NORMAN, Okla. — Each week, Huskeronline.com will breakdown the three key match-ups heading into Saturday's game. This week we break down three match-ups that should play a big role in determining Nebraska's success today against Oklahoma.
Nebraska's fronts vs. Oklahoma's fronts
The idea that all success in football starts up front may never hold truer than it will today. Whoever has the football, Nebraska and Oklahoma's offensive and defensive lines will all play crucial roles in the game's outcome.
When the Huskers have the football, it will be imperative that their offensive line be able to both get a push off the ball in the running game and be able to protect quarterback Joe Ganz from the Sooners' tenacious pass rush. Oklahoma has 28 sacks on the season, and 21 have come from its defensive line. Nebraska's game plan is to hold onto the ball as long as it possibly can, and the offensive line will be a deciding factor in how well that goal is accomplished.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Huskers must find a way to get pressure on OU quarterback Sam Bradford using just its defensive line. If they can, their linebackers will be able to drop back into coverage more and help out it secondary, which will likely be overmatched against the Sooners' talented receivers. However, Oklahoma's o-line hasn't allowed a sack in its past two games and just eight on the season.
It won't be just about pass protection either. Many think OU head coach Bob Stoops will come out and try to establish the running game from the very beginning of the game. Behind running backs like DeMarco Murray, the Sooners know they run the football effectively, and there's nothing more they'd like than to show they can dominate the Huskers' up front from the opening possession.
Nebraska's secondary vs. Oklahoma's receivers
It's no secret that Oklahoma can throw the football as well as any team in the entire country. It's also no secret that Nebraska has struggled against the pass when facing teams with explosive aerial assaults.
The Huskers are well aware of the Sooners' ability to move the ball through the air and score points in bunches when their passing game gets rolling. Last week against Kansas State, OU put up 55 points in the first half alone. For Nebraska's ball-control offense to work, it needs to be able to keep Bradford and Co. off the field and off the scoreboard as much as possible.
The Huskers were able to do a relatively good job of this against Texas Tech, and outside of a few big plays kept the Red Raiders somewhat in check (though allowing 37 points to the Sooners might prove to be too much). With the amount of offensive weapons in the passing game Oklahoma has at receiver, tight end and running back, Bradford has the potential for huge game every week. If the Huskers want to have any chance on Saturday, they can't let today be one of those weeks.
Niles Paul vs. Oklahoma's kick coverage
If Oklahoma has a weakness, which it very well might not, it would have to be in its kickoff coverage. The Sooners have allowed opponents an average of more than 25 yards per kickoff return this season, including two returns for touchdowns.
This makes sophomore Niles Paul potentially one of Nebraska's most dangerous weapons, as he's already shown the ability to break big returns this season. Paul was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 2 after he ran back an 85-yard kick return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to break open Nebraska's win over San Jose State.
Even if Paul isn't able to take one to the house, his ability to put Nebraska in good starting field position would be a huge advantage for an offense that will undoubtedly have to score some points to keep up with the Sooners. If he is able to run one back, even better for the Huskers.