Oklahoma football: Stopping run is key to 4th straight OU Red River win

Oct 12, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Brian Asamoah (24) tackles Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram (26) during the game at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Brian Asamoah (24) tackles Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram (26) during the game at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s the second weekend in October, and that means that annual Oklahoma football road trip south across the Red River for one of college football’s classic rivalry games: Oklahoma vs. Texas.

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On Saturday, the Sooners (5-0, 2-0) and Longhorns (4-1, 2-0) will battle each other for the 117th time and for the 89th straight year at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. This will be the third consecutive year Oklahoma and Texas have entered their annual second weekend in October battle royal ranked in both major polls.

The Sooners come in ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the Coaches Poll. Texas returned to the national rankings this week (No. 21 in the AP poll and 23 in the Coaches Poll) after winning on the road at TCU this past weekend.

Oklahoma is 11-2 since 2000 as the higher-ranked team in this game when both teams are ranked.

5-0. Saturday, Oct. 9. 851. 11 AM CT. 815. ABC. 4-1. Sooners -3.5

The Sooners are riding a 13-game winning streak and have won the last three games against Texas, including a win over the Longhorns in the 2018 Big 12 championship game.

Last year’s game, contested before a seriously restricted crowd at the Cotton Bowl because of the pandemic, was a four-overtime thriller won by Oklahoma 53-45. The atmosphere will be more normalized this year, with the State Fair of Texas in full swing outside of the stadium and a crowd of close to 90,000 packed into the Cotton Bowl.

Oklahoma and Texas are two of college football’s blue bloods. Both rank in the top 10 in all-time wins (No. 6 and No. 4, respectively) with more than 900 wins apiece. Between them, they have won 11 national championships, 78 conference titles and nine Heisman Trophy winners.

This game takes on added meaning this year with the news this past summer that OU and Texas will be leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. This may be the one time away from their respective campuses that they will not hear ridicule or disparagement from the stands as they make their rounds through the Big 12 schedule.

All of which goes into making this game one of the most-anticipated games of the college football season.

Saturday’s game will be televised on ABC with ESPN’s primary college football broadcast team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on the call and Holly Rowe on the sidelines.

In addition, the ESPN “College GameDay” program will air from Dallas on Saturday morning. This will be the 39th time “College GameDay” has been at a game involving the Sooners. It is the seventh time the program has broadcast from the OU-Texas game in Dallas. The two teams have split the previous six games.

What to watch for from Texas

The Longhorns are playing well under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. They’re lone slip up was a 41-20 loss to a highly motivated Arkansas team the second week of the season. Other than that, Texas has been pouring on the points and piling up yards on offense.

Texas leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 43.8 points per game. The Longhorns rank fifth nationally in rushing yards, led by sensational sophomore running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson has rushed for 652 yards through five games and is averaging 130.4 yards per game, good in both categories for No. 2 nationally.

The 6-foot, 214-pound Robinson is tough to bring down and has the speed and agility to make tacklers miss. He averages over six yards every time he carries the ball.

The Longhorns changed quarterbacks several games into the 2021 season, going with junior Casey Thompson, son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson (1986-88). Thompson replaced redshirt freshman Hudson Card, who started the first two games of the season.

Thompson poses a dual threat with his legs and his arm. He has completed 71 percent of his passes, and when he does drop back to pass he is looking primarily for Jordan Whittington and Xavier Worthy. Robinson is also a threat out of the backfield catching passes. The three of them have combined for nine touchdown receptions this season.

Texas is not as strong defensively. The Longhorns rank eighth in the conference in total defense, giving up nearly 397 yards per game. Only Kansas has a worse pass defense efficiency rating in the Big 12 (146.0). The Horns have also had trouble stopping the run. They are giving up 172 yards per game.

Cameron Dicker is the Texas kicker. Sooner fans will remember the game-winning 40-yard field goal he kicked in the 2018 regular-season game to beat the Sooners 48-45. This year, he is five of seven in field-goal tries with a long of 49 yards. He leads the Big 12 in punting, averaging 48.0 yards per kick.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

Three factors are key for Oklahoma in this game. They Sooners must stop, or at least slow down, the Texas run game. They must get pressure on and cause disruption for Texas quarterback Casey Thompson. And the Sooners must run the ball effectively.

Offensively, Spencer Rattler and the Sooners should be able move the ball and put up points against a suspect Texas defense. If OU is able to get its run game going with Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray, it will open up passing and playmaking opportunities for the Sooners’ talented receiving corps.

The Sooners want to be able to finish off drives, especially in the red zone, and not have to settle for three points from Gabe Brkic’s leg. Penalties, particularly on the offensive line, have hurt the Sooners in recent seasons, especially in last week’s game.

The difference maker in this game is going to be how well the Sooner defense can get off the field on third down and limit the long, time-consuming offensive possessions it has allowed in just about every game this season. Bending but not breaking on defense isn’t a winning formula against a good Texas team. Oklahoma probably isn’t going to win the game if its offense only gets seven or eight possessions.

Savvy Sooner stat(s)

Oklahoma is 41-4 as the No. 6-ranked team in the AP poll and is 3-1 against Texas as the nation’s sixth-ranked team.

Lincoln Riley is 12-1 as OU head coach in games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. His only loss to an AP-ranked team was 48-45 to Texas in 2018.

Bottom Line

The Sooners are a slight 3.5-point favorite in this year’s Red River Showdown game with Texas, according to the WynnBET Sportsbook. This may be Oklahoma’s toughest defense challenge yet this season. If the Crimson and Cream are going to win this game, which would be their fourth straight over the hated Horns, they are going to have to tackle better than they did at Kansas State and get third-down stops. If OU can deprive Texas of any points in at least five possessions, the Sooners will win the game.

Oklahoma 37, Texas 31