After a 2-0 start to the season, the Texas Longhorns are now 2-2 and head coach Charlie Strong is quite possible entering the most significant game of his tenure in Austin. This season’s edition of the Red River Showdown will pit a pair of bitter rivals sitting at 2-2 on the season against each other—each in need of a momentum-swinging victory after a disappointing month for the two storied programs.
Behind the arm of a former Heisman candidate quarterback in Baker Mayfield and the legs of one of the nation’s top running back duos in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, Oklahoma began the season ranked No. 3 and with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations. That goal now seems unlikely with the Sooners having lost in the season opener to Houston and two weeks later against Ohio State.
Courtesy of a tremendously difficult non-conference slate and a defense that’s performed uncharacteristically poor, ranking 74th in yards allowed per game (429.2) and 93rd in points per game allowed (35.2), the Sooners, too, are in danger of falling below .500 on the season Saturday.
It doesn’t help the Sooners on Saturday with stud defensive lineman Charles Walker set to miss the Red River Shootout, while linebacker Tay Evans was recently forced to retire due to concussions.
But while Oklahoma, much like Texas, has seen its share of defensive deficiencies, the offense, led by the aforementioned Mayfield, Perine and Mixon, is more than capable of fireworks at the Cotton Bowl. Such fireworks were on display in a 52-point explosion last week in the win over TCU, which the Sooners needed every bit of after allowing 46 points.
Oklahoma’s offensive outbursts have come against a Louisiana Monroe team that ranks 126th in yards per game allowed and 121st in points per game allowed, along with a TCU defense that’s 76th in yards per game allowed and 92nd in points per game sacrificed. So while it’s hard to credit Oklahoma’s offense too much for performing well against modest defenses, it’s also difficult to discredit them for averaging only 23.5 points in the meetings with Houston and Ohio State—the 1st- and 3rd-ranked defenses in points per game.
Fortunately for the Sooners, Texas’ defense is quite comparable to the former, and behind a secondary that struggles mightily in coverage and a defensive-wide tackling problem; Oklahoma could be in for a big day.
With Strong now taking over as the defensive play caller and Vance Bedford focusing solely on the secondary, Texas would hope to prevent the mass amount of points it has given up the past two games—Strong’s job depends on it.
Can Strong get momentum back on his side as his players carry him off the field like last season?
· Saturday will mark the 111th time Texas and Oklahoma have met for the Red River Rivalry
· Texas holds the all-time series edge over Oklahoma with 61 wins, compared to 44 for the Sooners
· Texas also holds a 47-38-4 advantage since the series began at the Cotton Bowl in 1929
· The ‘Horns largest victory came in 1941 with a 40-7 win.
· Oklahoma largest victory was 65-13 in 2003.
· Texas and Oklahoma have split the last 10 meetings, each with a 5-5 record.
Sooners to keep an eye on
· Baker Mayfield – the former Heisman candidate earns those honors for a reason and the dual-threat quarterback has totaled 1,126 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
· Both Oklahoma running backs - Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are among the best backs in the nation and great compliments. The duo has combined for 587 yards and six offensive scores this season.
· Dede Westbrook – Dede Westbrook is Mayfield go-to target with twice as many receptions and the second-leading pass catcher on the team. He’s totaled 312 yards on 24 receptions with two touchdowns in 2016.
· Texas will be seeking its second over a ranked program this season and fourth consecutive win over ranked competition, dating back to last season.
· Saturday will be first-year offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s first effort in the Red River Shootout, where he’ll have a true freshman quarterback leading his offense.
· Tyrone Swoopes ran for a touchdown and passed for another out of the 18-Wheeler package in last season’s 24-17 victory over the Sooners.