Once the games between Oklahoma and Nebraska were anticipated and circled on calendars every year, but the struggles of the Sooners in the 1990s and the hard times for the Cornhuskers in this decade have dulled the shine.
For the Sooners, their annual game with Texas has eclipsed the Nebraska rivalry, and the Cornhuskers’ attempts to get back on their feet have taken up most of their attention.
Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma will mark the first regular season meeting between the two schools since 2005 and first since the 2006 Big 12 Championship Game, but the game is important for a different reason.
Both teams need to run the table and get help to revive any faint hopes of winning the Big 12 again.
“I know this is a big rivalry for a lot of people going way back,” Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It’s probably the biggest game of the year for both teams.”
Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1) is tied for third in the South Division behind unbeatens Texas and Texas Tech, who play this weekend. The Sooners have a difficult month remaining with Texas Tech on Nov. 22 and Oklahoma State a week later to end the season.
The two-time defending Big 12 champs, who suffered their only loss to Texas, would have to run their slate and hope the Longhorns lose twice to get to the Big 12 championship game.
In a wild 58-35 victory at Kansas State last Saturday, the Sooners (7-1, 3-1) scored 55 points before halftime and eased up from there. Oklahoma forced four of the Wildcats’ five turnovers in the first half and converted three into touchdowns. However, the Sooners defense also surrendered season highs in total yards (550) and passing yards (486).
Despite putting up 28 first-quarter points, the Sooners also gave up 28 points in the first 22 minutes to let Kansas State tie the game. Oklahoma then used a fumble recovery, an interception and Ryan Broyles’ 68-yard punt return to fuel a four-touchdown run over the final eight minutes of the half.
“It was like a video game,” Broyles said. “That’s really what it was like.”
Bradford, who came into the game with a 71 percent completion rate, finished 13-for-32 and was held to a season-low 255 yards, but he threw his three touchdown passes in the first 26 minutes. It was the sixth time this season Bradford had at least three touchdowns, and he has thrown at least two in every game this year.
Countering Bradford’s struggles, the Sooners just missed a season-high for rushing with 273 yards. Chris Brown finished with 142 yards and DeMarco Murray had 104, the first time the two running backs topped 100 yards since beating Washington on Sept. 13.
Oklahoma maintained its top-five national ranking in scoring, total offense and passing, but the Sooners dropped from 34th to 54th in total defense and from No. 61 to No. 91 in pass defense.
That might prove an exploitable weakness against a Nebraska team that has been effective with its passing game.
In a 32-20 comeback win over visiting Baylor, Joe Ganz threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns, his third straight 300-yard performance. The three touchdowns were the most Ganz had since a four-TD performance in the season opener against Western Michigan.
“I have been playing pretty well lately. Hopefully if we need that to continue, if (the Sooners) do shut down the running game, I can get some time and go through my reads and keep playing like I have been,” said Ganz. “Obviously, it’s going to be tough. They have a great defense. They have great speed.”
With their second straight win, the Cornhuskers (5-3, 2-2) have already matched last season’s overall and Big 12 win totals, and they moved into a three-way tie for first in the Big 12 North with Kansas and Missouri.
Nate Swift hauled in a career-high 11 catches against Baylor to move to the top of the school’s career receptions list with 147, four ahead of 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers. It was the second straight 100-yard game and seventh in his career for Swift, who is also tracking Rodgers’ career receiving yards record.
Oklahoma holds a 43-37-3 advantage in the series and has won the past three meetings, including the last two at home. The schools played for 71 consecutive seasons between 1927 and 1997 but have faced five times since. They have split their six regular season Big 12 games.