Texas-Oklahoma: What To Watch For

Ronald Martinez - Getty Images

Five aspects of Saturday's match-up to keep in mind.

Horns_bullet_mediumWhich running game will be more productive? The winner of the Red River Rivalry has been relatively easy to identify from the box score in the Mack Brown era. Since the current Texas head coach made his way from North Carolilna, the team with more rushing yards has won every game except for 2007, when the Sooners emerged with a victory and the same number of rush yards as the Longhorns.

The statistic certainly favors the "visiting" 'Horns, as Texas has the fifth-best rushing attack in the country by the S&P + rankings and is averaging 209 yards per game, good for 28th in the country. On the other hand, Oklahoma is ranked 37th in the country in rushing S&P+ and is averaging 191 yards per game on the ground. A caveat though -- 349 of the team's 767 rushing yards came against Florida A&M, an FCS opponent. In the last two weeks, the ground game has been much less productive.

Texas has had well-documented problems stopping the run over the last several weeks, but if the tackling can continue to improve, as well as getting better play from the linebackers, the Longhorns should have a chance to stop a group that is missing several starters on the offensive line and features a running back in JUCO transfer Damien Williams who has plenty of explosiveness and escapability, but averaged less than 3.5 rushing yards per game against the last two opponents.

In terms of the two defenses, Oklahoma hasn't been nearly as good stopping the run as they've been stopping the pass, so the Longhorns appear to have the clear advantage on the ground.

Horns_bullet_mediumWhich Landry Jones will show up? Other than the late fumble in 2010, Jones has been excellent against the Longhorns in the last two years, notably avoiding a single interception, even against that experienced secondary two years ago.

But Jones has had his fair share of high-profile mistakes, almost single-handedly losing the game against Kansas State.

With pocket presence that has come under intense fire from the Sooner fanbase, if Texas can get penetration inside and some strong plays by the defensive ends, Texas has a good chance of disrupting Jones' rhythm and putting him in situations where he is prone to making game-changing mistakes.

If Bad Landry shows up, the result could well end up being the same as the Kansas State game.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas get Daje Johnson and DJ Monroe involved? The two hybrid wide receiver/running backs on the roster for the Longhorns got only three touches in the West Virginia game, all of them going to Johnson, who had the longest catch of the night on a catch-and-run down the sideline for 46 yards.

As teams has started to take away the jet sweep by overplaying it in the last several weeks, the available touches for Monroe have decreased, as he lacks the same versatility as the true freshman.

Can Bryan Harsin continue to find more ways to get the ball to Johnson, who is one of the most explosive players on the team? If teams are taking away the jet sweep, are there any ways to utilize Monroe?

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Texas receivers win one-on-one matchups? Ranked second in the country against the pass in the S&P+ rankings, though a bit lower on passing downs, and will be the best secondary Texas has faced this season.

Harsin can work around that by continuing to target the running backs in the passing game, but there will be points in the game when the wide receivers have to win their individual match-ups to get the explosive plays that the 'Horns will need to emerge from the Cotton Bowl with the victory.

It's a significant challenge, but with the Sooners expected to load up the box to stop the run -- as every other opponent has done -- there won't be a lot of safety help available.

Horns_bullet_mediumWho can deal with or create the swings in momentum? There's not really anything in college football like the Cotton Bowl, with the two fanbases split exactly down the middle. The result is that big plays can change the game more than they would in a normal environment, swinging momentum from one side of the stadium to the other.

The Longhorns have done a solid job of protecting the football, while the defense has come through with some important turnovers, especially the two forced fumbles against West Virginia.

Whether it ends up being an interception, forced fumble, special teams play, or just a long touchdown run to stem Oklahoma momentum, if Texas can make those big plays, the impact on the game will be greater than in a normal environment.

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