NORMAN, Okla. -- Corey Nelson can't wait for Saturday.
The Oklahoma linebacker knows the Sooners' game against Kansas State will challenge him unlike any game this season. The Wildcats promise to be physical and run the football right at OU when the two teams meet on Owen Field.
"It's very exciting," Nelson said. "It's downhill run game, whoever is more physical ... that's what it comes down to. This is a game for linebackers, it's fit for linebackers, fit for guys like us to be able to go out, get downhill and see who's the strongest."
And that puts Nelson in the spotlight.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Nelson faces a serious size disadvantage against a K-State offensive line that averages 6-4, 297 pounds. He'll be counted on to make plays on Saturday if OU hopes to slow quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert.
"We have to bow up," Nelson said. "Their offensive line is powerful. We have to come big and come physical, that's what it's all about, it's going to be a physical battle."
Nelson accepted the challenge as a sophomore last season, finishing with six tackles and two sacks in the Sooners' 58-17 win at K-State in 2011.
But this season, Nelson's role has changed. He's no longer a jack-of-all trades, moving around the defense to utilize his talent and allow him to make plays. The junior is the starting weakside linebacker alongside middle linebacker Tom Wort, meaning he'll need to count on his athletic ability to keep from being overwhelmed against the Wildcats.
Fortunately for the Sooners, Nelson has the physical skills to do it.
"He's very smart, and his athleticism really sets him apart from a lot of linebackers," cornerback Demontre Hurst said. "He's always having fun out there; he's high energy and loves to play the game."
Said Nelson: "If you have the speed and you have the strength to get off linemen, it's so much easier for you. On some plays, they may have an angle at you, but if you're fast enough you can put a move on them and get around them easily."
It will be his energy and quickness that likely will determine his success on Saturday. And his success could determine the Sooners' fate. During his first two years in crimson and cream, Nelson proved he had the ability to create havoc for opposing offenses, particularly as a pass rusher, so the Sooners are confident he can and will impact the game.
Starting in the spot vacated by four-year starter Travis Lewis, Nelson has been solid in OU's first two games, with seven tackles, one quarterback hurry and one pass broken up.
Yet those nonconference games against UTEP and Florida A&M didn't sit atop his priority list when he looked at the schedule before the season began.
"This is the game I've been waiting on, to play teams like this," Nelson said. "I've been foaming at the mouth to play a team like this, and I'm ready for it. This is like a once-in-a-lifetime dream to play a physical team like this and see who's the strongest.
"Memories will be made. It will be fun to see how it unfolds."