Here are 5 things Iâ€™m interested in most for this game. (No particular order).
1. Defensive Line: If OU wins this game it could have a lot to do with the defensive line not getting to Landry Jones. But I doubt that will be a problem. Last week the big boys up front on defense did a great job getting pressure on Geno Smith by sacking him, pressuring him, and even causing him to turn the ball over via fumbles. Factor in the fact that OUâ€™s offensive line has been a work in progress (sound familiar?) and that fact that Landry Jones is not nearly the running threat that Geno was and you have yourself a recipe for another big day from Okafor, Jeffcoat and crew. Sure, Stoops has also been preparing for this as well but Diaz is one of the best in college football when it comes to adjustments and he should do well finding creative ways to rush Jones all day.
2. The injuries: As of now Malcolm Brown and Jordan Hicks are both listed as â€œquestionableâ€. Honestly I doubt if either play. If they donâ€™t play then that means the reserves will have to step up again this week. This should be highlighted because a few of the players who could fill in for these two starters are freshmen and this game can easily give freshmen jitters. This is the freaking Texas/OU game weâ€™re talking about. The game that sometimes sways recruits decisions by itself. So the younger players being nervous and anxious more so than any other game on the schedule is almost expected. At running back freshmen Jonathan Gray and Daje Johnson will be called upon to pick up some of the carries left by Brown. And at linebacker Dalton Santos could see some playing time. Heck, even Demarco Cobbs, Kendall Thompson and Steve Edmond are all rookies for as far as this game goes. These players filled in pretty well last week but Iâ€™ll be watching to see how well all these players react and play in one of the craziest college football atmospheres for their first or second times.
3. David Ash: We all, unfortunately, know what happened in last years Texas/OU game and how Ash performed. For those who need a refresher, he completed just 11 of 20 passes, for a whopping 107 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 terrible interceptions. But this is a new season with a much-improved David Ash who is not only playing very well but also emerging as the leader of the offense. If Texas wants to win then he will need to play just as he has all season. Avoiding turnovers, making throws when he needs to, and even carry the team if the run game stalls out, for whatever reasons. Playing West Virginia on your home field was one thing. But going back to a hostile environment against your biggest rival where you didnâ€™t play well and trying to win that game is a completely different task. Iâ€™m still confident in Ash, and Harsin for that matter, as this offense continues to call games well and move the chains. But this is another big test for Ash and another opportunity to prove he is the right guy to lead the offense and the team.
4. Offensive Line: I continue to get disappointed after each game with the offensive line play, specifically with their run blocking. They actually have done well giving Ash time to make throws. But with so much talent in the backfield, the offensive line continues to struggle with opening up holes and creating running lanes for the ball carriers. And unfortunately OUâ€™s defensive front is much stronger and better than WVUâ€™s. This game will be all about time of possession, ball control, and moving the chains. If this offensive line requires extra tackles or tight ends to help block then that could really limit what Harsin will want to do. And for the love of God, Espinosa, please do not snap the ball early againâ€¦ Thatâ€™s the last thing the Longhorns need in this Saturday.
5. Secondary: How could I not bring up the secondary? The same problems that plagued them in week 1 are still problems that havenâ€™t been fixed, and itâ€™s almost half way through the season (already? This is flying by). I think inserting Mykelle Thompson into the starting lineup will help as he adds solid tackling and doesnâ€™t shy away from getting physical. But as I pointed out earlier, sometimes this game can get to guys mentally who havenâ€™t played significantly in it before, and Thompson fits that criteria. But at this point Iâ€™d much rather have Thompson starting than Adrian Phillips. Regardless, I still canâ€™t put my finger on exactly what is wrong with this secondary other than they are still not playing with discipline and the basic fundamentals of tackling and pursuit angles. Maybe this is just the game to finally turn things around. Either way, avoiding the big plays in this game is huge. The problem is the secondary, and the defense for that matter, have given up multiple big plays in each game this seasonâ€¦ That canâ€™t happen in Dallas. And you better believe Mack and Manny will have them fired up more so than anytime this season.
Bonus Notes* Fera: Last week we got to see the Longhorns starting kicker who transferred from Penn State. This kid has a great leg and drilled a 38-yard field goal. But later in the game Fera missed a potential game tying field goal from 41 yards out, against a great opponent, when Texas really needed the points, in front of a packed stadium, in a prime time game. Look I didnâ€™t see Fera kick much last season, and I was very excited for the Longhorns to snag him away from Penn State because he has a great leg and has won multiple awards in college. But all Iâ€™m saying is that I hope he got over his miss last week and comes to Dallas mentally ready for what he may be called upon to do, or should I say to kick. He too has never played in this game and will only know what itâ€™s truly like when he steps into the stadium and onto the field.
Last weekendâ€™s game was tough to stomach. Texas had multiple chances to take the lead late in the game and come out of the prime-time match up with a win. But a botched snap, a missed field, and a poor defensive effort on WVUâ€™s last drive contributed to the 3 point lost to the Mountaineers.
Texas should already be over this loss and geared up for the game in Dallas on Saturday. Both these teams have 1 loss, respectively, to strong Big 12 opponents. Both of these teams have question marks floating around their depth chart. And both these teams want nothing more than to answer the questions marks and show the nation that they are the real deal and are still strong teams in this conference. With all of that said, I still feel good about the Longhorns this weekend. The fact that they were even able to compete with West Virginia shows you how far they have come from the past two seasons, and I like where they are headed.
This game is like no other game on the schedule and but coming out of this game with a â€œWâ€ would be a big step in improvement for the Longhorns. One of the biggest factors to watch for is how the freshman and inexperienced players perform this Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. Watching this game is one thing. Attending this game is another. But actually playing in it is something only the players who stepped onto that field can truly understand. And the mental strength of this team will be just as important as the physical strength of this team this weekend. I do not want to Longhorns playing to avoid a loss. Rather, as Herm Edwards once diligently said, â€œYou play to win the gameâ€¦ HELLO!â€ And thatâ€™s exactly what I want to see from the Longhorns: Playing to steamroll the Sooners.
The game on Saturday will be played in Dallas, Texas.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11:00 A.M. (CT)
Notable Injuries: LB Jordan Hicks (Questionable), RB Malcolm Brown (Questionable)
Join in on the conversation. What will you be looking for?