While Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners playing a game that determines the Big 12 Championship hearkens back to a day when the conference had 12 teams, with the teams squaring off for the second time in a season, everything feels different.
Oklahoma has been on a tear since the two teams last met, winning a few shootouts and scoring a lot of points in the process. Kyler Murray continues to do his best Bo Jackson and is making a case for the Heisman trophy, in-part because of a defense that continues to struggle.
To check in on how our counterparts from north of the Red River feel about the matchup, we brought in Jack Shields, Editor-in-chief for Crimson and Cream Machine to answer some questions. To find more coverage of the Sooners, you can follow him (@jlarryshields) or Crimson and Cream Machine (@CCMachine) on Twitter.
Burnt Orange Nation: Kyler Murray is having a Heisman-type season this year and a big game against Texas will bolster his hopes of winning significantly. In addition to that, he has an opportunity to get some revenge against the only team to beat him as a starting quarterback. Does a player like Murray try to do anything extra in the game, or does he just come out and play the same game he does every week?
Crimson and Cream Machine: I think the most important thing for him is to avoid turnovers, as his two big mistakes had an enormous impact in the previous meeting. He was able to overcome a pair of turnovers against West Virginia, but the UT offense’s ability to control possession and sustain long drives shrinks the OU offense’s margin for error. I’d imagine that’s been a point of emphasis this week. Additionally, he seemed to put an awful lot of the October result on himself (it was the defense’s fault, not his), so I’d have to guess he’s going to have that in mind.
BON: The Oklahoma defense has struggled in the last four games of the season, giving up 43.4 percent of their total yardage of the season in those four games. What has been the biggest thing they need to improve upon if they want to come out of Arlington as a winner?
CCM: I’m not entirely sure where to begin, because each area of the defense has had its own terrible moments, stretches and games. The biggest issue in the game against West Virginia was the play of the young safeties. Kahlil Haughton, Jordan Parker and Justin Broiles are not expected back this week, so the burden again falls upon Robert Barnes (who would be starting anyway but has been inconsistent) and Delarrin Turner-Yell (true freshman who has missed much of the season due to injury). Nickel Bookie Radley-Hiles also has to play much better than he did last week, but that seems like a lost cause at this point.
BON: What’s one key matchup or key area of the game that you are focused on for this weekend?
CCM: I suppose it’s LJH and Collin Johnson vs. the Oklahoma cornerbacks. I’m not expecting Tre Brown, Parnell Motley or Tre Norwood to shut anyone down, but they have to provide some resistance this time around. Believe it or not, these three actually had some great moments against West Virginia’s receivers, so there’s a glimmer of hope that they can actually get this team off the field on third down on at least a few occasions.
CCM: Schematically, what do you see the Sooners doing differently this time around against the Longhorns?
CCM: I’m not sure if too much will be different schematically, but what they should probably do is utilize a 4-3 hybrid of sorts in an effort to neutralize UT’s short-yardage game. Our Allen Kenney wrote about it today (can find it here), and although OU would be giving something up in the passing game, it’s not as if the five-DB look was effective in October.
BON: What’s your prediction for Saturday?
CCM: I think we’re in for another high-scoring affair (bold, huh?), but I think OU will come out on top this time. If the Sooners take care of the ball, it will likely be enough to give them the edge. Same score, different victor. 48-45 Sooners.