Oklahoma football: Four storylines on the 118th Red River rivalry game

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14: Fans make their way into stadium for the game football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14: Fans make their way into stadium for the game football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The iconic Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be colorfully adorned in half crimson, half burnt orange on Saturday, as it is every year at this time, as the Oklahoma football team crosses the Red River to do battle with longtime rival Texas.

When the first Oklahoma-Texas football game was played, in 1900, neither team was known by its current nickname (Sooners and Longhorns). At that time, the Texas team referred to itself as the “Varsity,” and the story about the game that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman referred to the game as a “practice game” with the Varsity. The Texas team prevailed in that inaugural game and in six of the first seven meetings by the combined score of 130-35.

While the Longhorns were dominant in the early days of this historic rivalry, the Sooners have played that role since the new century dawned in 2000. Over that span of 23 games Oklahoma is 16-7 against Texas, including wins in the last four games, and the Sooners have outscored the Horns by 189 points.

Here is a comparative tale of the tape of these two college football powerhouse programs:

OU            Texas

Seasons                                  128             130

Wins                                         931             931

National titles                            7                  4

Conference titles                    50                28

Heisman winners                     7                  2

1st-team All-Americans   167             118

Weeks as AP Top 10          626             453

Weeks as AP No. 1            101                45

Here are four prominent storylines coming into Saturday’s 118th renewal of what has been called the Red River Shootout, the Red River Rivalry and since 2014 the AT&T Red River Showdown:

Who will be at starting quarterback for Oklahoma?

Head coach Brent Venables is holding his cards close to the vest regarding who will start at quarterback for Oklahoma. Starter Dillon Gabriel is in the concussion protocol this week after taking a hit to the head in last week’s loss to TCU. Davis Beville, a transfer from Pittsburgh replaced him and played the entire second half against the Horned Frogs. He completed 7 of 16 passes for 50 yards. He also was sacked three times holding on to the ball too long. Before last weekend, Beville had thrown just two passes in a Sooner uniform.

Venables said earlier this week that he would not say anything about the quarterback situation or any of the other Oklahoma injuries until closer to game time. That may be some gamesmanship on the part of the OU head coach, but most experts believe it will be Beville who draws the starting assignment. That changes the Sooner offense considerably.

What will the Oklahoma defense be like against an explosive Texas offense?

In the last two games, the Oklahoma defense has given 509 and 668 yards of offense, a good percentage of that coming on the ground, and an average of 45 points per game. The Sooners rank dead last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 198.0 yards per game, and Texas has two of the best running backs in the Big 12 in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. It’s no surprise that the two best rushing offenses in the Big 12 are Kansas State and TCU, both of which pounded Oklahoma in the run game.

The Longhorns also get back starting quarterback Quinn Ewers, a former five-star prospect who transferred from Ohio State. Ewers has been out with an injured clavicle since the Alabama game. His return will put added pressure on a banged-up Oklahoma secondary.

First time since 1998 that neither OU nor Texas is ranked entering the game

This is the first time since 1998 that neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns will be ranked at the time of the Red River rivalry game. It is only the second time (1997 was the other) in the last 50 years (since 1973) that at least one of the two teams was not ranked at the time of the October game. Since 1973, both teams have been ranked 29 times when they played each other. Nineteen other times, only one of the teams was ranked. So this year is an extremely rare occurrence, although both Oklahoma and Texas have appeared in the top-25 national rankings this season (OU as high as No. 6).

Brent Venables has more Red River experience than coaches on either side

This will be the 14th Red River rivalry game the OU head coach has been a part of. All were as a member of Bob Stoops‘ Oklahoma coaching staff from 1999 through 2011. Venables is 8-5 against the Longhorns in those 13 games. No other assistant on either side has as much Red River rivalry experience as Venables. Texas scored 21 points or less in eight of the 13 games, 17 points or fewer six times and 14 points less four times.

The two teams are surprisingly close statistically (2022 statistics)

                OU             Texas         

Points per game                     37.0           36.8

Points allowed                        25.2           21.4

Rushing yards                       220.8         154.0

Rushing yards allowed       198.2         120.2

Passing yards                       260.6         263.0

Passing yard allowed         224.8         245.6

Total offense                        481.4         417.0

Total defense                       423.0         366.3

Turnover margin                      -1              +3

3rd down offense                 38.8          37.0

3rd down defense                40.5          41.3

Sacks by                                    2.8             2.2

Sacks allowed                         2.4             1.8

Red zone offense                94.4           85.7

Red Zone defense               82.3           88.2

Field goals                             5-6            10-12