Previewing OU vs. Texas: Season Records Mean Nothing in This Rivalry


On Saturday in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, it is OU vs. Texas and the 110th renewal of one of the most historic and heated rivalry games in all of college football.

The two teams come into this game headed in opposite directions. The Sooners are off to a 4-0 start to the 2015 season, including wins over two teams ranked in the top 25 when the game was played. Texas, on the other hand comes into the contest with Oklahoma with just one win in five games. The four Longhorn losses, however, have come against teams that have a combined record of 19-1.

It wasn’t that long ago that the winner of this annual matchup was considered to be favorite to win the South Division of the Big 12 if not the conference championship.

Oct 11, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Semaje Perine (32) runs with the ball against the Texas Longhorns during the Red River showdown at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners come into the 2015 Red River Showdown in the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll (No. 9 in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll). OU has moved up nine spots in the AP Top 25 since the beginning of the season. It is the 15th time in head coach Bob Stoops’ 17 seasons at Oklahoma that the Sooners have come into the Texas game as a ranked team.

Both teams have come into the game as ranked teams in 12 of the last 17 seasons, but this marks the third consecutive season (one year under Mack Brown and the last two under head coach Charlie Strong) that the Longhorns have not been ranked at the time of the Red River battle royal with the Sooners.

Something to keep in mind in this year’s game with unranked Texas: Oklahoma is 40-5 since the 2010 season against unranked teams. But before you get too comfortable with this analytical perspective, you also need to consider that the Longhorns are 5-2 as an unranked team playing against a ranked Oklahoma team.

Uncharacteristic of the Texas Longhorn teams in recent years is a defense that is yielding 38.2 points a game to its opponents, third worst in the Big 12 this season. The Longhorns have also showed great difficulty in stopping the run, which could provide just the spark that the Sooners have been looking for to rev up their running game, which has sputtered a bit in the first four games as they have focused on moving the ball more through the air as part of their new Air Raid offense.

Texas is allowing its opponents to run the ball for over 200 yards a game, which should be music to the ears of the Sooner running backs  Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. If Oklahoma is able to run the ball successfully on Saturday, Texas will be forced to put more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, which could create a field day for quarterback Baker Mayfield and OU’s growing arsenal of big-play receivers.

Oct 3, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Texas may have found its present and future quarterback in Jerrod Heard. The talented freshman is an elusive runner and is a much better passer than Tyrone Swoopes, who started last year’s Red River game. Heard is averaging 132 yards per game passing and 64 yards rushing. Quarterbacks who are mobile and present a dual pass-run threat, like Heard, are difficult to defend and put pressure on because you have to respect their ability to pull the football down and run. This quarterback style has created a lot of trouble for the Sooner defense historically.

Against a very good California team this season, Heard set a school record with 527 yards of total offense, including 364 passing yards. The last Texas freshman QB to throw for over 300 yards was Colt McCoy in 2006.

Running back D’Onta Foreman is the main Longhorn ball carrier when Heard doesn’t take it on his own. Freeman is averaging 42 yards per game. Interestingly, Jonathan Gray, who has been a mainstay in the Texas backfield for several years, is only averaging 41 yard a game on the ground in five games this season.

OU will need to be mindful on special teams of Texas punter returner Daje Johnson. The Longhorns lead the nation, averaging 21.4 yards per punt return, and Johnson is their primary weapon returning punts.

Mayfield is completing 66 percent of his passes this season and is averaging 345 yards per game. He ranks second in the Big 12, behind Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, in passing efficiency, and the Sooner quarterback will be going up against the Big 12’s second worst pass defense in Texas.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers have Oklahoma as a 13-point favorite in this year’s game, but in a deep-rooted rivalry game such as this, about the only purpose that serves is to further anger the team in the underdog role.

3 Key Things to Watch for in the Game

1. Taking advantage of Texas’ poor run defense: With its new Air Raid-style of offense, Oklahoma definitely looks to throw the football. If the Sooners are able to complement the passing game with a strong rushing attack against what has been a below average Texas run defense, it will only create more space and big-play opportunities for Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook and the other talented Sooner receivers to run wild in the secondary.

2. Winning the turnover battle and limiting penalties. Two interceptions and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown were important factors in the Sooners’ 44-24 win over West Virginia and came about because the defense played with a more aggressive attitude than it had in OU’s three previous wins. Perhaps even more important, though, the Sooners need to avoid costly turnovers of their own. Bob Stoops has been very disturbed by the high number of penalties that have been called on Oklahoma this season. OU is averaging 94 yards in penalties a game. Only Baylor has given up more penalty yards this season. That is bad football, the OU head coach chides, and has everything to do with poor individual discipline. It is a part of the game that the Sooners must clean up, or it will could cost them dearly moving ahead in the schedule.

3. Third-down conversions/field position: Oklahoma and Texas are the two worst teams in the Big 12 this season at converting third-down conversions. Both are converting less than 40 percent of their third-down tries. The team that does a better job of converting third downs and sustaining drives not only will win the field position game but also put up more points on the scoreboard and take home the Golden Hat.

My pick: Oklahoma 41, Texas 20 – This game will remain close for a while. The Sooners will start off strong and jump out early, but the Longhorns will muster just enough offense to keep things interesting for a half, at least. Look for OU to open things up more in the third quarter and put things out of reach in second half, giving the Sooners their second consecutive win in the series and victory number 11 over Texas in 17 games under Bob Stoops.