It’s the most wonderful time of the year. College football is in full bloom, and that means that it’s officially rivalry season. Teams will meet on the field and lay it all out just for bragging rights, or in many cases, to eliminate their rival from preseason hopes. The Red River Showdown will have all of the aforementioned and more, but this match-up proves to be far different than what most people expected.
Many analysts had the Sooners, led by Baker Mayfield, arguably the best quarterback in the nation, to win the Big 12 and compete in the College Football Playoff in January. But those dreams took a dark turn last week when the Sooners were upset last week in Norman by Iowa State. If Oklahoma has any hopes of reaching the CFP and subsequently winning a national championship, then they must win out, and win convincingly.
Then there’s Texas. Many had the Longhorns making solid strides toward the program being back, but the honeymoon phase with Coach Herman ended abruptly when the Longhorns lost at home in the season-opener to a Maryland team they were heavily favored to beat. They lost again 2 weeks later to the Trojans in Los Angeles in double-overtime. But Texas hasn’t given up yet, beating Iowa State in Ames and Kansas State last week in Austin in double-overtime.
Headed into the Red River Shootout, Oklahoma is 4-1, #12 in the nation and now on the outside of the CFP hoping that a number of miracles can go their way. Texas on the other hand is 2-2, but still undefeated (along with TCU) in Big 12 play, and looking to keep that momentum going. Both teams have post-season aspirations, so this game has more at stake than previous iterations of this historic match-up.
Let’s take a look at the actual match-up.
The Sooners are anchored by quarterback Baker Mayfield, arguably the most electric player in college football outside of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, and he is not alone on this varsity squad. The Oklahoma receiving corps has given Mayfield a lot of help throughout the years, and they will have to step-up if they want to avoid losing 2 games straight. Oklahoma’s rushing attack will challenge the Longhorns’ front 7, which lacks in depth, but the Texas defense has risen to the occasion in multiple games this season. Look for a top-notch Mayfield offense to face a defense with a chip in their shoulder.
The Texas defense played stellar as of late, especially the secondary. And the Longhorns will have to keep this up if they wish to beat the Sooners. Texas played miserably in the season-opener against Maryland, giving up 263 yards on the ground. Since then, Texas has played much better, almost completely shutting down the run on opponents. And they will need to, if they want to force Baker Mayfield to beat them through the air. The Longhorns are most depleted on the defensive line, which has the potential for doom. It all depends on how much pressure Orlando and Herman decide to bring. If they bring it like they did against USC, then they will force Mayfield to make bad throws.
The Sooners have been great against the run, giving up just 618 yards so far through 5 games. Opponents are averaging 3.36 yards per rush, which is good enough for #33 in the nation. And they may have a field day against a Texas rushing attack that has been mediocre at best. With the Texas offensive line banged up with injuries and in a mode of constant retooling, it has proven difficult for Tim Beck to get the run game going.
Another week, another game pondering who will start at quarterback. The smart bet would be on Sam Ehlinger, who led Texas to a double overtime win against Kansas State last weekend, especially while Buechele continues to heal. With that being said, whoever is under center must challenge the Sooners secondary, which does not fare well against one-on-one coverage. Fortunately for Texas, the Longhorns receiving corps has the most depth of any position, and they will have to use their physicality in hopes of getting the better of Sooner defenders.
The Longhorns have not been spectacular on special teams for several years now. They’ve improved, but there are still concerns. In previous years, multiple games were lost each year due to special teams-mishaps, but the Longhorns have fared well this season, considering…. The Sooners are one of the best return teams in the nation and Texas will need to defend well. If the game comes down to a field goal or extra point, former JUCO kicker Josh Rowland, who has not had a great season for Texas, will get the nod. Luckily for the Longhorns, the Oklahoma has struggled in the punt game, with the unit being ranked #122 of 128 NCAA teams. Their 422 net yards punting is abysmal and not a stat Lincoln Riley wants to see. The Texas punting game is led by Michael Dickson, who won Big 12 Conference Special Teams Player of the Year last year, and shows no sign of slowing down.
All in all, this is a game of match-ups. Both teams have advantages in a number of key positions, and luckily for both teams they excel at the opposing positions. This should prove to make an exciting game at the Cotton Bowl. Texas has won 6 of the last 9 match-ups that the Sooners have come into the game ranked while the Longhorns have been unranked. Baker Mayfield and the Sooners will be playing with a sense of urgency, but if the Longhorns can take advantage of Oklahoma’s mistakes, then Texas just might get it’s 3rd win in 5 years. The margin for error for the Longhorns is even smaller than that of the Sooners, for if they have any hopes of competing for a Big 12 title they must come out of Dallas victorious.