The Oklahoma Sooners are off to an undefeated start which includes impressive wins against Tennessee and West Virginia. They’re looking to keep their momentum going this week by avoiding an upset to their bitter rivals, the Texas Longhorns.
Texas is reeling. Consecutive last-minute losses to California and Oklahoma State seemingly broke their spirit. They had their doors blown off against TCU, and there’s a rift in the locker room growing with the 1-4 start. Which is the program’s worst start since 1956.
To add further insult to injury, Bevo will be absent this Saturday due to a serious health condition.
However, this is a rivalry game where you could throw both records out the window. It wouldn’t be the first time for Texas to shock OU. Expect the unexpected.
Although the signs point to that not necessarily being the case this year.
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26th at 11:00 AM CST
WHERE: Cotton Bowl Stadium (Dallas, TX)
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny, Wind NE 10-15 mph, Game Temp 87° F
BETTING LINE: Oklahoma -17 (O/U 61.5)
The Sooners have looked impressive while playing great football and defeating two Top 25 teams en route to an undefeated record. They’ve gone from a dark horse to at least some wondering if they just aren’t the best team in the conference. They certainly looked it by suffocating a talented West Virginia team last weekend.
Oklahoma’s return to the top of the conference has been behind the play of Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. He’s been playing lights out, and a far cry from the inconsistent QB that tumbled down the Red Raider depth chart. If it wasn’t for the emergence of QB Patrick Mahomes in Waco, Kliff Kingsbury could be under a little heat letting Mayfield get away. He’s completing 65.2% of his passes, and has a 13-3 touchdown to interception ratio.
The Sooners are looking to dismantle whatever is left of this Texas squad, and it all starts with Mayfield.
KEY PLAYERS FOR OKLAHOMA
Baker Mayfield – Growing up a Sooners fan and having been spurned by Texas, it’s safe to say that Baker Mayfield’s probably a bit emotional heading into this game. It will be important for him to remain composed early in this game and allow the offense to flow naturally and avoid turnovers. Despite all of the fanfare, recall that Mayfield struggled against Tennessee for the first three quarters of that game completing only 8 of 25 passes. If the running game is allowed to become established early, he should be quite comfortable in picking apart the Texas secondary at will.
Sterling Shepard – Having played on this stage thrice, Sterling Shepard only has a grand total of six catches totaling 69 yards and one touchdown to show for it. After witnessing what TCU’s KaVontae Turpin and Josh Doctson were able to do against this young secondary a week ago, you better believe Shepard’s looking to make up for lost time.
Eric Striker – Last week’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week has a great chance to win the award in consecutive weeks. Jerrod Heard has already been sacked 15 times this season and all signs indicate that Texas will again be without Kent Perkins on the offensive line. The backups have been less than adequate to put it mildly. In short, Striker can create a nightmare scenario for the Horns if allowed to roam the backfield freely.
OKLAHOMA’S KEYS TO THE GAME
It Keeps You Runnin’ – The Sooners have the luxury of putting two thoroughbred running backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon on the field at their desire. Establishing the run early will help alleviate pressure from Baker Mayfield’s shoulders and allow the offense to hit its stride.
Don’t Change That Song – Despite the records, this is a huge rivalry and thus a very emotional game. There’s no need to be cute and let the Longhorns hang around like Tulsa was able to. Patiently running their offense, while avoiding costly mistakes and turnovers which may aid the Longhorns, will all but extinguish any hopes Texas has of keeping this game close.
WHAT SOONER FANS WANT TO SEE
Killer instinct. This is a game that Oklahoma should be able to win by taking control early. The Longhorns gave up 605 yards a week ago, with 228 of them coming on the ground. Placing some emphasis on the run will be a welcome sight amongst a nervous fan base clamoring for more offensive balance. Minimizing turnovers and penalties, along with a strong defensive effort, should help keep this game from becoming an exciting one.
The Longhorns appear to be a program in total chaos at the moment. As if losing 50-7 at TCU wasn’t bad enough, the team is tearing itself apart before everyone’s eyes on social media. The rift between freshmen and upperclassmen couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
A victory against Oklahoma would do wonders in helping Strong calm the growing storm, if only for a moment.
KEY PLAYERS FOR TEXAS
Jerrod Heard – This team lives and dies with their young quarterback. His ability to move the ball with his legs affords Texas the luxury of creating a passing game with sub par components. Heard must effectively guide his team in prolonging drives and increasing time of possession to be successful.
D’Onta Foreman/ Johnathan Gray – Gray is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry this year while Foreman ran for 112 yards on 18 carries against TCU. In order to decrease the pressure on Jerrod Heard, it will be necessary for the Texas running game to produce. Establishing the run will lengthen Heard’s leash and allow the Texas offense to be more explosive. It will also help keep the deadly Oklahoma offense on the sideline.
TEXAS’ KEYS TO THE GAME
Get Lucky – One bright spot for this team has been its surprising turnover margin, forcing ten turnovers on the year. Texas had two defensive touchdowns against Oklahoma State which kept them in contention until the waning moments of the game. They’ll need more of the same in order to keep them in the thick of things this week.
Keep It Clean – The Horns cannot afford ill-timed mistakes to ruin any modicum of momentum on either side of the ball. They’ll need to maintain their composure in order to prolong offensive drives and prevent the Sooners from doing the same in kind. When facing an opponent with superior talent, minimizing penalties is an absolute necessity. This team cannot afford to get in its own way and provide the Sooners with any extra opportunities.
Under Pressure – The Texas defense is averaging only 1.4 sacks and 74 tackles for loss per game. Texas also currently ranks 122nd nationally in third-down defense. And that’s after holding TCU to 5-of-13 on third downs last Saturday. In order to keep this game competitive it’s imperative for someone other than Hassan Ridgeway to create some defensive pressure on the surging Sooners offense.
WHAT LONGHORN FANS WANT TO SEE
Effort and responsibility. Very few flags, a consistent offensive attack, and a solid defensive effort. There needs to be some semblance of offensive flow despite the aforementioned injuries. Improvement in time of possession is a must and would go a long way to alleviate many of the apparent defensive woes. Vance Bedford’s defense must provide a solid effort and display defensive pressure in order to command respect. The effort must come forth from all players, regardless of classification.
A spirited effort from Jerrod Heard will keep this game interesting early on. Texas has a few bright spots of talent to build upon but ultimately that’s not nearly enough against a Sooners team that is currently on fire. Overconfidence and hubris from the Sooners might be the best chance the Longhorns have to keep this game close in the end. There is simply a dearth of talent in burnt orange when it’s flowing over the brim in crimson and cream. The Sooners should have total control of this game by the end of the third quarter and Texas will continue its trip on the downward spiral.