The annual rivalry game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners looks much different than it has in years past.
The State Fair of Texas looks different — there will be fewer fans in the stadium and neither of the two teams sits in a favorable position to win the conference. A rivalry game is always a must-win, but for the Sooners a loss would effectively eliminate them from the title chase, while a Texas loss further muddies the middle of the conference.
Oklahoma has faced uncharacteristic struggles in their first two conference games, so to get some more insight into what is going on, we reached out to Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine.
Burnt Orange Nation: For the first time in more than 20 years, the Oklahoma Sooners lost back-to-back conference games after disappointing performances against the Kansas State Wildcats and the Iowa State Cyclones. What’s the conversation among Oklahoma facing what is essentially uncharted territory?
Jack Shields, Crimson and Cream Machine: As has become customary in these parts, the primary point of conversation is the defense. This team’s tackling was beyond terrible against Iowa State, as the Sooners regularly had players dead to rights in the backfield only to let them slip away for a gain.
However, this offensive line has baffled OU fans. The group returned four of its five starters from a year ago (five if you count Erik Swenson) and still can’t seem to open any holes for the running game. Additionally, its led by one of the best offensive line coaches in the country in Bill Bedenbaugh.
One thing we’ve all noticed is that the guys seem a step slower, which would lead one to believe that these guys are simply out of shape due to the lack of offseason activity. The majority of the group is rumored to have tested positive at some point in the offseason, so missed time likely set guys back in that regard.
BONL Highly-touted quarterback Spencer Rattler came out of the gates hot in the opener before struggling in the losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. What has been the source of struggle for the young signal caller?
JS: As far as Spencer Rattler is concerned, it’s a mixed bag with the fan base. Jim Bob McSoonerfan has taken to Facebook to say that he thinks Rattler’s a horrible quarterback who will never improve, while more level-headed fans understand that he’s going to make some freshman mistakes.
He has so much confidence in his arm talent that he often tries to do a bit too much and make the spectacular throw. It this regard, he’s similar to 2015 Baker Mayfield.
BON: Perhaps most surprising about the Oklahoma Sooners is the lack of a dynamic playmaker at wide receiver, in spite of the level of recruiting. Is it because of the struggles at quarterback or is something else going on?
JS: The talent is very promising at the position, but the group just doesn’t have an alpha at this point. Since Lincoln Riley has been in Norman in any capacity, the position group has had one of Sterling Shepard, DeDe Westbrook, Marquise Brown or CeeDee Lamb at all times.
Early in the 2017 season, Brown and Lamb were both on the roster. However, both were green in the early going, so Mark Andrews was often seen as the only reliable target. By the end of the year, the group had become a position of strength, so there’s hope that Marvin Mims and Theo Wease can become those guys by season’s end. Additionally, former five star prospects Trejan Bridges and Jadon Haselwood should each be in the fold by season’s end, so it could be a really good group in November. It certainly won’t be a finished product by Saturday, unfortunately.
BON: After surrendering just 135 yards in game one, the Sooners gave up at least 400 yards in their last two matchups. Oklahoma has not been known for its defense, but Alex Grinch was able to solve some of the issues in spots a year ago. What has caused the regression?
JS: Part of it is the fact that the group has lost its biggest playmakers from a year ago. Kenneth Murray, Neville Gallimore and Parnell Motley are off to the NFL, while Ronnie Perkins and Jalen Redmond have been out due to suspension and an opt-out, respectively. Not only are these the best impact players from 2019, they were the primary vocal leaders of the group.
There’s nothing official on Perkins at this point, but most believe he will be on the field this Saturday. Prior to the Iowa State game, it was reported by several reliable outlets that he had won his appeal with the NCAA. Riley was coy about it this week, but you can probably chalk that up to gamesmanship. At the very least, having that vocal leader on the field should help matters.
However, in spite of Alex Grinch’s best efforts, the culture of tackling in this program is still just awful. Beyond that, many of the veteran players on this team look like freshmen, so people are clamoring for new blood on the field — particularly in the secondary. I’d rather see a freshman making a freshman mistakes than an upperclassman making the same mistakes.
BON: What is the matchup you’re watching on Saturday?
JS: We all know that Oklahoma’s defensive backs don’t match up well against UT’s receivers, so I’m wanting to see if OU’s pass rush can rise to the occasion. If Ronnie Perkins is out there, they might be able to cause enough disruption to mitigate some of the concerns on the back end.
BON: There’s no fair, but it’s never a bad time to discuss fair food. What’s your go to?
JS: The Fletcher’s Corny Dog is where it’s at, but the fair is always good for one wild-but-intriguing item each year. Fried biscuits and gravy might be the GOAT.
There’s also something oddly endearing about those overpriced domestic beers that come in a 10-ounce Dixie Cup. Pure nostalgia, I’m guessing.
BON: Prediction for Saturday?
JS: These teams are going to show a bit more physicality than we’ve seen from each of them during Big 12 play, but I still have this one hitting over as it currently stands (72). 38-35 OU.