LINCOLN, Neb. — Late in the second quarter, DaShaun White was ejected for a targeting hit against Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson.
The Oklahoma coaching staff turned to Jaren Kanak to fill the void at the cheetah position.
It took one play for the true freshman to make an impact.
Kanak recorded his first tackle on the next snap, limiting Trey Palmer to one yard on a second-down pass. He nearly sacked Thompson on the following third down which allowed Ethan Downs to make the stop and force a punt.
He finished with four tackles and a quarterback hurry on the Cornhuskers’ final seven plays of the half.
But his speed and quickness were most on display on the first play of the second half. Thompson found Palmer for a 21-yard gain, but Kanak made the pursuit and stripped the ball from Palmer before recovering the fumble himself.
Kanak finished with a game-high 10 tackles, as he proved to be the Sooners’ most active defender in their 49-7 win at Nebraska Saturday.
“I'm super proud of Jaren,” OU coach Brent Venables said. “He’s one of the most unassuming guys in our locker room and then he also [got] what we call the swift sooner award, [which] goes to whoever gets the first turnover. And he did that as well. Punched the ball out.
“He's just learning how to play linebacker. He has no idea what he's doing yet. But he's made a lot of improvement from fundamentals and the language and I know things are going a million miles an hour for him. But he did a nice job.”
Considering the buzz surrounding his recruitment, his performance doesn’t come as a shock.
The former four-star recruit was a standout defender and offensive player at Hays High School, playing both linebacker and quarterback. His senior year, he set the single-season school record for rushing yards (1,615) and scored 23 rushing touchdowns while averaging 10.2 yards per carry. He also threw for 910 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He was the consensus top-recruit in Kansas out of high school and was a mid-year enrollee at Oklahoma. Teammates and coaches raved about his work ethic during the preseason, and he got his chance to show it against Nebraska.
For Kanak, the game is a big opportunity for him to grow.
“As a freshman, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. [There’s] a lot of little things to learn from,” Kanak said. “Get in a game like that and the opportunity to make mistakes is perfect because there’s a lot to learn from that will make me a better player for the years to come.”
• Key Lawrence, Wanya Morris return: Morris made his season debut against the Cornhuskers after missing the first two games with an off-the-field issue.
Lawrence returned after missing last week with a hamstring issue, recording an interception in the end zone during the fourth quarter for the Sooners’ second pick of the season. He finished with six tackles, a pass break up and a forced fumble.
• Davis Beville finally slings it: Though the Sooners' quarterback saw game action in the Sooners’ first two games, only Dillon Gabriel had thrown a pass prior to Saturday’s game.
With the Sooners leading 49-7 in the third quarter, Beville was inserted at quarterback. He completed both of his passing attempts for 14 yards, though
• Tough day for Thompson: The Oklahoma native rarely had time to throw, as he was sacked four times for 32 yards.
Thompson was taken out for good in the third quarter, finishing the day with 120 yards on 14-of-20 passing with a touchdown.
• Up next: The Sooners begin conference play against Kansas State at 7 p.m. Saturday at home.