NORMAN — After 12 games a defense should be used to a few things. There’s usually some carryover from game to game. What worked against one is likely to work against another similar team.
Oklahoma showed this in its defensive performances against Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. The personnel changed, but the styles of all three were cut from the same cloth.
But all that work goes right out the window as the ninth-ranked Sooners (10-2) prepare to face No. 13 Nebraska (10-2) in the Big 12 title game Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Huskers aren’t just cut from a different cloth than OU’s last three opponents — it’s an entirely different fabric.
“It’s a very physical offense,” OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Tuesday night. “It’s a different type of offense.”
Most Big 12 teams rely on getting speedy backs and receivers in open spaces with chances for big plays. There’s lots of short passes and making defensive backs miss tackles means big plays.
Nebraska has speedy backs and receivers, but its modus operandi for getting the ball into the end zone is designed to leave a trail of mangled defensive linemen and linebackers in its wake.
The Huskers lead the Big 12 in rushing this season by 758 yards. In contrast, they finished last in passing yards and were one of only two teams that didn’t throw for at least 2,000 this season.
“They want to be physical running the ball. That’s what we like,” OU defensive end Jeremy Beal said.
The Sooners have faced and had success against offenses like this before. Last year in Lincoln, OU lost 10-3, but only gave up 180 yards. Stanford employed a similar style in the 2009 Sun Bowl. The Sooners only gave 262 yards in that 31-27 victory.
But the Huskers are certainly better than last year and better than a Stanford team that was without its starting quarterback.
The Huskers’ emphasis on the run has been no secret since Bo Pelini took over as head coach in 2008. But gained more success with freshman Taylor Martinez at quarterback. He has rushed for 974 yards this season.
The freshman’s status for Saturday, however, is up in the air. He’s been slowed by injuries since the Huskers’ Oct. 30 victory over Missouri. First it was a thigh injury, then a sprained right ankle and left toe injury were added in following games.
Martinez didn’t play in the Huskers’ victory over Colorado last Friday. Pelini said Tuesday he may wait until game time Saturday before deciding between Martinez and backup Cody Green.
Green started against the Buffaloes. Running back Rex Burkhead also threw two touchdown passes against Colorado.
The Sooners don’t have a preference, but are planning on Martinez getting the nod.
“We’re preparing for Martinez,” linebacker Travis Lewis said. “They both can throw the ball. But we need to prepare against a running quarterback like Martinez more. A running quarterback adds another weapon to an offense, so that’s who we’re preparing for.”
Even if Martinez stays on the bench, it won’t change the Huskers’ philosophy.
“It doesn’t matter which quarterback is in there, they’ll do their stuff with the quarterback. You prepare the same way,” Beal said. “They’re going to do the same stuff no matter who is in there.”
It’s up to OU’s defense to handle it.
That three-man front OU used to much success in Bedlam is already gone. It was based more on speed than bulk. OU employed it to stop to better match a spread offense.
Against the Huskers, it requires a proper mixture of both.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org