When Texas players exit the locker room and run into Cotton Bowl, they are met with an ocean of crimson. The field’s entrance point, located on Oklahoma’s side of the field, is more than 50 yards away from the safety net of Texas fans. As they run toward the 50,000 or so Longhorn fans, the OU faithful makes sure the rivalry is known.
“Their fans get the tunnel. There is a lot of not nice things said,” head coach Tom Herman said on Monday. “They do a good job of looking up your girlfriend’s name and your mom’s name and all that stuff and saying things about family members and all that.”
For veterans like senior center Zach Shackelford, navigating the Red River atmosphere seems natural. But Shackelford still has to talk to young players about what to expect, like incoming senior offensive lineman Parker Braun, who transferred from Georgia Tech. Though Braun has played in battles like Georgia versus Georgia Tech, there is something special about the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry.
“I’ve told Parker, it’s a really cool venue first of all,” Shackelford said. “It’s 50,000 on one side, 50,000 on the other. (It’s) just a really special place to play. And you come out and fans are booing and you go over to your side and they’re all cheering, so it’s a really cool atmosphere.”
Now only three days away from Dallas, offensive players talked about what they expect in their matchup against No. 6 Oklahoma. At 5–0, Oklahoma has scored 267 points on their opponents for an average of 53.4 points per game. However, Oklahoma has yet to play a ranked team this season. Though players cannot deny their offensive prowess, they have not yet played a team like Texas, according to offensive lineman Sam Cosmi.
“Overall, they’re a really good team, and I’m gonna take that away from them,” Cosmi said. “But I don’t think they’ve really played anybody like us. So, it’s gonna be interesting going into the game and seeing how they respond and seeing what kind of team they really are.”
Quarterback Jalen Hurts anchors Oklahoma’s offense. Hurts started his career at the University of Alabama, where he helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national title in 2017. However, he was dethroned by current Alabama starter Tua Tagovailoa in 2018 and transferred to Oklahoma in 2019.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger had nothing but high praise for the senior quarterback and is excited to play against Hurts.
“I’m extremely excited. You know, he’s had success everywhere,” Ehlinger said. “He’s been following his story and understanding what he’s persevered through, and just unbelievable respect for him and what he’s been able to do at the college level. So I’m extremely excited to get out there on Saturday and compete against him because he’s such a respectable guy.”
Oklahoma is known for having an explosive offense. For Ehlinger, the most important part of Saturday’s game will be staying on the field as long as possible and converting third downs. Currently, Texas’ third down conversion rate is 56.58 percent.
“Third downs are critical for any offense,” Ehlinger said. “And so we’re going to handle our business and do the things that we need to do to put our team in a place and in a situation to win. So that’ll be scoring in the red zone and converting third downs.”
For seniors like Shackelford, he knows this will be the final time he gets to play in the historical rivalry.
“It’s a special place to be, a special place to play,” Shackelford said. “This will be my fourth time playing in this environment. I think it’s really important for the young guys to just kind of … calm their nerves a little bit and know what they’re getting into. It’s gonna be a four-quarter battle.”
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, with only three days separating these two teams.