Sooners and Longhorns look to add another exciting chapter to their epic rivalry
It may be a cliche, but it holds up for the Red River Showdown. OU has entered the annual October grudge match with UT as the favored team every year since 2010. Yet, in their last six meetings in the regular season, the two squads have split the series at three games each. (They also played in the Big 12 Championship Game last year, which Oklahoma won, 39-27.)
Once again, Vegas likes the Sooners, installing the team from north of the Red River as a double-digit favorite. At an unblemished 5-0 on the season, OU has rolled over a series of overmatched foes. For its part, Texas' one loss in five games came against an LSU team far superior to the Sooners' competition up to this point.
Will the battle-tested Longhorns pull off another upset, or will OU take back the Golden Hat in 2019?
Oklahoma vs. Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium (Dallas)
Spread: Oklahoma -10.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Jalen Hurts appears to have integrated seamlessly into the OU offense. The Alabama transfer is currently completing 75 percent of his passes for an average of 14 yards per attempt, with 17 touchdown throws against just two interceptions. He’s also OU's leading rusher, churning out nearly nine yards every time he runs the ball.
Of course, Kyler Murray was enjoying a similar breakout campaign as OU's QB entering last season's Red River Showdown. Even though Murray had a combined five TDs and nearly 400 yards of total offense in the contest, a fumble and an interception played a big part in UT’s 48-45 victory. The Sooners can't afford for Hurts to come down with his own case of turnoveritis.
UT has struggled to stop the pass this season, ranking 97th nationally in passer rating allowed and 108th in yards per attempt at 8.3. Hurts has shown some inconsistency throwing the ball deep, but OU still has one of the most efficient aerial attacks in the country. Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has to decide how much he wants his players on the back end to focus on matching up with dangerous OU receivers such as CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo at the expense of run support.
When Texas Has the Ball
The matchup between Hurts and Texas QB Sam Ehlinger looks like one of the best QB showdowns of the season. The Longhorns' field general is operating UT's multifaceted offense with precision and skill. It helps that he's playing behind an ever-improving offensive line and throwing to one of the best receiving corps in the nation. Five games into the season, the Horns are averaging 41.8 points per game. If that holds up, it would be a 10-point bump from 2018.
OU's defense has turned up the intensity under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch. The new attitude starts with a disruptive defensive front led by nose tackle Neville Gallimore, who's enjoying more opportunities to penetrate into the offensive backfield in OU's attacking scheme. Linebacker Kenneth Murray is playing more aggressively as well, shifting between an inside alignment and the edge of the box.
Although the Sooners are having more success rushing the passer by emphasizing getting upfield, that philosophy has left them prone to explosive plays on the ground. Ehlinger and the running back duo of Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson should find some creases in OU's front. Can they exploit them?
Also, Texas head coach Tom Herman will look for ways to exploit OU's inconsistent play at safety. Keep a particularly close eye on UT's slot receivers.
No matter their position in the polls or the thick point spread, Texas presents a difficult matchup for OU. UT now has a more explosive offense than in recent years, so the Longhorns don't necessarily rely on grinding out drives to win games. Their size on the perimeter creates mismatches against teams like OU that lack for big bodies in the secondary.
However, Lincoln Riley's hire of Grinch has helped raise the play of OU's defense across the board. A turnover or empty possession on offense no longer spells doom for the Sooners. OU clearly didn't have that luxury a year ago in this game – UT scored on eight of its 12 possessions in the game, including six touchdowns.
Perhaps Hurts will struggle in his first true test since arriving in Norman. Maybe Texas can induce another defensive meltdown by OU with the Longhorns' array of QB runs and RPOs. The Sooners’ unproven kicking game could let them down.
UT’s vulnerabilities in the secondary will be tough to overcome, though. The combination of OU's thundering ground game and playmaking receivers will likely give the Sooners the upper hand in a game in which they never quite pull away.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas 30
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.