From 2000–2012, both No. 19 Texas and No. 7 Oklahoma headed into the annual Red River Rivalry as ranked teams on all but one occasion. Following 2012, Oklahoma remained a ranked team and dominated the rivalry.
The Sooners have topped the Longhorns in six of the last eight meetings and seem to be slowly closing in on Texas’ 61–46–5 series lead. However, the Longhorns are ranked once again for their trip up to the State Fair of Texas this year.
People have recognized the hype surrounding this year’s team. ESPN’s College GameDay, high ticket prices and most importantly the number next to Texas’ name have put the national spotlight back on the classic at the Cotton Bowl.
If Texas wants to capitalize on the buildup and spotlight, here’s what it’ll have to do:
Texas wins if…
… controls the ball. Let’s face it. Saturday’s game is going to be more about whether the Texas defense can hold the Sooner offense rather than stop it. For that reason, it’s imperative to keep the ball out of junior quarterback Kyler Murray’s hands. Oklahoma moves the ball, and it moves it fast. The last thing Texas wants to do is give them more time. Just two weeks ago, Army gave a clue as to how to stop the Sooners: Hold onto the football for as long as possible. Army had possession for over three quarters of the game and consequently forced overtime. As for the Longhorns, sticking with the same formula that helped put away Kansas State and TCU in back-to-back weeks could yield another win.
… it gets another special teams play. In 2008, it was Jordan Shipley. In 2013, it was Daje Johnson. Special teams has made the difference in two of Texas’ four wins over Oklahoma in the past decade. A kick return or a safety can either give Texas momentum when struggling or give it the separation necessary to win a game. Freshman defensive back D’Shawn Jamison proved that last week as his 90-yard punt return for a touchdown proved to be the difference in a win when the offense stagnated in the second half. Another big play from the special teams could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Texas loses if…
… it can’t help its defensive backs. Five teams have already seen and fallen victim to Oklahoma’s speedy wide receivers. With threats like junior Marquise Lee and sophomore CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma will keep the Texas secondary busy. Expect the Longhorns to stray away from one-on-one matchups to eliminate what could be a huge advantage for Oklahoma. If the Longhorns can’t put pressure on Murray or force a turnover, Texas’ defensive backs could face a long day.
… Ehlinger can’t take care of the ball. It seems like Ehlinger’s last turnover was ages ago. The turnover was on the last play of Texas’ season-opening loss to Maryland. In the Longhorns’ four-game win streak, Ehlinger has not turned the ball over. The Sooner defense has only forced four turnovers all season, but if Ehlinger isn’t careful in the pocket or misses a man downfield, it could make it five.