Oklahoma Nebraska Football

Nebraska nickelback Chris Kolarevic, left, tackles Oklahoma tight end Daniel Parker Jr during the game Sept. 17 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The real start to the season is here for Oklahoma.

The Sooners begin conference play at 7 p.m. Saturday against Kansas State, and they have the luxury of playing at home after beating Nebraska in Lincoln last week. The Kansas State matchup also represents Brent Venables’ first conference game as a head coach.

Despite Kansas State’s surprising loss to Tulane last week, the Wildcats are still a formidable foe for the Sooners. Here’s four storylines to look for when the Sooners take the field:

1. Jalil Farooq’s involvement

It took the sophomore receiver some time to get going, as he caught just one pass for nine yards in the first two games.

But he broke out against Nebraska, finishing with three catches for 58 yards and a score. He also tied for second on the team in targets with five, and he appeared to be a regular part of the game plan.

Farooq said it was tough to not see the ball much prior to the Nebraska game, though it hasn’t affected his confidence.

“Confidence-wise, it’s never been an issue,” Farooq said after the game. “But it did help today to see me and [Dillon Gabriel] connect, making plays and just being a playmaker.”

Look for Farooq to stay involved in the Sooners’ game plan.

2. Momentum on the offensive line

The Nebraska game was the best performance yet for the Sooners’ offensive line, surrendering just one sack while playing a key role in the running game’s success (312) yards.

It was also the season debut for Wanya Morris, who missed the first two games with an off-the-field issue. The offensive line should be healthy and have momentum following a good performance against the Cornhuskers.

“I feel like that was the first game that we really meshed together,” OU offensive lineman McKade Mettauer said. “We were rushing for about seven yards a carry. I think that was a step forward from the first two games that we had. It was a great environment. I think that really fueled us.”

Kansas State’s defensive line presents a different challenge for the Sooners. If the offensive line can win the battle up front, that bodes well for OU Saturday and the rest of the way.

3. Improvement in the Sooners’ secondary?

The OU secondary performed well against Nebraska after some struggles in the first two games, limiting the Cornhuskers to 164 yards passing. Key Lawrence also nabbed an interception for the team’s third pick of the season.

Given the struggles of Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez this season — he has 304 yards and one touchdown through three games — the secondary has an opportunity to build on their success last week.

“I thought they played well,” OU defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “As far as the explosive pass plays, there were more than we’d like, but at the same time I thought they played well. They made some plays on the ball. We missed some plays on the ball that we had opportunities (to make). We’ll go back and improve in that area, but I was pleased.”

4. Can the defense keep Deuce Vaughn contained?

The Kansas State running back has been one of the best running backs in football through three games. He ranks eighth in yards per game (117.3) while adding three touchdowns and 10 receptions.

The Wildcats have based their offense around their rushing attack — they’ve ran the ball 130 times compared to 70 passing attempts — and Vaughn is the head of the snake.

“You’re talking about one of the nation’s best running backs,” Roof said. “In the run game, he’s got great hips and feet and vision. He’s got a lot of patience too. He’ll stay back there, wait for somebody to get nosey and jump out of their gap and then here he goes. At the same time, he’s a weapon in the throwing game as well too.”

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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