Oklahoma didn’t have to look far to find positives from head coach Brent Venables’ first road game.
The Sooners (3-0) used explosive offense and suffocating defense to rout Nebraska (1-3) 49-14 on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. All of Oklahoma’s 49 points were scored unanswered in the first three quarters of the game, and the Sooners out-gained the Cornhuskers by 308 yards over that span.
The Sooners begin conference play against Kansas State next week.
Here are four takeaways from Oklahoma’s win over Nebraska:
1. Sooners’ defense creates negative plays
The Sooners had shown signs that the defense was improving this season, but solid performances against UTEP and Kent State can only reveal so much.
Oklahoma entered Saturday’s game ranked second in the country in total tackles for loss (23) and was third in sacks with nine. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers were looking to match the Sooners with an explosive offense of their own after averaging nearly 500 yards of total offense through the first three games of the season.
Nebraska had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in each of those three games. Running back Anthony Grant was picking up 142.7 yards per game, which ranked third in the nation.
On Saturday, the Cornhuskers were held to just 159 yards of total offense through the first three quarters of the game outside of their first drive of the game. That drive went 77 yards over six plays and ended on a 32-yard pass from Casey Thompson to Trey Palmer.
The Sooners weren’t able to totally shut down Nebraska’s offensive attack. Nebraska had nine big running plays go for a total of 104 yards, but the Sooners’ defense also made up for that with nine tackles for loss that ended up costing the Cornhuskers 56 yards.
Seven different Sooners were credited for a tackle for loss and four different Sooners came away with sacks. DaShaun White had a sack and a tackle for loss, but was forced to leave the game in the second quarter after being called for a targeting penalty.
2. Sticking with the run
Oklahoma made it clear it wanted to establish the run game early against a struggling Nebraska defense.
The Sooners ran the ball 54 times for 312 yards and four touchdowns. They set or tied season highs in all three categories, and finished with 16 more running plays than their previous high.
Eric Gray led the rushing attack with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Javonte Barnes ended up leading the team in carries with 13 and made the most of the opportunity with 77 yards.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel even came up big in the running game with a 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give the Sooners their first score of the game.
The lone miscue in the running game came midway through the third quarter when the Sooners mishandled a handoff between backup quarterback Davis Beville and Barnes. It was Oklahoma’s first turnover of the season, but by that point it had already scored on six of its last seven possessions.
3. Forcing turnovers
The Sooners added two more turnovers on Saturday to bring their season total up to five.
Key Lawrence nearly had the team’s second forced fumble and recovery of the game in the third quarter after ripping the ball away from Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda. Lawrence wasn’t able get the loose ball and the Cornhuskers recovered, but he made the most of his next opportunity in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska backup quarterback Chubba Purdy threw a deep pass towards the end zone and Lawrence undercut the pass from his safety position for the Sooners’ second turnover of the day. Jaren Kanak also forced a fumble in the third quarter on a long completion from Thompson to Palmer.
4. Finding new weapons
Gabriel turned in another impressive showing in the passing game, completing 16 of his 27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
They weren’t gaudy numbers for the redshirt junior, but the Sooners were able to open up the air attack and allow new players to make an impact. Gabriel’s 16 completions went to seven different players and three different players caught touchdown passes.
Gabriel hooked up with Jalil Farooq on a 25-yard pass in the first quarter before finding Theo Wease on a 15-yard pass early in the second half.
Marcus Major caught the third touchdown pass, but it came from tight end Brayden Willis on a double-pass from the Cornhuskers’ 24-yard line.
Marvin Mims led all receivers with four catches for 66 yards. LV Bunkley-Shelton made his first career catch in the game, as did freshman tight end Kaden Helms.