Charlie Strong must be experiencing some déjà vu right about now.
The Longhorns’ head coach comes off back-to-back losses heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 20 Oklahoma, as questions swirl regarding his job security.
Texas was unprepared and underperformed in its Week 4 matchup with Oklahoma State, falling 49-31 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Strong demoted former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Monday, the same day Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel reported Strong is close to losing his job at the end of the season.
“We still have plenty of games left,” Strong said. “That’s when I said to our players, you just go play and let me handle everything else. It doesn’t matter to me anymore, because what’s going to be said is going to be said.”
Sound familiar? Strong seemed to be stuck in an intractable situation prior to facing Oklahoma in 2015, when Texas sat at a woeful 1–4. The Longhorns entered the Red River Rivalry bruised and battered, having lost to then-No. 4 TCU 50-7 the week prior.
“[We were] totally disappointed, frustrated after the past two weeks [on] how we came out and battled and competed,” Strong said following the defeat last October. “We came out today and just didn’t play hard. We knew this was a good football team — it’s No. 4 in the country — but that should not have stopped us in going out and playing our best.”
But Texas shocked the college football world at the Cotton Bowl just one week later, beating the Sooners 24-17. The Longhorns prevailed despite Oklahoma’s undefeated record and their status as 17-point underdogs heading into a scorching day in Dallas.
The circumstances heading into this year’s game are certainly different — Oklahoma sits at 2–2 on the year following losses to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Houston — but the consequences are similar for Strong. The Red River Rivalry gives him a chance to reset his program on the national stage and possibly save his job.
“It takes one game to really turn the program,” Strong said. “Records doesn’t [sic] matter … If we get off to a good start and just relax and just have fun in this game and just let things happen, it’s going to be a really good day for us.”
Texas must rely on a similar formula to that of last year’s matchup if it hops to receive the coveted Golden Hat for the second-straight year. The Longhorns set the tone early against Oklahoma in 2015, pressuring Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield early and often. Texas ended the afternoon with six sacks, tied for a season high.
And with the Longhorns’ secondary struggling, Texas will count on its defensive front to get to Mayfield once again.
“I know [Mayfield] is a baller,” sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “Even in high school, I was shocked he didn’t have an offer here … He beat me when he was a senior [and] I was a sophomore at Westlake, and I’m still salty about that.”
As the clock struck zero at the Cotton Bowl in 2015, Strong was doused with Gatorade and hoisted into the air by his players. The head coach had saved his job, reveling in the importance of winning in the Big 12’s most storied rivalry.
And now at 2–2 with consecutive losses looming over his head, Strong must defeat the Sooners once again to silence his doubters.