Red River Rivalry week- For the first time since 1999, neither OU nor Texas is ranked in the Top 10 entering this match-up. Both have one loss. Both lost that game at home. This game has huge implications for both teams, none of which have anything to do with the national title.
Nope, it comes down to the conference, and either school wants a chance to win the Big 12, it starts with this game against their biggest rival.
The Oklahoma Pessimist
Oklahoma went on the road last week and got a win against previously unbeaten Texas Tech. But, was it due to drastic offensive improvement as some want to think?
Coming off his best performance of the season, Landry Jones was 25-of-40 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. For some quarterbacks in college football, that would be a great day and a confidence builder. However, Jones has had those stats at the half of some games in his career. Those hoping this performance is a confidence builder should realize that could mean bad things for the rest of this season. If a four-year starting quarterback, for Oklahoma, needs a confidence booster before his fourth and final contest against OU’s biggest rival (according to most in the college football world), it could be a long day with the type of defense Texas brings into this year’s Red River Rivalry.
OU’s defense is playing much better against the pass (ninth nationally with 160.5 yds/gm) since Mike Stoops returned to the sidelines as OU’s defensive coordinator. However, the rush defense is suspect (56th nationally at 142.5 yds/gm). Texas, as usual, likes to run first, pass later (25th in rushing with 209.4 yds/gm). So, as usual, this game will be won in the trenches.
Final thought: With OU being the weakest and thinnest it has been in a long time on the defensive line, the fear is Texas will be able to control the ball on the ground, forcing Jones and the OU offense to press with fewer possessions to score points. This might cause turnovers similar to the Kansas State game — turnovers that proved fatal.
Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma 28
The Texas Pessimist
Texas is coming off three games in which the defense has allowed at least 31 points. Giving up 31 (Ole Miss), 36 (Oklahoma State) and then 48 in last week’s loss to West Virginia, the Texas defense finds itself in unfamiliar territory.
Even in the game against Oklahoma St. (which Texas won 41-36), it could be argued that Texas benefitted from a blown call or would already be 3-2. Both Oklahoma St. and West Virginia were able to move the ball up and down the field almost at will (558 and 469 total yards, respectively), which doesn’t bode well when going up against OU.
But, with the 25th-best offense nationally in terms of yardage, Texas has been able to cover for an unusually bad defense (71st in total defense). Head Coach Mack Brown still likes to control the ball on the ground, but the offense is much more balanced this year than the last few years (25th in rushing, 38th in passing) — a testament of sorts to quarterback David Ash’s growth.
Final thought: If Texas can’t control the ball on the ground and keep the Oklahoma offense off the field, Texas could very well lose its third-straight Red River Rivalry game and need to do a little soul searching before facing Baylor next week.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Texas 28
The Oklahoma Optimist
Coming off its lone loss of the season, Oklahoma took the bye week to correct some issues and get back on track. From there, OU stormed into Lubbock and dominated a 41-20 win.
Jones and the offense got back on track with 381 yards of offense in just over 29 minutes. The defense also showed flashes of an OU defense of old, wrecking havoc and picking off Seth Doege three times.
Off the field, Oklahoma received some exciting news this week as transfer wide receiver Jalen Saunders (Fresno St.) was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Saunders was the leading pass catcher for Fresno last season, but transferred after a coaching change. He should step in right away at the slot and allow Kenny Stills to get more snaps on the outside. Of its top five, OU now has two transfers in its receiver rotation. With more talent added to the receiving corp, it should only help to open up more holes for the rushing attack.
Final thought: With OU coming off a win on the road, and Texas getting beat at home, OU will use its recent success to power through its rival from Austin.
Prediction: OU- 41 Tex- 24
The Texas Optimist
Texas comes into the game averaging 46.8 points. This is impressive when you think about the style that Mack Brown likes to play — smash-mouth offense (controlling the game on the ground) and smash-mouth defense (controlling the game upfront).
OU/Texas rarely turns into shootouts, which should benefit Texas. These games are usually based on who is better upfront and can control the game on both sides of the ball. Between Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, Texas has gained 545 yards on the ground. Even with these two pounding it on the ground, the wild card may very well be David Ash. Ash went from a struggling freshman to one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NCAA (77% completion, 11 TD and 1 INT) so far this year.
Final thought: If Texas can control the game on the ground, hit the occasional big play down the field and have Ash continue smart play, Texas will break the two-game losing skid to the Sooners.
Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma 21
The Oklahoma Realist
After losing to K-State (which seems forever ago), Oklahoma had to win at Texas Tech to keep any hope alive of playing in the national championship. First mission accomplished.
Next, here comes Texas, which struggled on defense at home last week against West Virginia. The Mountaineers spread the field and ran an up-tempo style offense, which is what Oklahoma wants to do. If the Sooners truly did find its offensive rhythm in Lubbock, Jones and OU should be able to move the ball with ease. Even so, it could depend on which defense shows up for the Sooners that makes the difference. Will it be the defense that looked dominant against Tech, causing turnovers left and right? Or, will it be the defense that didn’t necessarily break against K-State, but just wasn’t good enough when it mattered as the game slipped away?
Final thought: Oklahoma comes in with confidence after a stellar performance, looking to prove it wasn’t a one-time thing. Texas comes in searching for an identity on defense, which is never good heading into a rivalry game. OU won’t let the Longhorns establish that identity in this game.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Texas 21
The Texas Realist
Texas comes in with a much more confidant quarterback than last year at this time. It also comes in with a powerful rushing attack and potent passing attack — something that has been lacking in recent seasons.
However, the weakest link to this team has been the defense. There is no denying that Manny Diaz’s defense has struggled mightily to this point. In fact, Diaz may be coaching for his job if the defense show improvement compared to the last two weeks (when they were throttled both on the ground and through the air). If there is one constant for Texas football, it’s having a tough, in-your-face defense. Being ranked 71st in total defense isn’t what Texas fans are used to, nor do they want to get used to it.
Final thought: The Red River Rivalry is not the game you want on the horizon with questions on defense. The talent is there on both sides of the ball; UT fans are just waiting for that talent to show up in a meaningful game this year. Could this be that game?
Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma 27
PAST HEAD GAMES:
- New to Head Games? Check out the first edition, where we offer a primer in addition to the column itself: Kansas State at Oklahoma