With Texas and Oklahoma each having one loss in Big 12 play this season, Saturday’s annual matchup in Dallas is essentially an elimination game. The winner keeps its Big 12 title hopes alive, while the loser is not only out of the mix for the conference championship but is also likely out of the picture for an at-large spot in a BCS game.
Oklahoma bounced back after losing to Kansas State on Sept. 22, beating Texas Tech 41-20. The win was huge for the Sooners’ offense, which had four turnovers and never established a rushing attack in the loss to the Wildcats. The Longhorns find themselves in Oklahoma’s position this week, as they hope to rebound from a 48-45 loss to West Virginia.
The Sooners have won the last two matchups in this series and have claimed three out of the last five. Oklahoma’s 55-17 victory last season was Texas’ worst showing in this game since losing 65-13 in 2003.
Not only is this game big for positioning in the conference standings and in the polls, this is a huge matchup for recruiting purposes. While a win on the field isn’t necessarily going to guarantee players landing at a particular school, it doesn’t hurt to have a good showing against a rival school.
Storylines to Watch in Texas vs. Oklahoma
Can Oklahoma lean on Landry Jones to win this game?
In Oklahoma’s last two games against Texas, Jones has been solid, throwing for five touchdowns and 603 yards. However, Jones has been inconsistent at times throughout his career and did not play well in the 24-19 loss to Kansas State. Even though the senior may not be a Heisman Trophy contender or the Big 12’s first-team quarterback, he does have 100 touchdown passes and 13,411 passing yards in his career. In order for Jones to lead Oklahoma to a victory on Saturday, he has to get help from his supporting cast. The Sooners have a young receiving corps but has to be optimistic about its passing attack after watching Texas allow 268 yards and four touchdowns to West Virginia’s Geno Smith. The key battle for Oklahoma to win will be in the trenches and with the rushing attack. Although the Sooners are averaging 190.5 yards per game, they have not rushed for more than 121 yards against a BCS opponent in 2012. While Jones is capable of throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns against Texas, Oklahoma’s best plan should be balance, especially with the emergence of Damien Williams at running back.
Is Texas’ defense ready to turn things around?
One of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season has to be Texas’ defense. The Longhorns were supposed to have one of the nation’s best, especially with the Big 12’s No. 1 secondary and defensive line returning. However, this unit has not met expectations, allowing 404.2 yards per game, while ranking 83rd nationally against the run. The defense could get one piece of good news this Saturday, as linebacker Jordan Hicks could be ready to return to the lineup. Hicks’ leadership should help the defense correct some of the assignment problems it has experienced over the last few games. All of the pieces are in place for the Longhorns to have their best defensive effort in Big 12 play this year. The defensive line seemed to find its rhythm last week and with Hicks returning, the linebacking corps should be in better shape. If there’s ever a week for Texas to turn its defense around, Saturday’s matchup against Oklahoma would be the one.
Which team will win the battle on the ground?
Although both teams can win this game by throwing 35-40 passes, expect both offenses to strive for balance. Oklahoma’s rushing attack ranks ninth in the Big 12 in conference-only games, while Texas checks in at No. 5. Junior college recruit Damien Williams helped to provide a spark to Oklahoma's rushing attack in the first two games, but he has just 82 yards over the last two contests. The Longhorns may not have Malcolm Brown available for this game, which means Joe Bergeron and true freshman Johnathan Gray will handle the majority of the carries. Texas clearly has the edge in talent at running back, but the Sooners have been slightly tougher against the run, allowing 142.5 yards per game. The matchup favors Texas, but Oklahoma will be geared to stop the Longhorns’ rushing attack and hopes to force David Ash to win this game through the air.
The stakes are usually high in the Red River Rivalry but there’s even more pressure on both teams to win on Saturday afternoon. Even with one loss, Texas and Oklahoma still have legitimate Big 12 title hopes but can’t afford to drop another contest.
The Longhorns’ passing attack has improved from a weakness to a strength, especially considering quarterback David Ash has thrown just one interception on 138 attempts this year. The sophomore has a handful of quality weapons at receiver, including Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Marquise Goodwin and Daje Johnson.
This matchup will likely come down to how quickly Texas’ defense can turn things around against a potent Oklahoma offense. Even though Landry Jones has struggled at times during his career, he has a solid group of weapons – led by junior receiver Kenny Stills – and has played well against Texas in his previous two matchups.
The Longhorns are more balanced on offense, and their defensive line should get enough pressure to make things uncomfortable on Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. Expect a close game, but Texas snaps a two-game losing streak to the Sooners on Saturday afternoon.
Final Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma 27
by Steven Lassan
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