Quite arguably the most meaningful weekend of the Texas Longhorns’ season is upon us.
The Red River Showdown (or Shootout, or Rivalry, or whatever you want to call it) is always the hottest ticket on Texas’ schedule, with bragging rights and a Golden Hat at stake. But this time around, not only would a Texas win solidify the Longhorns as the team to beat in the Big 12 and get the Horns one significant step closer to a return trip to the Big 12 title game, but what happens on Saturday may very well legitimize or completely end the any playoff aspirations the Horns have.
That said, the Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss just how significant this rivalry is, factors that should decide the game, and if the Sooners do, in fact, suck.
Jalen Hurts noted that he’s not worried about the pressure and spotlight that comes with the Red River Showdown because he’s played in the Iron Bowl, and there’s obviously Ohio State-Michigan, Army-Navy, Florida-Georgia, etc. But is Texas-Oklahoma the best rivalry in college football?
Cody Daniel — I wouldn’t say best because I haven’t personally experienced the other major CFB rivalries, but given everything that goes into the RRS — the split stadium, the year-round animosity between the players and fans, the recruiting impact, etc — I’d say it’s top three.
Gerald Goodridge — It’s honestly surprising that a kid from Texas would feel that way about the rivalry, especially with all that surrounds it. The split in the stadium, the Texas State Fair, Big Tex, and all of the artery clogging that you can eat. I’ll never forget walking through the state fairgrounds after the 45-35 game and floating on air as I silently judged all the OU fans around me. I can’t say that it’s the best, but I’ve never had a sporting experience that comes anywhere close.
Wes Crochet — I love this rivalry game, though I’ll admit I’ve yet to experience any of the other rivalries. But what other rivalry game allows you to slam a corndog and a beer before 9am, walk into a raucous stadium split in half between each team’s fanbase, and celebrate a win on a log ride all in the backdrop of the Texas State Fair and all the fried food you could ever want? This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience between two blue-blood rivals.
Daniel Seahorn — I’m not sure I would say the Red River Shootout (yes I’m still calling it that) is overall the best, but for my money it is a lock for the top five. It’s right up there with the Iron Bowl and Ohio State-Michigan as games that I am going to absolutely make sure I tune in for each year. In years past, the winner of this game usually decided the winner of the Big 12, and now with the new conference championship game there is a chance we will get to see this matchup more than once in Dallas.
Sam Ehlinger stood toe-to-toe with Baker Mayfield as a true freshman and outperformed Kyler Murray last season. Oklahoma now features another Heisman-caliber QB in Jalen Hurts. Does Ehlinger win the QB battle this time around?
Cody — We’re quite likely in for a show from both Ehlinger and Hurts and that should be evident on the stat sheet. Statistically, I think Hurts will have the better afternoon, as I think he’ll benefit from a few explosive plays through the air and from breaking free for a big run or two. On the other hand, I think we’ll see Ehlinger manage the game and meticulously move the ball down the field and pick the Sooners defense apart. So in short, Hurts will look better on paper, Ehlinger will look better on film.
Gerald — This is going to be like the end of Rocky 4 where both guys are just throwing haymakers and I’m so excited to see it. I think the big difference is if Texas can force Jalen Hurts to throw intermediate routes accurately and take advantage of the issues OU has on the offensive line.
Wes — We’ll have to ask the Texas defense about that. Ehlinger should be able to do Ehlinger things, and he’s taken his game to the next level this season. What is unclear is whether or not the Texas secondary and defense can weather the Oklahoma attack. I like Ehlinger’s chances given he also should have the stronger offensive line.
Seahorn — I think both signal callers are ultimately going to get theirs on Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. The fact that Texas is dealing with injuries in the secondary makes me weary of predicting Ehlinger having the bigger day, but I still think 11 will do plenty of damage to the Sooner defense that has struggled to slow him down the past couple of years.
Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson have set career highs in rushing yards in back-to-back weeks with Ingram’s 114 against Oklahoma State and Johnson’s 121 against West Virginia. Does Texas keep that streak alive with another 100-yard rusher on Saturday? If so, who eclipses that mark?
Cody — I’d say so given that I think Texas will emphasize trying to establish the run game to not only open things for the passing attack, but to keep OU’s offense sidelined a bit longer. And if someone does rush for 100 again, my pick is Ingram in a bounce-back game.
Gerald — I think the matchup of the Texas OL and the OU DL may be one of the biggest advantages for Texas on Saturday. The Texas offensive line is playing better than I’ve seen that unit play at Texas for a very long time. Looking at the running lanes the OL was able to create against OSU all day and against WVU in the second half, it’s not hard to see how those guys went over 100 yards. I think because Roschon is more of a one-cut-and-go runner, it will work really well with the initial push the OL is able to get.
Wes — I’ll say yes if Ingram or Johnson can rip off a big run. OU’s transition to a one-gap defensive front means a Texas running back could find a big lane on a cut back if the OU defense fails to plug a gap. So I’m answering with a “yes, if” sort of response. Regardless, Texas could still find success on the ground with a combo of player.
Seahorn — Ingram when healthy would be my pick, but he seemed to get banged up a bit last week in Morgantown, so I am picking Roschon Johnson in this scenario. Johnson seems to get better every week and I think he has a chance to have a bit of a coming out party with a lot of eyes on the big game in Dallas.
Whether it’s something Oklahoma does really well or something Texas has struggled with, what should the Longhorns be most concerned with entering the Red River Showdown?
Cody — The Oklahoma receivers vs. Texas’ secondary is the obvious answer. Even if Texas was at full health, OU’s receivers are a handful for anybody and I’d be pretty surprised if the Sooners finish with anything less than 350 yards through the air.
Gerald — I think the RPOs hurt Texas quite a bit and Oklahoma has been incorporating the play-action zone read pass quite a bit since they have more designed runs for Hurts in the playbook. The guys Texas is trotting out at LB are supremely talented, but have gotten out of position in a few spots and that type of play requires great fundamentals in order to snuff it out.
Wes — The most glaring threat to Texas is Oklahoma’s receivers against a weaker set of corners. Riley will take shots around the field in search of holes and breakdowns. How Texas manages those plays, especially on any third and long situations, probably says a lot about this game.
Seahorn — The Sooner receiving core vs. the Texas secondary is the biggest thing that worries me due to the injuries the Longhorns are dealing with back there and the fact that Lincoln Riley seems to have a never-ending supply of talented skill players. Aside from that, I am also worried about the Longhorn defense to be disciplined for four quarters when it comes to containing Hurts and his legs, as that was something that was a big problem against Oklahoma State and Spencer Sanders. If the Longhorns can force Hurts to beat them from the pocket and not allow him to frequently to break contain then they will give themselves a chance to get off the field on money downs.
Most seem sold on the Sooners’ defense being much-improved, but there are still some skeptics, as OU is yet to be tested by a potent offense. Is Texas going to expose Oklahoma’s defense entering the meat of the Big 12 schedule?
Cody — I’m among those who aren’t too sold on Oklahoma’s defense. With the Texas offense and its small army of weapons now being one of the best in the nation, I think the narrative regarding this OU defense is much different by Saturday evening.
Gerald — I think Oklahoma has yet to face a wide receiver group as talented as Texas is from top-to-bottom. It’s truly a pick your poison situation, because if you put bodies on the outside guys, Devin Duvernay and Jake Smith will out-speed you on the inside. If you take away the inside with your safeties and try to cover Collin Johnson or Brennan Eagles one-on-one, they are going to abuse the size difference at corner. It’s why Johnson was so successful last year in both games against Oklahoma.
Wes — Oklahoma’s defense has improved and it’s still not a really great unit, both can be true. This will be the toughest test for the Sooners’ defense yet and I expect Ehlinger and the Longhorns to put points on the board and provide Oklahoma with challenges it hasn’t faced yet.
Seahorn — Put me in the camp that thinks that the Sooner defense hasn’t truly been tested by an offense of Texas’ caliber heading into the matchup and therefore is skeptical how improved they really are. This game will be the first true measuring stick for Alex Grinch and his defense and they are going to be going up against an offense that can both brutalize you and grind out drives, or hit you with the big explosive plays that go for six in a blink of an eye. We are going to find out real quick how much better that bunch is defensively once the ball is teed up in the Cotton Bowl.
Which individual or positional matchups does Texas simply have to win to win this game?
Cody — The secondary is going to sacrifice yards; that’s just a given. But considering the injuries along OU’s OL and that Texas’ front is a strength offensively, the Longhorns likely need to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball to win. Keep Ehlinger upright and pave the way for the ground game, and apply pressure to slow OU’s rushing attack and prevent Hurts from having all afternoon to throw.
Gerald — Texas needs to take advantage of the injuries and inexperience a tackle for Oklahoma. Malcolm Roach and Ta’Quon Graham need to do a great job of keeping their outside free and keeping Hurts from getting comfortable along the outside. If they can do that, it minimizes a ton of what Oklahoma tries to do with the designed quarterback runs and the RPOs.
Wes — Outside of watching how the secondary plays against Oklahoma’s speedy receivers, I’ll be watching how the Texas defensive front attacks Hurts and the banged up Oklahoma offensive line. Applying the pressure on Hurts could force him into some mistakes and uncomfortable situations he hasn’t felt yet at Oklahoma. I’ll also be watching what impact Collin Johnson’s return to the field could have after he played well against the Sooners in both games last season.
Seahorn — Outside of their tough matchup in the secondary, Texas will have to win the battles in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Offensively they will need to establish the run game early so that they can grind out drives and keep the ball away from Oklahoma offense and on defense they will need to be able to force negative plays and keep Hurts and the Sooner offense behind the sticks as much as possible to keep them off schedule.
D’Shawn Jamison has played really well the past two weeks. B.J. Foster is healthy, and DeMarvion Overshown is set to return. That said, Caden Sterns and Jalen Green are out, so can the Texas secondary avoid getting torched as it did vs. LSU?
Cody — Statistically, the secondary has looked worse on paper than they’ve actually played the past few weeks, but I still think OU’s receivers are comparable to LSU’s, which isn’t ideal. Hurts isn’t the passer Joe Burrow is so that will matter, but I still think Saturday will be a day the secondary will want to forget, win or lose.
Gerald — I think Foster and Overshown returning is a huge boon for Texas because it gives Todd Orlando more flexibility schematically. Part of what makes him a great schemer is his ability to dial up pressure and coverage from multiple looks. Foster is one of the best blitzing DBs we’ve seen at Texas in a long time and his flexibility allows Brandon Jones to get some looks closer to the line as well, which is a big win from a tackling standpoint.
Wes — I’d like to think from a scheme stand point, Texas learned from the way the LSU loss played out. I also know Oklahoma has talent and speed on the outside yet again. The secondary will probably take some lumps, though I don’t expect them to have the type of let downs they did against LSU.
Seahorn — In these kinds of matchups, you have to go in knowing that Oklahoma is likely going to get theirs due to the shear amount of talent they possess offensively, but the Texas secondary can help themselves by limiting the explosive plays and avoiding coverage busts. If they can make Oklahoma earn every point they put up on the scoreboard and don’t concede the easy scores then I call that a win.
Prediction: Is the Golden Hat staying in Austin for another year?
Cody — Before the season, I picked Texas to lose to OU, though after seeing how dynamic this Texas offense has become and the recent improvements up front defensively, I’m not too confident picking either way, which is likely the case for most people. Again, I’m not sold on the OU defense, but that offense will have no problem moving the putting up points. A Hurts explosive run here, a Texas stalled drive there and I think the Sooners score just a few more than the Horns. Oklahoma wins 45-41.
Gerald — I struggle with this because I think Texas has to bring its A-Game to win this game, which is something they haven’t done in the last two contests. I think this is going to be a 10-round slugfest and I think 31-28 Texas.
Wes — Before the season, I predicted Texas would enter the Big 12 Title game as an underdog. And I felt this would be a game the Longhorns drop before taking revenge in the conference championship similar to Oklahoma last season. As much as I want to see Texas blow the doors off the Sooners, I still question the Texas defense in this match up and am leaning Sooners in a close one that leaves Texas covering the 10-point spread but behind on the scoreboard. 34-31 OU “Sucks”.
Seahorn — I’ve gone back and forth with this one for most of the week. I said coming into the season that Texas would have to break even in their matchups with Oklahoma and LSU, and with the Longhorns coming up short against the Tigers they absolutely have to get this W in Dallas if they want to have any kind of playoff aspirations this year. I’m expecting a shootout in Dallas and it truly may be like last year where the team that has the ball last ends up winning. If you’re a betting man I’d take the over and I’d be taking the Longhorns at + 10.5. I think the Longhorns are going to cover, but I think my concerns with the secondary are ultimately what shifts this one ever so slightly towards Oklahoma. Texas 35, Oklahoma 38
Bonus: Does Oklahoma, in fact, suck?
Cody — What time is it?
Gerald — As my wife was born and raised in Oklahoma City, I plead the fifth.
Wes — Always and forever.
Seahorn — Why doesn’t Texas fall off into the Gulf of Mexico? I think some of y’all can fill in the rest.