The Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners square off in the Red River Showdown for the 118th time on Saturday. The Sooners have won the last three matchups and seven of the last 10, but seem to be a bit more vulnerable this year. In spite of the lopsided win-loss record, the last eight of those matchups have been decided by one score or less.
With the teams closing in on renewing on-field hostilities, we reached across the Red River to Stephen Brown (@OUupdatedSB) of Crimson and Cream Machine (@CCMachine) to help us unpack the matchup.
Burnt Orange Nation: The Oklahoma offense seemingly struggled to get going early in the season, but seemed to get going against the Kansas State Wildcats a week ago. Do you think they’ve solved what ailed them going forward and if so, what was the problem?
Stephen Brown, Crimson and Cream Machine: Oklahoma’s offense has in some aspects taken a step forward since the start of the season, but the struggles continue and there’s no question it begins with the offensive line. Bill Bedenbaugh’s group has vastly underperformed expectations and has made some very costly penalties late in games. On the other side, Oklahoma’s defense isn’t a liability but their inability to get off the field on third and fourth down has been glaring. This has led to long, sustained drives that keeps Lincoln Riley’s offense off the field. Oklahoma can be good and we’ve seen it, but the consistency isn’t there yet.
BON: A few weeks ago, fans in Norman were chanting for backup quarterback Caleb Williams while Spencer Rattler had some on-field struggles. How has he responded in the weeks since and are fans still clamoring for the freshman?
SB: I’m not sure how the relationship between Rattler and the Oklahoma fanbase is as bad as some want to make it out to be. Spencer Rattler has by no means won over the hearts and minds of the fan base since the “we want Caleb” chants rang out inside Memorial Stadium. For what it’s worth, Baker and Kyler (and to some degree Jalen) set the bar so high that it was going to take a near-perfect season from Rattler to reach it. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore how much improvement we’ve seen from Rattler over the past couple of weeks. He’s been far more calculated with his throws, has started to take what defenses give him, and has been able to make far more plays outside the pocket than we saw early in the season. Should Oklahoma come out on top tomorrow, that will put to bed anymore Caleb Williams talk for a while.
BON: This year, it seems like the defense is setting the tone for OU, especially against the run, giving up just 83.4 yards per game. What is the secret to success for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s unit?
SB: What is scary about Alex Grinch’s defense is just how much room they have to improve throughout this season. They haven’t been spectacular physically, they struggle defending passes over the middle, and they’ve allowed teams to go on prolonged drives. What’s the secret? Timely turnovers. Oklahoma has been a bit of bend-don’t-break defense thus far during the season despite what the box scores say. However, when they need a big play, Alex Grinch’s squad will deliver.
BON: What is one storyline you’re watching in this game?
SB: After Thursday afternoon, you could take your pick of storylines to follow. I’ll stick with the biggest one out there and it’s obviously the offensive line. Oklahoma’s offensive line seems to always find their footing during this game against Texas. Not sure what it is or why it happens, it just happens. If — and that’s a big IF — Oklahoma can find consistent play from their OL, this is a team that goes from Big 12 title contender back to playoff contender. It’s that simple. So if you’re looking for one group that’s going to decide how this game and the season turns out, it’s the offensive line.
BON: What is your prediction for Saturday?
SB: Gerald came on the podcast this week and this is the question that got the most discussion without much of an answer. On the Oklahoma side, not sure anyone can quite confidently say who this team really is. Are they really one of the nation’s top teams that have simply underperformed? Maybe. Have the expectations for this team been overinflated and we’re just now realizing it? Entirely possible. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see this game come down to the final possession as discussed on the podcast. At the same time, this is an Oklahoma team that has learned how to win games they should have otherwise lost. One thing I’m not sure has been pointed out or credited enough: Spencer Rattler’s play late in games has been exceptional. Add that Texas has been allowing nearly an 80-percent completion percentage in the fourth quarter and that might be the deciding factor for me. This game will go back and forth early, but Oklahoma’s offense will find its rhythm late to pull off a win. Sooners 27, Longhorns 20.
Bonus Question: What is your go-to fair food?
SB: This is an absolutely cruel question as I’m on day five of a diet and thinking of food is nearly painful. It’s fun to try the crazy fried food every year, but if you’re asking for a go-to: it’s a turkey leg. It doesn’t get much better.