Any time the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners meet in the Cotton Bowl, it’s a big game, and this year lives up to the billing. In spite of the disparity in rankings - Oklahoma coming in at No. 12 and Texas unranked - or their records - the Longhorns 3-2 and Oklahoma 4-1 - a win would be season-defining for either squad.
A win would for the Sooners would keep their national championship dreams from disappearing completely, while a Texas victory would keep the winds of change moving in the right direction. With so much at-stake, there are several key battles to focus on that would allow Texas to upset their rivals from north of the Red River.
Oklahoma’s Pass Defense:
To say the Sooners’ pass defense has been on a downward trend is an understatement. In their first three games, Oklahoma allowed a meager 320 passing yards and held its three opponents without a passing touchdown. In their first two Big 12 games, a near miss against Baylor and an upset at the hands of Iowa State, Oklahoma allowed 806 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. In spite of fans’ frustration, both Texas quarterbacks have turned in solid numbers through five games. Freshman Sam Ehlinger edges the injured Shane Buechele statistically, earning Ehlinger a spot as co-starter on the depth chart.. In his three starts, he racked up 900 yards and five touchdowns passing, while Buechele’s two starts netted 546 yards and three touchdowns.
3rd Down Conversions
In the Big 12, the difference between a win and a loss can often be traced to one key third down stop. Defensively, Texas is one of the top units on the “money down,” ranking No. 9 in the nation, allowing conversions on 25% of opponents attempts, including a dominating 2-11 performance against Kansas State. The Oklahoma offense has had little trouble picking up first downs, converting on 48.9% of their attempts, good enough for No. 13 in the country. Conversely, the Oklahoma defense has been ineffective on third downs, managing to stop opponents just 38.9% of the time. The Sooners have improved on defense in the last two games against Baylor and Iowa State, however, holding their conference foes to just 13 conversions on 31 attempts. Offensively, Texas has been consistent on third downs, converting 48.3% of their attempts on the year, No. 18 in the country in that regard, with the only outlier a 4-16 performance against USC.
One of the reasons the Sooners’ offense has been so dynamic is their ability to take care of the ball, starting with the quarterback. To find the last time OU quarterback Baker Mayfield threw an interception, you would have to go all the way back to week 10 of the 2016 season. However, Oklahoma has fumbled the ball six times this season, at least once in the last five games. The Texas defense nearly lives and dies on turnovers, specifically interceptions, with eight of its nine takeaways coming via interception, and at least one in every contest this season. When the Longhorns’ offense takes the field, they have struggled to hold onto the ball, with a turnover in all but one game this season. Thankfully for Texas fans, Oklahoma has not specialized in taking away the ball, with just three fumble recoveries and two interceptions through five games this season.
It may be an uphill battle, but on Saturday the Longhorns have a chance to show fans that they truly have changed their fortunes.A win over Oklahoma would match last year’s conference win total of three, and give them their first 3-0 conference start since 2013, Mack Brown’s last year at the helm.