Texas rode into Dallas in the midst of one of the darkest periods in the program’s history. Fresh off of a 50-7 drubbing at the hands of TCU, the Longhorns were off to their worst start in 59 years and more than a two-touchdown underdog to the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners. They didn’t do themselves any favors by publicly airing their dirty laundry to reporters and bickering with one another on social media either. Many pundits, and fans alike, were openly questioning the efficacy of the Charlie Strong regime only eighteen games into his tenure.
The Red River Shootout/Rivalry/Showdown has historically been a stage where you expect the unexpected. But if anyone other than Strong, or his staff, tells you they saw this coming then they are lying to you. Considering the aforementioned wave of negativity, the 24-17 victory for Strong’s Horns against the 10th-ranked Sooners was about as unexpected as a lightning bolt appearing out of a clear blue sky. But that’s exactly what the announced crowd of 91,546 witnessed, and even more surprising was the way in which the victory unfolded.
This season Texas has shown a woefully inconsistent offensive line, and at times punchless running game. But on Saturday those two units powered Jay Norvell’s offense to 313 dominant rushing yards. In his first rivalry game against Oklahoma, Jerrod Heard finished with 115 rushing yards on 21 carries, ten of which converted first downs. Though the passing game appeared to be an afterthought, it was efficient when called upon. Heard maintained his composure against an attacking defense and completed eight of his eleven pass attempts, including a 24 yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson. Tyrone Swoopes got into the act as well scoring two touchdowns in a role eerily similar to OU’s former “Belldozer” package.
As ABC pointed out during the game, the Longhorns defense may have benefited greatly from telegraphed tips based on the body positioning of OU’s tackles. But that alone cannot explain the fashion in which the Horns manhandled an offensive line that had only given up 10 total sacks in the first four games of the season. Vance Bedford’s much maligned defense put in work against the Sooners offensive line, storming their way to six sacks on quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Sooners line was unable to provide Mayfield the protection necessary to allow him to exploit the young and inexperienced Texas secondary. Down 14-0 early, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon only received 16 carries and were mostly ineffective getting anywhere beyond the line of scrimmage.
|3rd Down Eff||3-12||9-16|
|4th Down Eff||1-1||0-0|
|Yds Per Pass||6.2||3.9|
|Yds Per Rush||1.8||5.4|
KEY POINT IN THE GAME
7:44 of the first quarter. After taking a surprising 7-0 lead, Texas’ Kevin Vacarro caused Alex Ross to fumble on the ensuing kickoff return and the ball was recovered by Nick Jordan of the Longhorns. If the first touchdown hadn’t established the fact that Texas showed up ready to play, then this play hammered the point home. Seven plays later Tyrone Swoopes bruised his way into the end zone to take a stunning 14-0 lead against the heavily favored Sooners. This lead allowed the Longhorns offense to be patient and establish their powerful running game which kept the Sooner offense off the field. This in turn took a lot of responsibility directly off the young shoulders of Jerrod Heard and required him to pass the ball without much pressure to make a big play.
POSITIVES FOR TEXAS
Under duress most of the week, Charlie Strong’s team has proven they can work together to overcome major adversity. Many believed that this team would succumb to its own deficiencies and the apparent rift growing between its players. Credit Strong and his coaching staff for pulling this team together and creating a masterful game plan which was executed perfectly by a very motivated team. They played with great confidence and passion, won the turnover battle, kept penalties to a minimum, and finished a complete game against an excellent opponent.
NEGATIVES FOR TEXAS
The day had very few, if any, negatives for Texas. If one were to nitpick you could say that the unbalanced offense could be a point for future concern. The passing game was rarely called upon due to the luxury of an early 14-0 lead. But the upcoming schedule will have moments that call for some more offense in order to keep up. The onus to produce will fall squarely on Jerrod Heard’s shoulders. This is definitely something to keep an eye on.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR TEXAS
Hope. Finally getting a signature victory, as a huge underdog, against their most bitter rival has to feel good. While not season defining, this victorious performance could be the catalyst to changing the outlook on the remaining schedule. This game will either be seen as a bright blip on an otherwise dull radar screen, or as the true beginning of the Charlie Strong era at Texas. It’s up to this team to decide their own fate at this point. After Saturday, the fans have reason to be encouraged about what the future might hold.
POSITIVES FOR OKLAHOMA
The positive story-line for this team has to be that they were able to remain in this game despite digging a big hole for themselves early. Despite all of the momentum swinging the way of burnt orange for the majority of the game, they were within striking distance throughout. Though unsuccessful, Baker Mayfield did everything within his power to will his Sooners to victory.
NEGATIVES FOR OKLAHOMA
Where to start? The offense got off to a slow start and once again failed to establish the running game against a defense that had been allowing approximately 211 rushing yards per game. There was a costly holding penalty which nullified an interception and allowed Texas to continue its first touchdown drive of the game. The special teams fumbled on the ensuing kickoff which set Texas up for a quick second touchdown. The offensive line struggled mightily at times, even with Hassan Ridgeway on the sideline due to injury. The defensive line was bullied into submission by a makeshift offensive line missing its best player in Kent Perkins.
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR OKLAHOMA
How could this happen? Just a week ago this team looked like a serious threat to TCU and Baylor for the conference crown, and Texas seemed destined for the opposite end of the spectrum. Bob Stoops indicated he would use their 2013 upset loss against Texas as a reminder of what could happen if his team didn’t come into the game ready and prepared. The Sooners were favored for a third straight year, and for a third straight year the underdog Longhorns outplayed the Sooners.
The goal of winning a conference title, due to strong upcoming conference opponents, is still possible. However, the Sooners have some serious issues to address if they plan to remain in contention. In Lincoln Riley’s offense the rushing attack, which was a strength just a season ago, has definitely taken a back seat. With stud running backs in Perine and Mixon, the lack of rushing production due to Riley’s game planning seems to be inexcusable. Especially considering the fact that this offensive line has given up 16 sacks on the season. But perhaps therein lies the problem, this offensive line may just not be that good overall.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Though this was a complete team effort, you have to give Jerrod Heard credit for giving this team a reason to believe. His play was indicative of the belief that the Longhorns had that they would be victorious. He coolly exuded confidence while leading his team down the field as if he’d been there times before. Heard played within himself without forcing any plays or creating any turnovers.
EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK
This game always produces such elation…or pain.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 11, 2015
Kevin Durant trash talks Oklahoma fans on Twitter after Texas wins http://t.co/zzVbg3lpaz
— Distinct Athlete (@DistinctAthlete) October 11, 2015
The reason Texas won. Clearly.
— SI Extra Mustard (@SI_ExtraMustard) October 10, 2015
Getting that signature win had to be a relief for Charlie Strong.