So you thought this last dose of Nebraska-Oklahoma would include sweet-nothings and warm-fuzzies exchanged between the two parties?
If you read what is coming out of Oklahoma, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, the only compliments coming out of this last showdown for the conference crown are coming from the coaches and players. If you think about it, that makes the most sense in all the nonsense that is Nebraska’s last hurrah in the Southwest Conf…..er, not yet John…..Big 12 Conference.
See, Oklahoma no longer pines for the days of Hook and Laterals, Buster “I played 14 years at OU” Rhymes tearing through the Blackshirts, 1984 Goal Line Stands and Keith “I pushed off in 1986” Jackson. They moved on to Texas a long time ago – oh, round about 1995 – when they realized that UT was now a conference game and Nebraska was far too dominate to play every season. So they walked away from the annual NU-OU tilt, the game the defined the old Big Eight, and gladly accepted the Big 12’s divisional scheduling formula that didn’t allow for the crossover game that the SEC and Big Ten have adopted.
Yes, I do blame OU for helping kill this series, one of many burrs in Nebraska’s saddle that led to the divorce from the SWC….er, Big 12. But I cannot stay mad at the Sooners for long. I respect their program too much. Oh yes, hated them with a passion growing up. Wore the “Better Dead Than Sooner Red” t-shirt; cursed the aforementioned Mr. Jackson for his tight end reverse and his obvious offensive pass interference on Broderick Thomas; laughed when Barry Switzer got wiped out on the sidelines against Missouri. But maturity and perspective can change all those bitter feelings.
For those too young to appreciate it, Oklahoma was the “ying” to Nebraska’s “yang.” These two schools made the Big Eight important. Without them, the old conference would have been yesterday’s equivalent to today’s Big East. Sorry Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma State, but you know it to be true. When Bob Devaney brought NU back to the levels of respectability starting in 1962, the Nebraska-Oklahoma game became the annual game-of-the-year. Everybody watched, including an impressionable young man from Youngstown, Ohio who would one day coach the Sooners.
Yes, the reality of modern college football economics (and Howard Schnellenberger, John Blake and some Sooners believe Gary Gibbs) killed our little skirmish and Friday, those of us who grew up with the annual angst of OU week get one more chance to recapture our youth. When OU week meant wondering if Nebraska finally had enough weapons to keep up with Messer’s Sims, Washington, Overstreet, Watts and Holloway. When we tried to guess which trick play Coach Osborne had cooked up for Barry Switzer’s defense. When we got those special butterflies in our stomachs that were unlike any other butterflies we got for any other game because this wasn’t any other game. This was Oklahoma.
I’d get a chill down my spine if Bob Stoops runs the first play out of the ‘bone.
Where Is Taylor?
As important as this game is, a big picture question that will need to be answered before next season is where exactly is Taylor Martinez’s mindset and his commitment to the team? A Spam email blast this week just added fuel to the fire.
The Taylor Watch is the new, fun pastime for fans and media during Husker games when they aren’t planning their next Runza purchase at the stadium. Last week, I got into the act and here’s what I observed.
Martinez spent the first couple of series (most of the first quarter) standing in the foreground of the sideline. He wasn’t helping signal in plays or part of offensive sideline huddles, but he wasn’t lurking behind the bench. However, for the final three quarters, Nebraska’s offensive star was near the equipment table, hands in pockets, talking with backups Cody Spano or LaTravis Washington. Again, little to no visible interaction with the offensive players or coaches who were heavily involved in the game. In fact, had you slapped a different name and number on the jersey, you might not have been able to pick Martinez out from any of the third, fourth and scout teamers who were standing on the sidelines.
No doubt that the comet-like explosion onto the scene and his aloof approach to the media has sparked interest and added attention on the redshirt freshman, but his position on the team and his abilities on the field demand some kind of demonstration of leadership. It’s not like we’re talking about a third year player who has mastered the system. You would think a first year starter would benefit from some kind of ongoing tutoring even when they aren’t healthy enough to play.
Shawn Watson did his part to try to convince us that Martinez is engaged into what’s going on.
But color me not convinced. The only quarterback I observed using the phone on the sidelines during the CU game was Cody Green. Perhaps Martinez wasn’t familiar with the style of phone because it didn’t have texting capabilities.
Pelini, Watson and Nebraska football are nearing a crossroads point with Martinez – the email says it has already passed, but then why did he even bother to suit up last week or show up for practice this week? There will be a time where there is much greater pressure applied on Martinez from his backups whether that be from an improved Green, or Brion Carnes or perhaps even Jamal Turner or Bubba Starling. When that day comes, the decision may come down to a question of leadership. At this point, I don’t see enough of that attribute in Martinez to rate him very high in that category.
Pointless Stat of OU Week
My co-host Jack Mitchell prides himself on remembering where he watched every NU game and actually knows what record Nebraska has in each of the locations. In his honor, I present to you my five favorite memories of the series and Nebraska’s record in each of the locations I have watched this series.
1971 – Technically, I was there (age 4 months) but don’t remember much of the “Game of the Century.” I am told I had one of the loudest reactions to Johnny Rodgers’ punt return when I was startled by the rest of my family going berserk and cried. (Home-Fremont Record: 5-3)
1978 – Tom Osborne’s first win over the Sooners was a rare opportunity to see the Huskers with Grandma Bishop. She was watching me and my brother while the parental units were at the game. I recall Grandma being amazingly calm through the proceedings and the Fremont civil defense sirens’ sounding after the game was over. That’s when I realized that beating OU was a big deal. (Watching With Grandma Record: 1-0)
1981 – The Mark Mauer-led Huskers kick the ever-loving crap out of OU, 37-14 in Norman. Because the Huskers had already clinched the Big Eight against Iowa State, this was not a “for all the marbles” game. It was also the first game in several years not nationally televised by ABC. Instead, KETV in Omaha featured Bob Cullinan and Bob Devaney on the call (oh, how I miss the “Bob Devaney Prediction Show”). This is also the game of one of my all-time favorite plays when kicker Kevin Seibel makes the tackle on a kickoff, forces a fumble and recovers the ball. (Watching at friends’ houses: 2-3)
1983 – The infamous “Beef Fries” game. The Scoring Explosion hangs on to a 28-21 win over the Sooners thanks to Neil Harris’ pass breakup of a Danny Bradley pass in the endzone on fourth and goal. This was the day that my brother and I were introduced to a Midwest delicacy known as beef fries. We were told that it was just like Chicken McNuggets only made from beef. It wasn’t revealed until halftime which part of the cow the beef came from. I haven’t trusted my father with food related questions since. (Watching with parts of bull nuts moving through my digestive system: 1-0)
2001 – The last time Memorial Stadium was the center of the college football universe. The scene on the sidelines was a who’s-who of college football celebrity, the ESPN Gameday crew, Broderick Thomas, Neil Smith. Both the Eric Crouch “Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass” and a failed OU attempt at a similar play in the first half happened right in front of me. The image of Crouch streaking past us and the wild celebration that followed are great memories. (Watching in Memorial Stadium: 3-1)
Not-So Pointless Stat of the Week
Nebraska’s current conference championship drought is 10 seasons. Since NU entered the Missouri Valley (precursor to Big 8) in 1907, this is the second longest span between league titles since NU went without for 22 seasons from 1941 to 1962. Prior to 1999, the second longest drought was four years between 1924 and 1927. The decade of the ’00-’09 joins the 1950’s as the only two decades where Nebraska failed to at least tie for a single conference championship.
The status of Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray and Nebraska’s Martinez not withstanding, this appears to be a really even matchup between these two teams. Their strengths: OU passing and NU pass defense will be matched together every time the Sooners have the ball. How the Sooners work WR Ryan Broyles against the Big Red secondary will be a great game-within-a-game.
Last year, Landry Jones was hounded all night long by the ball hawking Huskers. The Sooners never established much of a ground threat which is a necessity against Blackshirts version ’10. That’s where Murray’s loss could be more pronounced to Oklahoma (if he doesn’t play or is not 100%) than the loss of Martinez would be to Nebraska – and I am not sold that Martinez is totally out this week.
Offensively, NU broke out the power game last week and it worked. It also helped that they got good field position thanks to the Blackshirts and they were playing Colorado. The Huskers are going to have to win the battle up front and gain yards between the numbers. Can they sustain drives? Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead will have to combine for at least 40-45 touches to make that happen.
Just about every Nebraska-Oklahoma game of championship significance has rested on defense. I see this one no different. It’s likely going to come down to a big turnover and/or special teams play late.
Nebraska 20, Oklahoma 17
Comments or questions can be directed to John Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ronald Edward Santo
Ronald Edward Santo