Mickey Joseph once was the center of a recruiting war between Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Now he’ll begin his Division I head coaching career for Nebraska (1-2) against the sixth-ranked Sooners (2-0) when the teams face off Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.
Joseph ultimately chose the Cornhuskers over the Sooners.
But in the wake of Scott Frost being fired following Nebraska’s 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern last week, Joseph took over as the interim head coach this week, 10 months since arriving from LSU to become the Cornhuskers’ associate head coach and passing game coordinator.
Joseph said Nebraska’s players have responded well to the week of change: “They handled it like champs.”
After Frost was fired, Cornhuskers edge rusher Ochaun Mathis told the Lincoln Journal Star there was a “losing culture” around the program that needed to change.
Joseph pushed back against that characterization Tuesday.
“We haven’t been winning, OK, but I wouldn’t say it’s a losing culture,” Joseph said. “A losing culture are kids who don’t come to work. These kids have played in a lot of tight games. Now we’ve got to figure out a way to get them over the hump.”
Nebraska went 5-22 in one-score games during Frost’s tenure, including last season’s 23-16 loss to the Sooners in Norman, Okla.
When Joseph played for the Cornhuskers, Nebraska-Oklahoma was one of the top rivalries in college football, regularly determining the Big Eight winner while often serving as something of an elimination game among national championship contenders.
In 17 of the 31 seasons from 1971 through 2001, both teams were ranked in the top 10 when they squared off.
But when the Big Eight became the Big 12, the teams landed in separate divisions, and the game became less frequent. And with Nebraska’s 2011 move to the Big Ten, the teams stopped playing until last year’s 23-16 Oklahoma victory.
This home-and-home series was set up to commemorate the 1971 “Game of the Century” between the teams.
Saturday’s meeting doesn’t have that kind of importance, but with Nebraska going through the coaching transition and No. 6 Oklahoma looking to bolster its hopes for a College Football Playoff appearance, there’s still plenty to play for on both sides.
Sooners coach Brent Venables is plenty familiar with Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson.
Thompson’s father, Charles, was a quarterback for the Sooners in the 1980s and was around the Oklahoma program during Venables’ stint as the defensive coordinator there from 1999 to 2011.
Venables tried to get Casey Thompson to follow in his father’s footsteps this past offseason when Thompson entered the transfer portal from Texas.
“Really pulling for him,” Venables said. “Except this week.”
The Sooners instead added Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel at quarterback after Caleb Williams left for USC. Through two games, Gabriel has completed 70 percent of his passes for 529 yards and has five touchdowns with no interceptions.
Oklahoma has yet to commit a turnover, the first time since at least 1936 that the team hasn’t turned the ball over through the first two games of a season.
“Continuing to take care of the rock, again, that’s where it’s all going to start for us,” Sooners offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said of Gabriel. “Proud of him from that standpoint. We’ve created some explosive (plays). The biggest thing is making sure we’re not taking unnecessary sacks.”
On the other side, the Sooners have allowed just 16 points through two games, handling UTEP 45-13 and Kent State 33-3.
Their level of competition will take a leap on Saturday. Even though the Cornhuskers have dropped games to Northwestern and Georgia Southern, the offense has still been potent, averaging 36 points a game.
–Field Level Media