The Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas is annually billed as the marquee event on the Big 12 football schedule. This year's edition has lost some of its luster as both the Texas Longhorns (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) and Oklahoma Sooners (3-2 overall, 0-2 Big 12) enter the game unranked.
The Sooners, in particular, are reeling after last week's 55-24 shellacking from the TCU Horned Frogs. The final score doesn't do justice to TCU's dominance, as the Horned Frogs compiled 668 yards of total offense. It marked OU's second Big 12 loss in a row, a rarity for the program, after falling to Kansas State.
The Longhorns received a shot in the arm this week with the news that touted freshman Quinn Ewers will return at quarterback. UT shook off a loss to Texas Tech two weeks ago and bounced back with a 38-20 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Horns took a 28-7 lead into halftime over WVU and cruised to a win in the second half, led by backup QB Hudson Card's 303 passing yards and three touchdown throws.
Here's what to watch as the Longhorns and Sooners take the field in Dallas on Saturday.
Texas vs. Oklahoma
When Texas Has the Ball
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has a robust number of offensive weapons at his disposal, including arguably the best running back in the country, Bijan Robinson. The junior from Arizona is averaging 5.8 yards per rushing attempt through five games, and he has topped 100 yards in Texas' last three games. He's running behind an improved offensive line that features true freshman Kelvin Banks at tackle.
Sarkisian also has the services of Ewers available this weekend. When last we saw the mulleted freshman, he was lighting up the Alabama defense for 134 yards on just 12 passing attempts. A shoulder injury in the first half of that game sidelined him for the next three contests, but he's back and looking to hook up once again with talented receiving targets Xavier Worthy and Ja'Tavion Sanders.
The idea of the Longhorns hitting on all offensive cylinders can't sit well with Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables. His defense has been rocked in its last two games, and the status of its best performer so far, Billy Bowman, remains up in the air after the strong safety left the TCU game in the first quarter. The Sooners' best hope to contain the Longhorns may be trying to force their inexperienced quarterback into rookie mistakes by disguising coverages and blitzes. Unfortunately for OU, the D has struggled enough with fundamental skills in tackling and coverage that getting overly exotic could just add to their problems.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
Among OU's mounting concerns, quarterback Dillon Gabriel's status for Saturday remains cloudy after suffering an injury in the first half versus TCU. The Sooners managed to look even more stagnant on offense after Gabriel left with his team trailing 34-10. Assuming Gabriel can't play, Pitt transfer Davis Beville will be under center. Beville completed 7 of 16 pass attempts for 50 yards against the Horned Frogs.
OU does have the ability to lean on a productive ground attack that is pumping out 5.2 yards per attempt. Aiding that effort, veteran running back Marcus Major will return to action this week to split carries with workhorse Eric Gray and freshman Jovantae Barnes in the backfield.
On the other side of the field, the Sooners will see a much-improved Texas defense from the one that took the field in the Cotton Bowl a year ago. Through five games, the Longhorns are allowing 21.4 points per game, down from 31.1 in 2021. They owe that success in part to a run defense that has allowed no more than 3.4 yards per carry to every opponent so far not named Alabama.
The Longhorns have a prime opportunity to end a four-game losing streak to their rivals from up north. The last two games have exposed Oklahoma's vulnerability to the running game, and Texas has one of the top backfield combos in the nation with Robinson and Roschon Johnson. If Venables and OU defensive coordinator Ted Roof gear up to contain the Longhorns on the ground, it would invariably mean giving Ewers a chance to exploit the Sooners' defensive backs in one-on-one matchups with the UT receiving corps.
Meanwhile, with OU hobbling at QB, Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski can stack the line of scrimmage to prevent the Sooners running backs from getting loose. If Beville ends up taking snaps for the Sooners, he has yet to show that he can operate the aerial attack at a level necessary to push OU over the finish line in this kind of game.
Look for UT to take the coveted Golden Hat back to Austin for the first time since 2018.
Prediction: Texas 38, Oklahoma 20
Podcast: Week 6 Preview, Predictions, the Latest in Coaching Changes, and 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.
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