| Oklahoma linebacker Torrance Marshall called it a personal challenge.
Flipping through the television this week, he came across a so-called expert, who basically said the Sooners didn't stand a chance because of the OU defense. Nebraska will control the ball for three quarters, the talking head said, and Oklahoma for one and that would be it.
"Ha," Marshall said Saturday, some thirty minutes after the Sooners put the clamps on a Nebraska offense that entered the game No. 2 in the nation. "Guess not."
The Huskers, which entered the game averaging over 46 points and nearly 500 yards a game, finished with a pair of touchdowns and 328 yards.
More importantly, they were held scoreless in the games final three quarters, after jumping out to a 14-0 lead. On its first 11 plays, Nebraska totaled 167 yards. On the other 59 snaps, they totaled 161.
They tried reverse hand-offs, shovel passes, belly dives -- taking from every corner in the Husker playbook -- but still couldn't muster much of anything after the first 15 minutes.
"I don't know if you will ever see a stronger defensive effort against them," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "I know I haven't. To slow them down and stop them like that for three quarters is amazing."
Oklahoma's defensive dominance not only put a dent in Nebraska's national championship hopes, but it also all but eliminated the Heisman run of Husker quarterback Eric Crouch. Crouch, who completed his first five passes while scoring the game's first two touchdowns, finished the afternoon a meager 12-of-27 for 133 yards. He added 103 yards rushing, but half of that came during the first quarter stretch as well.
So what was the difference -- what did the Sooners do differently after the first quarter?
The schemes stayed the same, the approach stayed the same. It was just that the players started to relax.
"We all knew that the first quarter was us," said linebacker Rocky Calmus, who tallied a Brian Bosworth-like 16 tackles. "So we were confident that once we settled down a bit, we could stop them."
Marshall was just as dominating, totaling 12 tackles, including a pair of back-to-back sacks during a critical third quarter drive. At the time, Crouch had just rushed for an 18-yard gain. But on two straight plays, Marshall slipped through the Husker offensive line, dumping Crouch on the turf for a combined 17-yard loss.
Then, faced with a 3rd and 27, Crouch forced a pass that was intercepted and return for a touchdown by Derrick Strait. That touchdown all but put the game out of reach for the Huskers. But it was Marshall's two sacks that helped set it up.
"I knew we had to get some more pressure on their quarterback," Marshall said. "So I just tried to contain him and then jump at him when I could."
Strait, a redshirt freshman, was singled out by Stoops after the game. In addition to the interception, he stripped Nebraska's Matt Davison after a four-yard catch early in the fourth quarter. The play came with the Huskers deep in OU territory at the 23-yard line.
It was an especially sweet comeback for Strait, who was burned for a 39-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
"He has evolved as a player, he just played tremendous," Stoops said. "He gave up that long ball early but he came back with some huge plays. He's just a ball player. He makes plays."
While Heupel and the offense steals the headlines and spotlights, the defense does the dirty work having come together as a group to shutdown some of the nation's top offenses.
Three weeks ago it was Texas, two weeks ago it was Kansas State and now
A sign carried around the field after the game told the story perfectly: "Applewhite, Beasley, Crouch have all tried, but failed. Who's next?" It referred to the starting quarterbacks of Oklahoma's last three victims.
"It all comes down to what you can do best," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "If they shut that down pretty effectively, which they did, then you are going to struggle. That is what happened to us."
From here on out, chances are Marshall won't have to listen to any more criticism.
"That's something you take to heart," Marshall said. "And you start to play for pride. Today we were able to respond."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com.
Sat, October 28
My colleague Mike Gottfried spoke Thursday night about how special teams was going to be a key to this game. He couldn't have been more right-on. Nebraska was backed up in the second quarter because of field position. The good OU punting, the blocked punt by Josh Norman, all of those things combined to make it a long day for the Huskers. Everybody expected Oklahoma to score points, their offense has played extremely well and Nebraska has had some trouble on defense. But it was the special teams play and the defense of OU that really stood out today.
The Sooner defense is on the small side; but what they lack in size they more than make up for in quickness. The speed of their defense enabled them to run around things. They never changed their schemes. Their game plan going in was to play physical and to go right at the blockers with an aggressive attack. In the first quarter, they weren't attacking the blockers. They were running around guys in an attempt to get to Eric Crouch. In the second quarter, they started playing through the blockers. They knew the plays, they knew where the guys were going to be coming from and they came at them head-on. When Torrance Marshall and Rocky Calmus are free to make tackles, that's when the OU defense is best. In the first quarter, they were getting cut. They were on the ground and getting stood up by linemen. The OU defensive linemen got in a rhythm, were able to move and keep the Nebraska lineman off their inside linebackers. The excellent play of the OU defense, especially their ability to adjust after the first quarter, was a big key to this victory for the Sooners.
Sooners make easy work of top-ranked Cornhuskers
The Connection keeps OU offense flying high
Huskers know they're not out of title hunt yet
Derrick Strait picks off Eric Crouch and returns it 32 yards for a TD.
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