By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer
Ahead of No. 6 Oklahoma’s trip to Lincoln to face Nebraska, let’s take a look at what to expect as this historic rivalry is renewed.
From Mickey Joseph to Casey Thompson to Oklahoma’s stalling offense, there’s plenty to dig into.
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Mickey Joseph’s first game is the game
In the 110-year history of this rivalry, only two men have taken the field for Nebraska as both a player and the head coach. Joseph will be the third on that list — joining Frank Solich and Scott Frost — when he toes the line at Memorial Stadium on Saturday for the first time as (interim) head coach.
Joseph, a quarterback at Nebraska in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has a rare opportunity to begin his tenure with the kind of win that could pull the Husker faithful out of the doldrums and give them hope.
I’ve already acknowledged some similarities between Joseph and Dabo Swinney, who stepped in to become interim head coach at Clemson in 2008. There is no larger win Joseph could hand the Nebraska brass to demonstrate that, like Swinney, he should be allowed to steward the program for the foreseeable future.
He’s going to have to earn it, though. The No. 6-ranked Sooners look as balanced and efficient as they’ve ever been over the past decade and have scored on every one of their eight trips to the red zone.
[Joseph’s promotion is cause for celebration, hope]
What Nebraska’s up against
Oklahoma hasn’t played in Lincoln since 2009, and, my, how the sport — and the Huskers — have changed since then.
Only four Power 5 programs have put together a worse record than the Huskers (16-31) since 2018: Kansas (10-37), Vanderbilt (13-36), Arizona (11-32) and Rutgers (13-35). At 20-30, even Duke — not exactly known as a football school — has put together a better record than Nebraska.
That’s a far cry from the stretch between 1994 and 1997 when the Huskers won three national titles and lost just two games. And that 1995 team? It might be the best college football team ever.
During that period of Nebraska dominance in the 1990s, Oklahoma was a mess. In 1996, the Huskers beat the Sooners 73-21. In 1997, they rolled to a 69-7 win.
A period of pain comes for every program — even those like OU and Nebraska — and the sport cycles through peaks and valleys. The question is if Nebraska is at the bottom of its valley and can begin to trend upward against OU.
With Joseph in charge, the mood in Lincoln could change for the better.
Thompson’s last chance at OU
While Casey Thompson might be exposed to this rivalry for the first time as a player, he’s certainly aware of the history in play.
Thompson’s father, Charles, was a quarterback in Barry Switzer’s wishbone in the 1980s, and Casey was raised in the suburbs of Moore and Newcastle, Oklahoma, before eventually committing to Texas. Last year, he quarterbacked the Longhorns in a thriller they ultimately lost 55-48 at the Cotton Bowl, after the Sooners scored 25 fourth-quarter points.
This will be his last chance to defeat his father’s alma mater and earn a victory for a Nebraska program that is starved for good football news. With Huskers running back Anthony Grant averaging nearly 143 rushing yards per game to complement the work of Thompson (nearly 289 passing yards per game) and wide receiver Trey Palmer (77 receiving yards per game), Nebraska will hope to break an OU defense that has looked anything but breakable.
The Sooners have allowed just 16 points in two games, including just three to Kent State.
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Will OU’s offense start fast?
The OU offense, on the other hand, has shown signs of stalling. Against the Golden Flashes, a MAC team that a top-10 squad should not struggle to score against, the Sooners didn’t get on the scoreboard until there were 18 seconds left in the opening half.
If Dillon Gabriel and the Sooners don’t come out fast — as they run one of the fastest offenses in the country — Nebraska might have time enough to pull the upset. OU needs to have this game in hand by halftime lest the Huskers crowd make its presence known, not unlike the Longhorns faithful did at Darrell K Royal in Austin, Texas, against then-No. 1-ranked Alabama last week.
Gabriel will likely look to wideout Marvin Mims to take the top off the defense early. He caught seven passes for 163 yards with two TDs against Kent State.
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RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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