Red River Rivalry
The #11 ranked Texas Longhorns football season might best be described so far as an alchemy experiment—tweak this, see what happens; adjust that, see what happens; hope nothing blows up, mix again—and so far, everything Head Coach Mack Brown has touched and tweaked and adjusted and mixed has turned so much straw into undefeated gold. Tomorrow, everything changes.
You've got to be able to deal with the adversity, because you're going to have it in a game like this, because OU is really good."—Mack Brown
The #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners are not BYU or UCLA or Iowa State (no one really needs to be reminded of Rice do they?). No, in some minds OU is the best damn college football team in the land, and as such, they represent a quantum leap in talent over those other teams Texas faced. Make no mistake, Oklahoma can play, and they can stomp the living daylights out of these very young and impressionable Longhorns.
But Texas has something magical going for it right now. With some 30 underclassmen out of 48 men on the two-deep roster, these kids don't know what they don't know—and they might just be naive enough to think they can play with the adults and win.
Believing you can win, even in the face of daunting odds and a superior opponent, is what separates the elite from the losers. It's how Iowa State (and a few others) beat Texas in 2010 and it may be the edge Texas needs to keep this game close.
Keeping it close is key. Scoring first would be great, but more importantly Texas must stay within 10 points all day long. If the game begins to get away from these young'uns, they might just start to think they can't win. When doubt slips into football, bad stuff starts to hit the fan, and people get hurt.
"There will be more adversity in this game," said Brown during his weekly press conference, "...and usually in football, it's very much like life. You have some adversity and you have some very positive things... you've got to be able to deal with the adversity, because you're going to have it in a game like this, because OU is really good. But positive things are going to happen too, because you're going to make plays, and if you get up by ten points in a game like this, the game is not over. You have to keep playing. And that's what the players have to understand. Deal with adversity and handle success."
The Longhorns experimented now over four games and a bye week. Tomorrow inside the Cotton Bowl, at the Texas State Fair, we will see how far the 2011 Texas Longhorns have come. In my pre-season preview, here's what I wrote about this game:
Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, Dallas - October 8th
God help us. OU is good, really good, preseason #1 ranking good. Texas is, well… not as good. It hurts me to write that far more than it hurts to read. Is there hope? There’s always hope. If Texas rides in 4-0, and if the team gets strong leadership from its QB and its seniors; if the coaches taught their new schemes and plays well—then Texas has a chance. The Longhorns must play a perfect game.
Texas must play a perfect game to win this one, but the players and coaches have done everything they need to do in order to have a shot. The defense needs teeth, the offense needs some magic. It can happen... it probably won't, but it could.
What's a perfect game look like? Here's what I'll be looking for (besides fried oreos, corn dogs and cold beer) at the Cotton Bowl tomorrow:
Breathe... deeply... breathe again... The Red River Rivalry is arguably the best, most intense game day atmosphere in college football. The stadium is split in half at the 50 yard line—half is cloaked in crimson, the other half in burnt orange. It's loud, it's raucous, it's crazy. To a freshman, used to running out onto a high school field, the Cotton Bowl is a huge intimidating place. Neither of Texas quarterbacks, nor their starting tailback have ever experienced anything like this. They need to avoid hyper-ventilating... and... just... breathe.
Start simple on offense. Texas Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin created a playbook that reads like a comic book—guys running all over the place and suddenly a football appears in the end zone. Harsin's offense is clicking now, but he needs to remember, this is Texas-OU, and his players need to get over the rubber legs and hyperventilation they'll experience on the first set of downs. The kids need to take a hit, make a completion, have some modicum of success early. The alternative is disaster.
Bring the nasty defense early. As much as the offense needs to start simple, the defense needs to rock Landry Jones world. The dangerous Oklahoma offense relies on their quarterback. Last year, Jones got knocked around some and struggled a bit. OU beat Texas of course (who didn't last year), but Texas defense kept it close, and the Horns came within a couple self-induced, dumb-assed mistakes of winning the game. Hit Jones harder, harder, as the cheerleaders would say, and keep coming back for more. Rattle Jones, and Texas has a chance.
Close up the middle of the D-line. Texas defensive line is allowing way too many yards up the middle. Time to man up boys. The defense has been great except for that one weakness. Stop the run up the middle... now.
Specifically, I'd like see:
Malcolm Brown run for 100 yards. You heard it here first, if Brown gets 100 yards, Texas wins—period.
Win the turnover battle by at least two. The Longhorns must takeaway the ball from OU at least two times more than they lose it. Fumbles and interceptions happen in this game, the team that gets the most will almost always win. If Texas can avoid losing the ball, and pick up a couple interceptions or fumbles, they have a great chance.
Continue the QB rotation. I disagree with the sports pundits who suggest Harsin and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite need to stick to one guy for this biggest of big games. Darrell Royal knew "ya dance with who brung ya," and in this case the girl has two dates. The Case McCoy / David Ash rotation forces the defense to adjust constantly. Their rotation has been successful in every game, it makes absolutely no sense to get away from that successful formula until... well... it fails to be successful.
The Texas-OU game highlights every football season. The game puts both schools into the national conversation together. Whether both teams are ranked or not (and today they are), this game is about pride and both teams play like it's the most important game of the season, which of course it is. If the game is close, even if Texas loses, they have a chance for a special season; win, and the season becomes magical.
See you at the State Fair, I'll be the guy wearing burnt orange.