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PFF previews Texas vs. Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship

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The next chapter of the Red River Rivalry continues from Arlington

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The dream Big 12 championship matchup is finally upon us. Thousands of fans wearing crimson and burnt orange will pack inside the gigantic AT&T Stadium to watch Texas and Oklahoma play somewhere other than the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1929. The atmosphere inside the stadium might not be the same, but the stakes are higher than ever.

With a win, Texas will almost certainly play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. With a loss, they could end up playing in the Alamo Bowl, depending on their final ranking. For Oklahoma, the Sooners are likely to make the College Football Playoff with a win. A loss would drop them into a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Since the establishment of the Big 12 back in 1996, perennial powers Texas and Oklahoma have never met in the conference championship game before. Of course, this is because they both played in the Big 12 South division before conference realignment happened. With the re-addition of the conference championship game, which now takes the top two teams from the conference, Texas and Oklahoma finally get the chance to square off for championship immortality.

The pregame build-up for this game has been something. Between the Horns down dilemma and the Kyler Murray-Sam Ehlinger beef, kickoff can only come soon enough. Regardless of all of that nonsense, the conferences two best quarterbacks get to duel it out against each other one last time. (Please go play baseball, Kyler).

Per Pro Football Focus, Kyler Murray’s current 96.3 grade makes him the highest rated quarterback since PFF began covering college football in 2014. Baker Mayfield put up a 95.2 and a 93.8 his last two seasons at Oklahoma. Murray’s 8.3 yards per carry currently ranks second among quarterbacks. He’s having quite a remarkable season statistically.

Murray has accounted for over 4,500 total yards of offense and 48 touchdowns in his first season as a starting quarterback. Those numbers are enough to make a legitmate case for his Heisman hopes against Tua. But, losing to Texas for a second time would diminish any chance of him winning.

Despite giving up 396 yards of total offense and five touchdowns against Murray, the Longhorns defense produced Murray’s second-worst PFF grade of the year, a cool 85.0. Forcing those two turnovers was the difference.

If the Longhorns can win the battle up front against Oklahoma’s big offensive line and get some pressure on Murray, he’ll be forced to beat the Longhorns with his legs and through the air. Todd Orlando’s defense did a great job containing and keeping Murray in the pocket last time around. Until he turned it loose down by three scores. This defense is at its best when they’re playing aggressively. Orlando will have to be careful with blitz calls against an offense as smart as Oklahoma’s, but containing Murray is an absolute must.

On the other side of things, Sam Ehlinger is having one of the best statistical seasons for a quarterback in Longhorn history. He finished the regular season with a 147.5 passer rating after completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,774 yards. The most impressive thing about Ehlinger has been his composure and high football IQ.

He comes into this game with an 87.9 overall PFF grade, which is significantly better than any other Longhorn quarterback since 2014. Jerrod Heard was the next closest with a 66.9 overall grade.

After getting snubbed from the All-Big 12 teams, Ehlinger will get the opportunity to claim that he’s the league’s best quarterback if he can out-duel Murray once again. He’ll have a prime matchup against a defense that has allowed over 40 points in each of their last four games.

Tim Beck and the offense utilized the big bodies of Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey to exploit Oklahoma’s inexperienced secondary back in October. The game plan should remain pretty similar this time around considering their defensive struggles.

Humphrey ranks 7th in the nation with 905 receiving yards when in the slot position. Humphrey torched the Sooners secondary for 133 receiving yards on nine receptions and added a touchdown.

It’ll be interesting to see how Sooners match-up against Humphrey in the slot. A 5’10 redshirt freshman, Justin Broiles, had all sorts of trouble when matched up against him, but Broiles may not play due to injury.

Expect to see some double teams on Humphrey in coverage — Kansas employed similar looks to limit him. Texas will have to create mismatches by moving Humphrey around in motion or by formation. Beck often likes to use Humphrey and Johnson and Humphrey lined up to the same side of the field so that providing help against both players is much more difficult.

If Oklahoma’s corners play 5-10 yards off the ball, the WR screen passes will be there all day, as well hitches and comebacks.

Ultimately, this matchup boils down to the turnover battle and which offense makes more winning plays. When the emotions get high, Texas needs to stay composed and be smart. Play harder, be more physical, and bring every bit of the true Texas ‘fight’ to the table.

Kyler Murray vs. Sam Ehlinger. Lincoln Riley vs. Tom Herman. Oklahoma vs. Texas for the glory in Jerry’s World. Let’s have some fun, y’all.

It’s _:__ and OU still sucks.