As much fun as it is debating whether we hate Bob Stoops, chafe, or mail-in rebates the most (tough call, but I go with Stoops), it's time to get into the nitty gritty of this game.
First things first - this is the biggest game of the season, for so many reasons. Even if you took away our outside chance of playing for the BCS title game, this game still remains the biggest of the season. Win this game and Texas can still lose one game and beat out Oklahoma for the BCS South crown. We'll get into what this game means later, but let's dive into the positional matchups as a warmup.
Quarterback: Colt McCoy vs Paul Thompson
Probably the key to the game, really. McCoy need not be a superhero Saturday, but he'll need to be better than Ohio State. I think there's more pressure on Thompson, as any effectiveness he adds to the game makes containing AP that much harder. With Texas' edge in run defense, whatever Thompson can bring adds more to their potency.
Statistically, both quarterbacks have been above average. The biggest difference between the two seems to be that McCoy is more accurate, while Thompson is throwing down the field more. We don't have much of a feel for McCoy's deep ball capabilities yet, primarily because Texas hasn't tried many deep balls.
For those that want to discuss Thompson's athleticism, let the record show that he's not running much at all, if any. On the few occasions the Sooners have run the option, Thompson's been no better than McCoy. He's just not a natural runner. He's been a better passer than expected, and not as good a runner.
Add it all up, and there's no real advantage here. It's the first start at quarterback in this game for both players, nullifying that potential edge for Thompson. EDGE: EVEN
Peterson might be the best back in the nation, so there's got to be some sort of edge here for the Sooners, right? Maybe, but it's not a big one. Whatever edge the Sooners have because they possess college football's best power-speed runner, they lose because Texas maintains one of the nation's best overall rushing attacks.
One wonders, though, whether the injury to Selvin Young will limit his action, or hamper his effectiveness. If that's the case, the brunt of the load goes to Jamaal Charles. While we absolutely love Charles, if Selvin's hurt, it's going to be a lot to ask of the sophomore Charles. Can he handle it? The consensus seems to be that he's best suited used 15-20 carries per game, but that's just a hypothesis - he hasn't yet been asked to do more.
The bottom line here is that both teams possess big time talent at tailback. The real battle will be between the two lines. EDGE: Oklahoma, slight
Texas Receivers vs Oklahoma Secondary
The Sooner secondary has been solid enough against their lesser opponents, but they were run off the field against Oregon in Eugene. They'll need to be on their A-game Saturday, because they won't play against a more talented group of receivers the rest of this season. Limas Sweed has been the Big 12's best to this point in the season, while Pittman, Shipley, and Cosby are all potential stars on any given Saturday.
The real key to the game may be how well Texas uses Sir Michael Finley, who will eventually develop into an unstoppable tight end force. So far, he's just dipping his toes in the pool, but there wouldn't be a better game for him to really break out. With Oklahoma's secondary able to be exploited, and Stoops' likely to put pressure on McCoy as often as possible, Finley could be a lethal weapon over the middle of the field, where he's very difficult to defend.
Stoops will throw everything but the kitchen sink at this game, so Texas and McCoy need to be ready to exploit this advantage. Still, as with most in this matchup, it's not a big one. EDGE: Texas, slight
Oklahoma Receivers vs Texas Secondary
Anyone miss Michael Huff yet? I sure do. Here's the thing. Aaron Ross and Tarrell Brown are more than capable at cornerback. They're not all-world, but they're well above average. The problem right now is that Michael Griffin may be best suited as a free safety, and not a strong safety. It's not really a knock on Griffin, who's a great football player, either. But I'm starting to wonder whether Texas ought to consider moving Mike Griffin back to free safety and trying someone else at strong safety.
Forget that thought, though, because it's not gonna happen. I just can't see Akina going with Robert Joseph as a starter at this point, though the freshman has been very impressive already. The Horns are going to go with the Griffin brothers, rotating Joseph and Matt Melton as needed.
There's going to be opportunities for Oklahoma down the field, because I think we'll see Mike Griffin on AP-support quite a bit on Saturday. That's a role he's well suited for, but again, it's going to leave some opportunities on the edges and down the field for Malcolm Kelly. If Thompson can take advantage of it, the Sooners can have some aerial success. EDGE: Oklahoma, slight
Texas Offensive Line vs Oklahoma Defensive Line
The Longhorn offensive line is off to a terrific start. Everyone's healthy, they've allowed only four sacks, and the team has run at will on everyone - that includes Ohio State. Meanwhile, the Sooners have only sacked the opposing quarterbacks five times this season. If we take away the Middle Tennessee State game, opponents have rushed for an alarming 4.5 yards per rush on the Sooners.
This is a decisive advantage for Texas, and one the 'Horns can, and should, exploit. Not only -should- Texas run the ball, but Texas -will- run the ball. It's absolutely true that the Sooner secondary can be had on the deep ball, but it's got to be timed right. Texas will be best served by running the ball at Oklahoma until they're 100%, 8-in-the-box committed to stopping it. That's when Texas needs to stretch the field, ideally with some play action.
If the Texas line comes out, gets physical, and controls the line of scrimmage, OU's going to be forced to win a shootout. That's just not how they want this game to go. EDGE: Texas
Oklahoma Offensive Line vs Texas Defensive Line
Illumination by contrast: the Horns have sacked the opposing quarterback 17 times this season, or just over four per game. The Horns even managed to drag down Troy Smith three times during the loss. And against the run? Forget it. Not even Ohio State could muster much of a running game (79 yards on 29 carries). For the season, Texas has allowed 183 yards on 129 rushes. Dominance.
The Sooners have rushed the ball rather well, of course, and one thing Peterson's done well is stay strong as the second half wears on. This is just one of the many reasons why Oklahoma doesn't want this game to get into a shootout. They want to keep this game close and relatively low scoring so they can try to wear down Texas' defense with heavy doses of Peterson.
Oklahoma's line has done a solid job so far, but they've yet to go up against a team with a good defensive line. That's going to change on Saturday, and it's going to put some real pressure on Paul Thompson to make some plays. OU's chances hinge on his ability to perform. EDGE: Texas
Texas has the edge in this ball game because of the edges in the lines. These games are so physical, and so often decided by who dominates the line of scrimmage. The Horns absolutely murdered OU's offensive line last year, a huge concern for the Sooners. On the opposite side of the ball, the Texas offensive line is elite, and OU's defensive line is good, but not outstanding.
Those advantages are the two most important ones, and afford Texas some wiggle room in this matchup. Texas can't be too conservative, but they also can afford to give the Dominate The Game Physically strategy every chance to work. OU's best shot to take out Texas is to jump to an early lead. That would put the pressure on Texas and could significantly alter the mental aspect of the game. If the Horns keep OU's offense in check early, though, and put up some points in the first quarter, that plays right into the team's strengths.
For now, the edge is Texas', but in these kinds of games, it comes down to execution more than anything else. OU's plenty capable of beating Texas if the Horns aren't having a good day. If Texas brings its A-game, you have to like our chances of winning.