Oklahoma football: One player, one problem, one punt and big prediction

Oct 10, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray (32) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Red River rivalry at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray (32) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Red River rivalry at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Brent Venables and the other Oklahoma football coaches will tell you that every game — especially the next game on the schedule — is important.

Don’t let them fool you. Every game might be important, but there is no bigger game on the schedule than the annual meet-up with Texas in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Oklahoma-Texas rivalry is one of the best in all of college football. It may not be the most popular or the longest running, but it has its own uniqueness that sets it apart.

Late on Saturday morning, a sellout crowd of some 90,000 rabid fans, half in OU’s crimson color and a nearly equal number of burnt orange-clad Longhorn fans, will pack the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the 118th renewal of the Oklahoma-Texas hate fest promotionally known as the Red River Showdown.

Over 80 percent of the Red River rivalry games contested in the Associated Press poll era (1936 to present) have featured at least one ranked team and in nearly half of the encounters both teams have been ranked. That is not the case this season.

Neither team is ranked in the nation’s top 25 entering Saturday’s game (Oklahoma is 3-2 and Texas enters the game with a 2-2 record), although both have been ranked this season. Just two weeks ago, Oklahoma was ranked No. 6 in the country.

None of that really matters in this game because it is one of college football’s classic rivalry games. And the one thing we know to be true about rivalry games is that anything and everything is possible despite the records, the rankings and what the oddsmakers say.

Given Oklahoma’s injury situation, however, coupled by back-to-back poor performances, the Sooners may need a lot of help and a minor miracle to best its archrival for a fifth consecutive time and 10th time in the last 13 meetings. Texas has been established as a fairly solid favorite this year.

The Tulsa World newspaper likes to use the headline: “One Player, One Problem, One Preposterous Prediction and One Pick,” in previewing Oklahoma football games every week. We are employing a variation of that theme in setting the table for Sooner fans for the game that is circled on OU and Texas calendars each and every season regardless of the circumstances.


In most seasons, the outcome of this game is largely determined by the quarterbacks. A quarterback who has played in this game previously has a big advantage. This season, neither starting quarterback has experienced the thrill or the intense pressure and emotion associated with the OU-Texas rivalry. And this goes as deep as the backups for both teams, which is especially concerning for Oklahoma, which is likely to be without starter Dillon Gabriel. That would mean that Davis Beville would draw the starting assignment for the Sooners.

OU head coach Brent Venables had not ruled Gabriel out of the game as late as Friday morning, possibly for reasons of strategic gamesmanship. Gabriel took a hard hit to the head while sliding after a quarterback run last weekend against TCU and has been in the concussion protocol this week. Most experts believe, however, that Gabriel will not play and that Beville will have the reins to the Sooner offense on Saturday.

On the other side, Texas had a bit of a quarterback dilemma, as well. Starting QB Quinn Ewers, who had been out of action since the Alabama game a clavicle injury, is expected to start for the Longhorns against the Sooners on Saturday. Hudson Card, a former four-star quarterback recruit has started the past three games for Texas.


Oklahoma has a problem — a giant one — on defense. The Sooner defenders appeared lost, confused and uninspired in the loss last weekend at TCU. It was about as bad as I’ve witnessed an OU defensive performance at any time in the past decade, and there have been some horrid ones, I can assure you. It doesn’t appear to be a simple fix, and certainly not something that can be totally reversed in a week’s practice time. The Sooners are also battling injuries to some key people on the defensive unit, which certainly doesn’t help the cause.

Brent Venables says the desire to do well on defense is there, but the discipline to do what is required isn’t. And you’ve got to believe that as humbling as last week was, the Sooner defensive players have to be doubting themselves and perhaps playing not to lose instead of being aggressive and physical and playing to win.

Oklahoma has some uncharacteristic issues on offense as well, but if the Sooners have any chance of winning the game against Texas on Saturday, the defense has to play at a high level.


“Marvelous” Marvin Mims is not only Oklahoma’s top receiver, he also is an outstanding punt returner. Mims ranks fourth nationally, averaging 19.7 yards per return (118 yards on six returns). The Sooners have already almost doubled their punt return total from last season, when they recorded 12 returns for a total of 69 yards.


This is the first time this season that Oklahoma is not the favorite coming into a game, and also the first time in several years that the Sooners have not been the favorite in this game. There is good reason for that. Oklahoma has given up 90 points and 1,277 yards of offense in its last two games and has not led in a game since the fourth quarter of the win at Nebraska.

With the possible exception of the UT-San Antonio game, Texas has looked very good in every game and almost knocked off No. 1 Alabama in Week 2.

The Sooners are likely going to be paddling upstream the entire game in this one. And you can bet the Longhorns have fresh memories of what happened at the Cotton Bowl a year ago. If Texas gets out to another 28-7 lead in the opening quarter like last year, I hate to think how this one could end up.

Texas 38, Oklahoma 17