Every October, the Sooners cross the Red River to meet the Longhorns at the State Fair of Texas — regardless of statistics, human nature almost always finds a way to unleash chaos. Saturday was no different.
It started long before the Sooners claimed the Golden Hat with a 34-27 victory — the Red River Showdown truly began when tempers flared as both teams headed to the tunnel during the pregame. The structure of the Cotton Bowl, which opened in 1930, forces both teams to enter the field through the same tunnel — one way in, one way out.
Sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai was in the tunnel, getting into an explicit verbal spat with Sooners before warmups. Ossai had to be held back by teammates thinking he would try to fight the Sooner. All that animosity spilled out right before the game. Both teams came together in a scrum, resulting in a flag being thrown for “unsportsmanlike conduct” on both teams. By rule, this meant if any player received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the game, it would count as their second, which would result in an automatic disqualification.
“I don’t know who on our side was a part of that,” head coach Tom Herman said. “Certainly it’s not something that we condone. So I think when you do get in rivalry games like this, your emotions are going to be at an all-time high, and we’ve got to do a really good job of restraining our emotion to retaliate.”
Once the play started on the field, that’s when the true chaos began. Oklahoma was dominant in the first quarter, seemingly holding a clinic on how to effectively run the ball. Senior quarterback Jalen Hurts had more rushing yards than passing, going wherever he wanted to on the field. The Sooners first drive — which was as easy and effortless as a touchdown drive gets — gave the impression that Texas was in for a long day.
Texas couldn’t move the ball. Its first four drives ended in punts. Luckily for Texas, the defense was able to get two crucuial turnovers in the red zone keeping the score at 7-0 until the final two minutes of the first half.
“A lot of times, we get caught up in a situation where we evaluate,” senior safety Brandon Jones said. “With a team like this, you’re obviously going to get beat if you’re not the first one to come out swinging.”
Jones was right. Texas didn’t score a touchdown until its second drive in the second half. The breakthrough finally happened when freshman quarterback-turned-running back Roschon Johnson broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and burst out for a 57-yard run.
The very next play, Johnson punched the ball across the goal line. The Texas crowd, which had been lifeless after the first drive, came back to life. They filled the Cotton Bowl with “Texas Fight” chants, drowning out the other 41,000 Oklahoma fans screaming “Texas sucks” chants of their own. Just as the game was tied and the Longhorns were finding their momentum, they lost a captain. Senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach took a late helmet shot on star junior receiver CeeDee Lamb and was ejected for targeting.
“When you lose a captain, when you lose a leader, it hurts,” Ossai said. “He was obviously upset because this is something that means a lot to him … and to not be able to come out here and finish the game and battle it out, you could tell it hurt him.”
From that point on, the Longhorns were trying to keep up with the Sooners, constantly playing catch up with Hurts and the Oklahoma offense. Oklahoma was simply more effective in nearly every aspect of the game.
The Longhorns were never able to get out of their own way whether it be penalties or poor execution. Oklahoma used trick plays, pick plays and running plays and each had the same result: points on the board.
Texas had an onside kick and a chance to tie the game, but sophomore wide receiver Brennan Eagles, the closest one to the ball, was out of reach. Oklahoma took over at the Texas 38-yard line, converted one first down and ended the game. The Longhorns battled through unchecked emotions, an abysmal first half and one of the most potent offenses in the nation. It was all too much. Roughly four hours after the pregame altercations, the Longhorns were forced to walk down that same tunnel surrounded by a sea of crimson, now with a 4-2 record and the loss of their College Football Playoff dreams.
“Obviously this one hurts —hurts the most for our seniors,” Herman said. “But we also know that we can’t let that team beat us twice. We’ve got a long season ahead of us, and we’ve got to come to work tomorrow ready to learn from our mistakes, accept the feedback, and get better.”