The No. 3 Texas Longhorns and the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners are set for a high-profile edition of the Red River Rivalry on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas as both program try to remain undefeated with their sights set on the Big 12 Championship game in December and the College Football Playoffs beyond.
Texas will have junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders available following his lower-leg injury in last Saturday’s win over Kansas, but Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian told ABC that senior cornerback Ryan Watts is out following his own injury.
Ja’Tavion Sanders is suited up and going through pregame warmups without issue.— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) October 7, 2023
Sarkisian said on Thursday that Watts would be a game-time decision. With Watts not playing, freshman cornerback Malik Muhammad is set to receive more playing time at the boundary position with sophomore Terrance Brooks and junior Gavin Holmes playing to the field.
The Longhorns are a five-point favorite, according to DraftKings, with a 45.3-percent win probability in the ESPN matchup predictor.
After the long interception-less streak by Texas redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers was broken last week against Kansas, Oklahoma started the game with an interception on second down on a poor decision by Ewers that gave the ball to the Sooners at the Longhorns 22-yard line.
Playing at tempo, Oklahoma quickly picked up a first down, putting the Texas red-zone defense to the test less than two minutes into the game. It couldn’t hold, as Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel took a designed run nine yards up the middle for a quick 7-0 lead.
The second offensive drive for the Horns didn’t start well, either, as redshirt sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks was stoned on first down and Ewers was sacked on second down, a play that also resulted in an injury to redshirt junior center Jake Majors, who was replaced by redshirt freshman Connor Robertson. Forced to check down on 3rd and 13, Ewers completed a shotputted pass to Brooks for an eight-yard gain. But Sarkisian opted for an aggressive call with a direct snap to senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington for a 20-yard gain on the fake punt.
The running game showed a brief spark with an eight-yard run by Brooks on 2nd and 10, but Oklahoma stopped him for a one-yard gain on third down to set up a fourth-down attempt with sophomore running back Savion Red taking the direct snap and finding junior tight end Gunnar Helm down the seam for a 25-yard gain before fumbling at the end of the play. Initially ruled a fumble on the field, the call was overturned, handing the ball back to the Longhorns in the red zone, an area where Texas has struggled to score touchdowns this season. The issues resurfaced when Ewers tried to find junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders over the middle, only for Sanders to get hit as the ball arrived, knocking the ball in the air for it to land in the arms of an Oklahoma defender.
In the second sudden-change situation for the Texas defense in two possessions, a tackle for loss on a running play and a short gain on the ground led to an incompletion on third down on the game’s first punt. Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks dialed up the pressure and senior safety Kitan Crawford came free up the middle for the blocked punt recovered in the end zone by freshman cornerback Malik Muhammad to tie the game at 7-7.
BLOCKED PUNT FOR THE TD! pic.twitter.com/MfJFy70YGv— Texas Football Life (@txfblife) October 7, 2023
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Texas following the touchdown recovery set up a trick play on the Oklahoma return with a toss to Jahlil Farooq, but the lateral was ruled illegal on review, forcing the Sooners back to their own 15-yard line.
A screen pass on second down moved the chains for Oklahoma, but an incompletion and a scramble by Gabriel under pressure set up 3rd and 11. The Sooners benefited from a deflected pass that ended up as a completion, but the Longhorns defense rallied to the football short of the first down to force another punt, a poor effort that traveled only 26 yards.
Ewers checked down to Whittington for a modest gain on second down before scrambling up the middle for a first down. Texas got behind the chains thanks to a false-start penalty and a short completion to Whittington and a sack of Ewers. The passing game for the Longhorns continued to struggle with the Texas quarterback throwing the ball away on third down.
Another game-changing play nearly resulted from a botched snap by Oklahoma that Gabriel was able to recover and throw out of bounds on third down, a drive extended by Texas senior running back Keilan Robinson when he ran into the punter. The Sooners capitalized quickly with a lofted pass from Gabriel that found Jalil Farooq for a 43-yard gain against Longhorns senior safety Jalen Catalon, who was down on the field after a second-down run by Oklahoma. Facing 3rd and 10, Gabriel hit Andrel Anthony on a long throw to the sideline for an 11-yard gain.
The Sooners started the second quarter facing 2nd and 9 from the Longhorns 11-yard line and took another carry for a short gain, setting up a 3rd and 8 where Gabriel threw late over the middle, but Texas senior safety Jerrin Thompson wasn’t able to come up with the interception in the end zone, allowing Oklahoma to settle for a 27-yard field goal.
Ewers finally started to find some rhythm on a drive that started in minus territory following a 15-yard return by Robinson out of the end zone with a completion to Whittington for 13 yards, but a 14-yard completion to junior wide receiver AD Mitchell was negated thanks to an ineligible player downfield. Freshman running back CJ Baxter got the offense back on track with a nine-yard gain before a short effort from Brooks. On 3rd and 3, the running game finally hit a crease with Brooks racing 31 yards up the middle. Behind the chains again after a false-start penalty, Texas tried to run its favored misdirection screen, but Oklahoma had it covered well and Ewers had to take a sack for a 10-yard loss. An 18-yard completion to junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy led to a manageable third down, a throw to Brooks in the flat for a six-yard gain, setting up a 23-yard touchdown reception by junior tight end Gunnar Helm on a coverage bust by the Sooners, the first career touchdown for Helm.
Ewers finished the nine-play, 85-yard drive 4-of-4 passing for 60 yards.
Oklahoma moved efficiently into the Texas red zone with help from a 19-yard completion on third down and then a scramble by Gabriel that totaled 26 yards after a personal foul called on Thompson. A pass got the Sooners down to the goal line, where the Longhorns forced Oklahoma to run four plays before scoring on a one-yard rushing touchdown.
Another bust by the Sooners secondary turned Worthy free for a 39-yard gain to open the drive, extended by Red on another direct snap he took for a seven-yard gain on 3rd and 1. Texas moved inside the 10-yard line with a 10-yard completion to Mitchell, but stalled when Whittington was stopped for a four-yard loss on an end around, forcing a timeout before 3rd and goal back at the 10-yard line, a short scramble by Ewers. The Longhorns settled for a 24-yard field goal from Auburn to tie the game at 17-17.
In a two-minute drill, Oklahoma picked up a chunk gain on a 34-yard catch and run thanks to a missed tackle by Holmes. Another missed tackle allowed the Sooners to move into the red zone on a check down, a trend that continued on a quarterback draw by Gabriel. Texas escaped the half without allowing a touchdown on a dropped pass on a would-be touchdown that sent the Sooners field-goal unit onto the field for a 26-yard attempt that sailed through the uprights.
Oklahoma opened the second half with a grinding 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that only required one third-down conversion by the Sooners before ending the march with a one-yard touchdown run, the fourth straight possession with a score for Oklahoma.
Texas was unable to respond when Ewers committed his third turnover of the day when he opted against sliding on a third-down scramble that never had a chance of gaining the needed 12 yards, fumbling at the end of the run.
Faced with a third sudden-change situation of the game, the Horns defense responded with a three and out. Two chunk plays helped the Texas offense threaten Oklahoma, but the drive stalled on a 4th and 3 just outside the red zone when Robertson was called for a false start with Red lined up for a direct snap. The Longhorns settled for a 45-yard field goal by Auburn to cut the margin to 27-20.
The third quarter ended with the Longhorns in possession when the Sooners failed to convert a 4th and 1 at the Texas 48-yard line on an incompletion from Gabriel intended for wide receiver Drake Stoops.
One of the most crucial stretches of the game came early in the final quarter when Texas drove to the goal line on a 28-yard reception by Whittington. Lined up in a jumbo package featuring senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat, Texas was unable to score from the 1-yard line on three consecutive plays. On fourth down, Sarkisian tried to spread the field and throw a screen pass to Worthy, who was tackled short of the goal line for a turnover on downs.
Hoping to force a safety, the Texas defense instead allowed a seam for Tawee Walker, who gained 12 yards to create some space for Oklahoma. The drive ultimately ended after 10 plays and 72 yards when the Sooners missed a 45-yard field goal to keep the game within one score for the Longhorns.
Texas benefited from a 15-yard penalty on Oklahoma to avoid a third down before Whittington had catches of 17 yards and 11 yards before Brooks tied the game with a 29-yard touchdown run off the left edge behind some strong blocking.
When the defense forced a three and out, the Longhorns held the momentum with the chance to take the lead and the offense started strong, moving the ball into Sooner territory. But then Ewers was sacked on first down at the 35-yard line and Brooks was held to a six-yard gain on 3rd and 10 that nonetheless put Auburn into field-goal range. The Texas kicker connected from 47 yards to take the lead.
Oklahoma was forced to mount a drive with 1:17 remaining and no timeouts, but Gabriel was up to the task, hitting three consecutive passes for 11 yards, 16 yards, and 28 yards. Then a slant-and-go route produced a pass-interference penalty to move to the Longhorns 6-yard line and the Sooners were able to finish the go-ahead drive with a three-yard touchdown pass from Gabriel to Nic Anderson enabled by a motion that produced confusion on the Texas defense and a busted coverage.
With only 15 seconds remaining, the Longhorns were able to get into Hail Mary range with two plays that gained 31 yards. The final throw from Ewers, however, fell harmlessly to the Cotton Bowl turf to send the Longhorns to a heartbreaking loss that put a huge dent into the playoff hopes for Texas.