The Big 12's biggest names are reeling headed into the Red River Showdown in the Cotton Bowl
The Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners is usually one of the main events on the Big 12 football calendar every season. This year's edition is turning into something closer to a grotesque sideshow. And that's not even taking into account the fact that the Texas State Fair won't be taking place outside the gates of the Cotton Bowl.
The Sooners find themselves in the unfamiliar position of starting the Big 12 slate 0-2 with consecutive losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. UT needed a miracle to survive its first game of the conference slate, an overtime victory over Texas Tech, and suffered an upset at the hands of TCU last week.
Can the Longhorns capitalize on the blunders that have waylaid the Sooners in their first two games in conference play, or is coach Lincoln Riley's team ready to take off? Here's what to watch in Dallas on Saturday afternoon.
Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
Spread: Oklahoma -2
When Texas Has the Ball
The Longhorns have the benefit of playing a seasoned veteran at quarterback. Making his fifth career start against Texas' blood rival, senior Sam Ehlinger is off to a solid start. He has compiled 14 touchdown passes against just two picks through three games.
A closer inspection of UT's passing attack finds some cause for concern. Take away a big outing versus UTEP in game one, and the passing numbers start to look pedestrian. In two conference games, the Longhorns are averaging 6.5 yards per pass attempt. Notably, the UT aerial attack has missed sophomore Jake Smith, who caught six balls for 49 yards and a touchdown in his first game of the season versus TCU.
So far, the Longhorns are generating more production from their ground game than in past seasons. In the first three contests, they averaged 5.5 yards per rush, up from 4.8 in 2019. OU is playing stingy run defense this year, though, allowing 3.2 yards per attempt.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
Even though he threw a critical interception to end his team's hopes of a comeback, quarterback Spencer Rattler gave a strong performance in his first start on the road. The redshirt freshman rang up 300 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-36 pass attempts versus ISU. He also made plays with his feet and displayed grit when he came under fire from the opposing pass rush.
Rattler's receiving corps, on the other hand, picked an inopportune time to contract a case of the drops. OU's running game needs a boost, too, after picking up a measly 3.5 yards per carry against the Cyclones. It's a sign of how badly the offensive line is falling short of expectations. Kennedy Brooks' decision to opt out didn't help any either.
For the Longhorns, this would be a good time for their defense to begin turning a corner under new coordinator Chris Ash. The UT defenders don't appear to be much better tacklers than they were a year ago, while the pass rush remains anemic. Assuming they can control OU's ground game with their defensive front, the Longhorns may have a chance to add extra tacklers to help out when the Sooners get the ball out wide in space.
Last season, OU's defensive front gave the UT offense fits when the two teams met. Ehlinger looked flustered for four quarters, as the Longhorns struggled to assemble drives. The Sooners turned over the ball twice inside the red zone, enabling Texas to keep the game within striking distance. OU pulled out a 34-27 win that wasn't as close as the scoreboard would indicate.
Even if the stakes may be lower in 2020, this remains one of college football's most intense rivalry games. The sense of palpable desperation on both sidelines this season adds a new twist.
The 2019 loss ran the record of Texas head coach Tom Herman to 1-3 against the Sooners. Another defeat this weekend would put him in the kind of territory for a rivalry game that tends to threaten job security. Although Herman doesn't seem to be in immediate trouble with the UT brass, a Red River win would definitely ease at least a little of whatever pressure might be mounting around the program.
In other words, even with OU's rough start to the season, the urgency to win this game probably weighs heavier on the Texas sideline. Maybe that enables the Sooners to loosen up, especially in an atmosphere that won't be nearly as charged as the typical OU-Texas game. More likely, though, UT scratches its way to a needed win, leaving the OU coaches searching for answers with the back half of the team's season on deck.
Prediction: Texas 42, Oklahoma 34
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— 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.