Texas vs. Oklahoma
Red River, bad blood: No. 15 Longhorns and No. 13 Sooners face off Saturday
Texas is a really good football team. Last week's near-win against one of the best teams in the country qualifies as one of those season-defining moments.
The Longhorns looked at the end zone from just 12 yards away; the winning touchdown was staring right back at them. A blown snap from center and a botched 41-yard field goal attempt snatched it all away. West Virginia is a great football team, maybe a national championship contender — maybe — and Texas took the fight to them; the Longhorns get credit and credibility for that.
"We're much better than we were last year. I don't think last year's team could have even hung with West Virginia because we couldn't have scored enough points," admitted Head Coach Mack Brown. "But we're making a lot of progress, and at some point this football team is going to be really good and we are getting better each game."
This game will mean a little more than the most recent match-ups have. Both Texas and Oklahoma enter Saturday's game with a loss: Texas to a top five West Virginia and OU to a top six Kansas State. The loser is out of the Big 12 Championship hunt, the winner gets new life.
The Oklahoma Sooners are struggling — they are good, but not "West Virginia" good. Last week's 41-20 win against a poor Texas Tech team allows OU to come into the game with some confidence, but they are struggling.
One quarterback in this game is completing a very pedestrian 63 percent of his passes, throwing for only seven touchdowns, while putting the ball in his opponents hands twice. The other quarterback is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation with a 78 percent completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and only one interception. Had we suggested OU's Landry Jones, a pre-season Heisman candidate, and Texas' David Ash would completely exchange roles like this before the season started, we'd have been laughed out of the bar.
But David Ash is the better quarterback today (last week's missed opportunity notwithstanding), which is one big reason OU's season is on the brink and why Texas has an excellent opportunity to beat them.
OU's three wins this year came against UTEP, Florida Atlantic and Texas Tech. Not exactly a murder's row of football elite. Besides K-State, Texas will be the best team OU has faced, and this is not the same Texas team OU dominated last year,
All of that said, OU knows something about Texas after watching the last two games. Texas is vulnerable against the run, and OU can flat-out run. They are averaging almost 200 yards rushing per game. Texas gave that much up to a second-string running back just last week. Sure the Horns were trying to defend against Heisman favorite Geno Smith, but this week they would be silly not to be looking out for Landry Jones' arm. Jones can sling it, he just doesn't have the weapons he used to have catching it.
On defense, OU has already racked up nine sacks on the season. They will come hard trying to stop the Texas running game and force David Ash to throw short passes underneath, easily defended by OU's stout defense.
While nine sacks sounds good, OU gives as much as it takes. The offensive line has allowed eight sacks of Jones. Texas defense by comparison has 13 sacks this season and the O-line has given up only five.
So what to make of all this? Books have been written about the 112-year-old Texas-OU game. It is the most important rivalry on each team's schedule and has been for many years (sorry, A&M). Victory in this game turns on the smallest of margins — often emotional margins. Every play takes on greater importance. The team that handles it best usually wins. OU is a veteran team, but Texas' young team has now played in this game once before, they should be ready for the pressure.
What to Watch for
- Defending the run: The Longhorns must play better against OU's aggressive running game. If they give up over 200 yards it will be very difficult to win.
- Turnovers: Yeah I know, this is in here every week and last week Texas won the turnover battle 2-1 and lost for the first time in 57 games. Still, in this game, with so much emotion, every good and bad thing that happens is magnified by the team, the coaches and the fans. Turnovers kill momentum in the Cotton Bowl.
- Offensive big plays: Texas cannot win a grind-it-out game against OU. The OU defense is the best Texas has faced. While they must have a balanced attack, as Mack Brown likes to say, without some really big runs and long passes stretching that defense, it will be a long game. Further, Texas must make plays.
- Johnathan Gray: In Malcolm Brown's absence (due to injury), Gray has stepped up and seems to be gaining his footing in the faster, stronger college game. He's going to be really good. If he — or any Texas running back — manages to gain 100 yards, look for the Longhorns to be in the game at the end.
Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Time: 11 a.m. at Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Radio: KVET-FM 98.1 / KVET-AM 1300