggles with both the run and the pass, leaving the Sooners plenty of ways to score.

But the Nebraska defense still has talent and athleticism, and the Sooners’ offense will be tested more than they have been this season.

“They do everything pretty well,” Riley said. “They’re pretty experienced, and the secondary guys have played a lot of ball. They’ve got a big, physical front. They do some things schematically that really challenge you, do a good job mixing it up.

“They’ve really improved from looking at some of last year’s tape and onto this year. I think it’s a much better unit, and they’re playing at a high level.”

Saturday’s game will be the Sooners’ first matchup against Nebraska since 2010, and it’s a measuring stick for them before they begin conference play next week.

For Riley, he’s excited that the “Battle of the Big Reds” rivalry is back. But the Sooners need a win for this year’s team to continue towards its goals.

“Our job is to make sure that this year’s version of this team and fans and everybody that loves Oklahoma has a great memory this year,” Riley said. “And that’s our jobs, so we’ve been trying to keep our focus there.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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