Defense wins championships, as cliché as it may be.
But when it comes to Saturday’s Red River Showdown Part II, the tired old saying will take on a different meaning.
Sure, the Longhorns’ defense has a very large task at hand in attempting to contain the Sooners’ Heisman hopeful quarterback, Kyler Murray. But it’s Oklahoma’s less-than impressive-defense that may very well be what wins Texas its first Big 12 Championship in nine years, because OU’s defense is bad.
Many statistics are available to support the obvious fact that Oklahoma, despite firing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops halfway through the season in search of a new identity on the opposite side of the ball, has just been downright atrocious.
For the record, the Longhorns basically sit right in the middle of the national rankings for total defense among Division-I schools with plenty of shortcomings to dissect.
But the Sooners defensive woes aren’t shortcomings — they’re much more egregious.
Out of 129 Division-I schools, Oklahoma sits at 111th in total defense, 100th in scoring defense, or points allowed, 126th in passing yards allowed and 128th — as in second to last — in red zone defense through 12 games this season.
In fact, Oklahoma has allowed at least 40 points throughout each of its previous four games, including a win over Kansas, where the Jayhawks averaged roughly nine yards per carry and tallied more than 500 total yards of offense.
On the defensive side of the ball for Texas, the game plan remains the same as it was in October — rattle Kyler Murray.
The problem with Murray, as many Texas fans will recall from the Longhorns’ 48-45 win over Oklahoma, is his ability to render a defense helpless. Through the air and on the ground, if Murray has the luxury of time, he’s either going to find his open man or weave through the defenders for a way-too-easy 10- or 15-yard run.
“A lot of his big scrambles have come when you’re covering them but not getting good pressure on him, and he’s sitting back there, sitting back there, nobody is open, okay, go,” Tom Herman said at during his weekly press conference on Monday. “When it’s pressure, get it out, obviously he doesn’t have time to then make those kind of decisions.”
Which brings us to this conclusion: Unless you do what the Longhorns were able to do two months ago — knock him down, rough him up, hurry him out of his comfort zone — Murray is going to have an almost flawless day.
Fortunately for Texas, confidence can be found from the previous meeting with Oklahoma.
Three Oklahoma turnovers were a product of the Longhorns defensive efforts; two of them by way of Murray.
Scrambling and knocked down, he fumbled. Pressured out of the pocket and on the run, he threw an interception. Murray is an incredible, explosive and dangerous talent. But he can be contained. In October, Texas managed his game to the extent of bend-but-don’t-break, and did so with tremendous success throughout three quarters.
If Texas can do so for the second time in as many meetings, then on the other side of the ball, Texas’ offense needs to operate with a different mindset: Bend them and then break them.
If you remember, that’s what the Longhorns did for nearly 53 minutes in October, jumping out in front by 21 points and a few penalties deep in their own territory away from possibly going ahead 52-24.
This time around, there’s no reason to think Texas isn’t capable of doing the same song and dance to Oklahoma. The Sooners, due to injuries, will be starting two freshmen at the safety position.
Both teams are better in their own right. Oklahoma’s one loss came at the hands of Texas, whose three losses came by a combined nine points.
As if it wasn’t already enough to ask the Sooners to stop literally almost every FBS school from scoring, they’ll have to try and contain Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns, who racked up 501 yards of total offense on the Sooners with Ehlinger responsible for five Texas touchdowns.
Until proven otherwise, if it comes down to a defensive battle (it won’t), fortune favors the Longhorns. If it comes down to a true shootout, back-and-forth scoring, many will put their bets on Oklahoma. But the truth is, the Longhorns have the better defense and an offense facing a much lesser defense.
That horrid Oklahoma defense may very well be what wins Texas a Big 12 title on Saturday.