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Five Things to Watch Against Oklahoma

Horns_bullet_mediumIt is Oklahoma that now has the fragile psyche going into this game? The dynamics of the Red River Rivalry have changed over the years -- during the long losing streak for Texas, it seemed that Bob Stoops was the superior coach and his players more confident, possessing more belief in their ability to dominate the game. Vince Young and the 2005 team helped start to swing the tide towards the Longhorns. Brian Robison helped a bit too by splattering Rhett Bomar. No longer did Texas walk onto the field in the Cotton Bowl and already looked whipped even before the coin toss.

Two more victories later for the Longhorns and many big-game losses later for the artist formerly known as "Big Game Bob"  and now it appears that the Longhorns have the upper hand, with the Texas players now believing in themselves and the OU players more mentally fragile, nowhere more apparent than in the fourth quarter last year when the Longhorns imposed their will upon a tired and compliant Sooner team.

This season, the Sooners have been characterized by penalties and mental breakdowns, particularly in the secondary. If the Longhorns throw a haymaker to Stoopsy's weak chin, will Oklahoma fight back or roll over?

Horns_bullet_mediumHow do the Longhorns put pressure on the OU back seven? It's no secret at this point that Brent Venables doesn't think particularly well on his feet. As Scipio Tex mentioned in one of the podcasts this week, his default reaction to big situations is to blitz, a decision that will play into the hands of Colt McCoy and one that runs contrary to the current book on how to defend the Longhorns. The other factor is that, even after Ryan Reynolds went down last season, Venables continued to defend Jordan Shipley in the flex with a linebacker. OU doesn't exactly have much depth in the secondary, so that might preclude Oklahoma from using much nickel again on Saturday, playing into the hands of Greg Davis.

How do the Longhorns exploit the probable mismatches they can create? Since it will likely be difficult to run the ball, does Davis use more empty sets with burners like DJ Monroe and Marquise Goodwin? Dan Buckner is entrenched in the flex now, so moving Shipley there again doesn't make much sense, but does Shipley stay at split end, where he will surely face a safety over the top? Or does Davis move him around like he moved Quan Cosby around in the Fiesta Bow? With two safeties deep and one occupied by Shipley, the seam should open up for Buckner down the middle of the field and if it does, Texas should exploit it relentlessly.

As TES points out well, the OU back seven is also susceptible to play-action and misdirection, neither of which the Longhorns are particularly good at, but perhaps Davis has kept something up his sleeve so far this season. It doesn't seem like much of a stretch considering the vanilla offense Texas has been running at the start of the season.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Longhorns score a non-offensive touchdown? The 2008 game turned on Jordan Shipley's kickoff return for a touchdown and this year's game could follow suit, as Texas has scored a non-offensive touchdown in every game but Wyoming and Earl Thomas intercepted Sam Bradford two times last year, accounting for 25% of Bradford's interceptions for the entire season.Thomas has four interceptions in the last three games and seems like he's finally put everything together after dropping several potential interceptions early in the season -- this is the Earl Thomas that Texas fans anticipated after numerous stories during the off-season about how he was consistently picking off Colt McCoy.

How will Oklahoma handle punts? The Sooners cover punts extremely well and do so by getting downfield quickly, a dangerous tactic if they decide not to block Goodwin, who blocked one punt against Colorado last week and almost blocked two more -- the Buffaloes did not decide to block him until the Longhorns put on the return that lead to Shipley's touchdown. If Oklahoma decides to commit resources to protecting the punter, it gives Shipley a much better shot to take one to the house.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the defensive line put pressure on Bradford? Last season, it was pressure in the face of Bradford that helped the Longhorns pull away and slow down the prolific Sooner offense. This season, the offensive line has been having major problems and now has to replace injured starter Brian Simmons. Can Sergio Kindle take advantage of Jarvis Jones at right tackle, just like the Miami speed rushers did? Furthermore, does Muschamp finally move Kindle around more in this game, as he promised to do before the season, or is that even necessary given how poorly the OU o-line has played at times? What about blitz packages, like bringing Aaron Williams from the nickel or Roddrick Muckelroy or Emmanuel Acho running the same delayed blitz that BYU used to knock Bradford out of the game? Expect more of the "exotics" Muschamp has been saving, although if the Longhorns get pressure rushing four, he won't need to use them.

Please, pretty please, Sergio, can you Bomar Bradford?

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Longhorns stop the run? For the last three weeks, Mack Brown has expressed concern about the ability of the defensive line to stop the run. First, it was Donald Buckram, then Speedy Stewart, and now it's Oklahoma's pair of successful backs. After passing the first two tests, Texas now faces the best rushing attack they will face until, well, a couple weeks from now. Chris Brown pegs it as the major matchup of the game and he's right to do so considering that during the Brown-Stoops era, no team has won with fewer rushing yards than the opponent.

On the surface, then, it would seem like a game for Ben Alexander, who has made a huge leap his senior season to become a key contributor at the thin defensive tackle position. However, the Sooners like to push the tempo to keep defenses from substituting, so Muschamp will have to carefully weigh the advantages of Alexander versus the running game against Alexander's skills rushing the passer, certainly not his strength. Another important matchup will be Lamarr Houston against the depleted interior of the OU line -- he might go against JUCO transfer Tavaris Jefferies, the replacement for Brian Simmons, which seems to favor the disruptive Houston.

One final thought -- can OU suck any more than it does? I believe the answer is no, but I wouldn't put it past them...