Through the years, the Red River Rivalry has been played for school bragging rights, state bragging rights, conference championships and has even helped propel the winner to national championships. But, perhaps no game before has had as much riding on it for two coaches whose seasons and jobs may ride on the outcome.
Bob Stoops has been under fire off and on the past few years, and last year’s trip to the playoffs and the preseason number three ranking had seemingly solidified his job security. However, it also raised expectations. Expectations that have not been met. After losses to Houston and Ohio State and a 1-2 start, the wolves were once again howling in Norman. Last weeks victory over TCU brings the Sooners into Dallas with a 2-2 record, and with a victory over Texas and a Big 12 Championship still for the taking, Stoops can once again quiet the wolves for another year.
If Stoops seat is hot, Charlie Strong’s seat is molten lava red. The past two seasons have seen highs and lows for Strong at Texas. I know what you’re thinking, ‘What day was the high?’ The lows are easy to spot. Like last year’s shutout loss to Iowa State, and losses to California and Oklahoma State this year. However, there were highs, like last season’s victory over Oklahoma and Baylor, and this year’s Notre Dame win.
Once again, he is in need of a win Saturday, desperately, as the Charlie Strong era is teetering on a cliff with no safety net below.
Date/Time: October 8, 2016 11:00 am
Where: Cotton Bowl Dallas, Texas
Forecast: Partly Sunny, 74 degrees, winds ENE 9 mph
TV: Fox Sports 1
Betting Line: Oklahoma -10 O/U – 74
Could OU run the table in the Big 12, finish 10-2 and become the first 2 loss team to make the playoff grid? It’s two losses to Houston and Ohio State certainly would hold up against any other potential two loss team that would be in the running. However, with a lot of football left to be played, that is a discussion for down the road.
The pressing questions for the Sooners right now are not too different from those for the Longhorns. The defense has been porous, especially against the pass. They gave up 46 points in a winning effort over TCU last week.
The running game has been hit and miss, which also describes how often offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is using them. When Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can find running lanes, the Sooners usually win. How the defensive secondary and the offensive line perform will go a long way to determining how Oklahoma fares on Saturday.
Keys To The Game
Get The Run Game Going – Through the Sooner’s first four games a definite trend is forming. In their two victories the running game has averaged 274 yards per game. In their two losses, the run only accounted for 123.5 yards per game. OU needs to establish the run early, especially against a Texas team with a weak interior front. Then they need to keep going back to the well.
Find A Defense, Any defense – The Sooners rank 103rd in the country in scoring defense giving up 35.25 points per game. That stat is even more shocking when you see they are tied with Kansas. As in the Jayhawks. Not exactly the standard-bearer for defense.
Freshman newcomer Parrish Cobb has been a frequent target of opposing teams. But we don’t need to explain to Texas fans about youngsters in the secondary. Wide receiver-turned-cornerback Michiah Quick will start for the second week in a row after a good showing against TCU. Still, OU is #116 against the pass and Texas will look early and often downfield. With Texas missing part of its backfield, they may seek to pass more than ever and OU must be up to the task.
Emotion? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Emotion – Stoops railed against his team for coming out flat last year in the loss to the ‘Horns. As unbelievable as it may seem in such a huge rivalry and conference game, Stoops said his players had no energy and played with no sense of urgency. Check your pulse boys. If you can’t get up for this game, go ahead and turn in your jock.
After opening the year with a victory over Notre Dame in overtime on national TV, the national media, declared the Horns were back. Oops.
Despite a true freshman quarterback, freshmen and sophomores throughout the two-deep roster, Texas was coming to crash the party they had been missing the past few years. Everything was roses on the 40 Acres.
It wasn’t just losing, but how they have lost that has the fan boards churning. The Texas defense gets in nobody’s way, but its own. In the two losses and the win over Notre Dame, the defense has allowed an average of 48.7 points per game. That dog wont hunt in any level of football. Especially not at the University of Texas, and certainly not for a team whose head coach made his reputation with good defenses.
At this week’s news conference, Strong announced that he would take over as coordinator and defensive play caller. Current defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will now coach the secondary along with Clay Jennings. What difference this will make, if any, is what everyone wants to see on Saturday.
Keys To The Game
Keep It Under 40 – In the Big 12, the first team to 40 typically wins (Sorry Iowa State).
The Texas defense has allowed 1,062 yards 99 points in the last two games. That’s not good. That’s the kind of stats that have Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield chomping at the bit to get on the field. Mayfield is completing 67.9 of his passes so far and is averaging 266.8 yards per game. The Texas defense has allowed 12 passing touchdowns and gives up 274.8 yards per game. There is no doubt which position group is under the most pressure this week.
Coach Strong promptly announced changes to the secondary after taking over the defense. Holton Hill will make his first start of the year at cornerback. Brandon Jones will start at the nickel position and Kevin Vaccaro will replace Dylan Haines at strong safety. Jason Hall will start at free safety. The good news for the defense is Texas averages 41 points a game. Keep it under 40 boys, and while you may not go down as an all time great defense, you will give the offense a fighting chance.
Can Texas Score 40? – The Texas offense is currently ranked 23rd in scoring at 41.25 points per game. A big part of that has been the running of the Smash Brothers, D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III. They will be down one brother this week as Warren will be out for an undetermined amount of time.
Foreman (62-436-5 TD) leads the team in rushing despite missing a game and is averaging 145 yards per game. True freshman Kyle Porter will take Warren’s place in the rotation. While not a big bruiser like Foreman and Warren, Porter can make people miss and has some wiggle and will be relied upon for a change of pace. In limited action thus far, he has 62 yards on 15 carries.
Of course, when a bruiser is need, look no further than the 18 Wheeler himself, Tyrone Swoopes. Swoopes provides punch from the QB position and excels in short yardage, 3rd down and goal line situations. QB Shane Buechele will hope to take advantage of the porous OU secondary. Shane has passed for 959 yards and 8 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions, averaging 240 yards per game. The long pass was strangely absent last week, leading some to speculate that Buechele’s ribs were still hurt from hits taken in the California game. The long shots downfield to wide receivers John Burt and Armanti Foreman need to be back in the playbook this week to bring back some big plays to the offense.
Where’s Your Head At? – It has been a tumultuous couple weeks around the Texas locker room. None more so than this week leading up to the game. Once again there are questions about Strong’s job security and changes have been made to the coaching staff. It sounds very similar to this time last year. But there is a louder, more foreboding buzz this year and the specter of a coaching change and the name of Tom Herman floating around the locker room cannot be good for morale. Can a young team such as the Longhorns put all the noise and speculation out of their head one more time and play the game of their life against their main rival?
Rivalry games are always a tricky thing to predict. Combine the talk, speculation, youth, uneven play of both teams thus far and the rivalry atmosphere and just about anything can happen. At this point, I think Oklahoma is just a little better on offense than the Longhorns and both defenses are equally bad. Advantage OU.
Charlie Strong seems to be able to scheme well against Bob Stoops and find a way to keep it close. Oklahoma has come into the Red River Rivalry a double-digit favorite the last 4 years and has lost 2 of the last 3. After an opening line of Oklahoma -6.5, the betting line has now made Texas a double-digit underdog once again at +10.
Texas has them right where they want them.
Don’t give up the gold sombrero yet, Charlie. Texas 41-38.