Game of the Week: Sooners, 'Horns prep for unbeaten showdown
No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 11 Texas meet as unbeatens for the first time since '08
To pull off the upset, Texas will need to run the ball and win the turnover battle
Landry Jones and the Sooners may have too much offensive firepower for Texas
The 2011 edition of the Red River Rivalry did not look like it was going to be a marquee game this preseason, with Oklahoma entering the year at No. 1 and Texas stumbling in unranked after a disastrous 5-7 season. The Sooners have lived up to their billing, winning all four of their games by double-digits, including a tester at Florida State in mid-September. Texas, meanwhile, has worked its way up to No. 11 in the AP poll after four straight wins, creating the first Red River between undefeated teams since 2008. Texas still has plenty to prove, and Oklahoma is just the first of five ranked opponents remaining on its schedule. But Mack Brown has his Longhorns believing last year was an aberration. They'll get a chance to prove it at the Cotton Bowl.
1. Is two better than one? Texas will continue its two-quarterback rotation against Oklahoma, with sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash splitting time. The duo was formed out of necessity when Garrett Gilbert, the preseason starter, continued his 2010 struggles and had to be replaced in the second quarter of Week 2. McCoy, the younger brother of Texas legend Colt, is billed as more of the passer, while Ash is the runner. But in truth, both can handle whatever new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin calls. In total, the two have completed 70 percent of their passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brown praised his young quarterbacks this week, but acknowledged Oklahoma "has a big advantage" with Heisman candidate Landry Jones starting on the other side. Jones was clutch in the fourth quarter against Florida State and is directing the nation's No. 5 passing attack. More importantly, his experience in the hurry-up could catch Texas off-guard defensively, something Brown admits happened too many times a year ago.
2. Grinding out an upset: If the Longhorns want to move to 5-0 and vault themselves into the top 10, they'll need to run the ball. Oklahoma is ranked 50th nationally against the run and gave up 241 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 38-28 win over Missouri. Texas will try to keep the pressure off its two quarterbacks by feeding true freshman Malcolm Brown early and often, and by putting senior Fozzy Whittaker in the wildcat formation. Texas is averaging 206 yards per game and has run 67 percent of the time on the season. A successful run game also keeps the Oklahoma offense, which if averaging 42.5 points per game, on the sideline and gives the Texas defense a chance to breathe between no-huddle possessions.
3. Staying cool in the Dallas heat: The Cotton Bowl will be cooking even with the 11 a.m. local time kickoff, and maintaining poise will be especially important for the Longhorns. No less than 17 freshmen and sophomores dot the Longhorns' two-deep, including both quarterbacks, so if one teams gets rattled it's likely to be the one in burnt orange. Mistakes hurt Texas last year, with several penalties extending OU drives and critical turnovers thwarting UT's upset hopes in a 28-20 loss. Mack Brown shared a story this week about former tight end Bo Scaife getting amped up for this game as a freshman. "He said, 'Coach, this is so cool, I think I'm going to hyperventilate.' I said, 'Great. That makes me feel super.'" Oklahoma performed well in a crazed Doak Campbell Stadium against Florida State in Week 2, and Texas at least experienced the Rose Bowl in whipping UCLA. Whittaker said that when he was a freshman, Jamaal Charles told him big-time players step up in games like this and avoid getting overwhelmed by the big stage. "That has always stuck with me," the senior running back said. He'll have to pass that message on to his team.
Oklahoma enters as a nine-point favorite. The favorite has won the game outright in seven of the last eight years, the exception being Texas' upset of OU in 2008. Oklahoma is 1-4-1 versus Texas against the spread the last six years, but is 10-4 in its last 14 games against the spread, including 3-1 this season. Texas is 1-4 against the spread its last five games as an underdog.
Landry Jones passed Heisman Trophy winners Jason White and Sam Bradford this season to become Oklahoma's all-time career leader in passing yards with 9,363.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup. Pauline evaluated Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles earlier this season.
DT Kheeston Randall, Texas: Coming into the season, Randall was considered a late-round choice by NFL scouts, but he's played well as a senior and has moved into the middle frames. The 300-pound lineman is a strong defender who commands the attention of opponents and occupies blockers. He's not much of a playmaker, but he takes up space and allows teammates to make plays on the ball. His matchup against Sooners center Ben Habern will be a showdown to watch. Grade: Third-round prospect.
LB Keenan Robinson, Texas: The Longhorns have placed a number of talented linebackers in the NFL recently, and Robinson is next in line. He's a three-down defender who makes plays sideline-to-sideline, displaying tenacity stopping the run and the athleticism necessary to cover tight ends or running backs. He'll be tested against the dink-and-dunk offense employed by the Sooners, who will surely run a number of crossing patterns in his direction. Grade: Third-round prospect.
LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma: Lewis is a hard-working weak-side linebacker prospect who shows terrific instincts. He's quick to diagnose action and shows an inordinate amount of skill in pass coverage. Intensity is the best quality of his game, an attribute that will serve Lewis well at linebacker and on special teams once he enters the NFL. Grade: Fourth-round prospect.
CB Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma: The feisty junior broke into the starting lineup last season and has been one of the Sooners' steadiest players in the secondary. He's a physical cornerback with next-level ball skills and the ability to play in a variety of defensive schemes. Hurst lacks classic size but will be a welcome addition to an NFL roster as a dime back and special teams player. Grade: Fifth-round prospect.
Recent history suggests this game will be close. Despite Texas' ugly 2010 season and Oklahoma's 12-2 mark, the Sooners only beat the 'Horns by one score last year. The last four meetings have been split 2-2 with each decided by 10 points or fewer. If Jones stays away from interceptions, which isn't a given, the Sooners will put up plenty of points and could make this a runaway. The keys for Texas will be to establish the run and win the turnover battle. This one will be close for a half, but the Sooners have too much firepower for a young Texas fielding inexperienced quarterbacks.
OKLAHOMA 34, TEXAS 20
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