For ex-Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman, the theme of the Red River Rivalry games against the Oklahoma Sooners was "almost."
The archrivals played five times between 2017 and 2020 with Herman at the helm for UT. The Sooners won four of the games, none by more than 12 points. If just one of those tantalizingly close losses goes the Longhorns' way, is Herman still on their sidelines this season?
New Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian now gets his turn to try and restore competitive balance to the annual showdown in Dallas. Here's what to watch at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 21 Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
Spread: Oklahoma -3.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
An offense that has been missing in action in the early part of the season showed signs of life in a 37-31 win last week against Kansas State. The Sooners generated 261 yards through the air, as nine players caught at least one ball on the day. OU quarterback Spencer Rattler played his best game of the season after head coach Lincoln Riley created more opportunities to get the talented passer throwing on the move.
More importantly, the Sooners ran the ball 32 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns a week after West Virginia bottled up OU on the ground. Riley installed more zone-running schemes in the playbook against KSU. That seemed to unlock running back Kennedy Brooks, who averaged more than six yards per carry in the game.
OU's ground game will pose a stiff test for UT's defense, which is allowing 4.67 yards per rush, 106th overall in the country. Rattler doesn't run as well as some of the other QBs Texas has faced this year, so that gives the Longhorns one less thing to worry about. On the other hand, UT also hasn't seen a team that punishes opponents for cheating to stop the run the way the Sooners can.
When Texas Has the Ball
The Longhorns have built momentum in recent weeks since replacing Hudson Card at quarterback with Casey Thompson. The Horns are averaging more than 50 points per game since installing the veteran behind center. Now in his third season in Austin, Thompson has earned praise from Sarkisian for his demeanor and ability to control the flow of the offense.
It helps to have arguably the best running back in the country lining up next to Thompson in the backfield. Sophomore Bijan Robinson powered UT to a 32-27 win over TCU last week with 216 yards and two touchdowns on 35 rushing attempts. He may not find the same opportunities to gash OU this week with one of UT's top offensive linemen, Denzel Okafor, now out for the year.
For their part, the Sooners are coming off a disappointing defensive performance in which they struggled to get the Wildcats off the field. KSU converted eight of 15 third-down attempts and four of five on fourth down, enabling the Wildcats to take the Sooners to the brink. If the OU defenders don't clean up their tackling this week, Robinson could run wild on Saturday afternoon.
In some ways, this feels like a game between teams heading in opposite directions. Despite their unblemished record, the Sooners haven't come close to looking like a squad expected to challenge for the national championship. Following a blowout loss to Arkansas in week two, Texas seems to be hitting its stride with Thompson at the helm of the offense.
That sounds promising for UT in theory, but in practice may prove otherwise. It all starts on the ground for the Longhorns, and Oklahoma has been stingy against the run this year, ranking 13th nationally at 2.72 yards allowed per carry. The Sooners won't shut down Robinson, but keeping him from hammering out solid gains every time he touches the ball would put more pressure on Thompson to perform in obvious passing situations. It also means more opportunities for OU's pass rush to tee off on the UT QB.
Texas can win this game, but the Horns need to bait Rattler into some of the ill-advised throws that have put the Sooners in unfavorable situations on occasions this year. A big play on special teams wouldn't hurt, either, like the TD OU surrendered to Kansas State late in last week's game. In the end, however, the Sooners are probably better equipped to withstand UT's offensive firepower.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Texas 24
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.