Preview: Texas vs. Oklahoma
by Dave Congrove
The 104th edition of the Red River Rivalry pits the 2nd-ranked Longhorns (CCR Top 120) against the 7th-ranked Sooners in a game of momentous importance to both schools. Texas is looking to prove it belongs in the national championship conversation after an undefeated, but uninspiring, start. Oklahoma is hoping to at least capture a Big 12 title after two 1-point losses have forced the Sooners out of the BCS title hunt for now.
In five of the last seven seasons, the winner advanced to the Big 12 championship game. But the Sooners advanced last year even after Texas won the game 45-35. That's because Texas later lost to Texas Tech to forge a 3-way tie in the south division standings between the Longhorns, Red Raiders and Sooners. Conference tie-breaker rules sent the higher-ranked team in the final BCS Standings to the conference championship game, and that gave the nod to Oklahoma.
Don't think revenge isn't on the minds of Texas players, or head coach Mack Brown. "We've talked about revenge a lot. What you want to do is get excited about playing in this game; you don't have to be mad", said Brown.
As if a national title chase and revenge don't provide enough incentive to Texas, the Longhorns are irate over pollsters dropping them from 2nd to 3rd after last week's 38-14 win over lowly Colorado. The offense only accounted for 17 points in the game as Texas was bailed out by a rash of Colorado miscues after the Buffaloes held a 14-3 lead late in the 2nd quarter. A long bomb cut the score to 14-10 at halftime, and the game really turned early in the second half when Colorado surrendered a blocked punt to give Texas a 17-14 lead. On its next possession, the Buffs drove into position to at least tie the game at 17-apiece, but a poor pass was intercepted and returned 89 yards to finally give the Longhorns some breathing room. A 74-yard punt return made it 31-14 to put the game away early in the 4th.
Aside from that performance, Texas has only faced Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, Texas Tech and UTEP. Texas Tech threw for 420 yards, but turned the ball over three times and gave up a 46-yard punt return in a 34-24 loss to the 17-1/2-point favorites.
Ironically, Texas also entered last year's Oklahoma game on the heels of a 38-14 win over Colorado.
Oklahoma enters this game with two losses for the first time since 2005. The Sooners saw their defending Heisman Trophy-winning QB, Sam Bradford, go down with an injury to his throwing shoulder just before halftime in the season-opener against BYU. The Sooners went on to lose that game 14-13, then fell 21-20 at Miami two weeks ago. Oklahoma outscored Idaho Sate and Tulsa 109-7 in Bradford's absence, but he returned this past Saturday in a 33-7 home win over Baylor.
The Sooners have a slight 7-6 advantage in Red River Rivalry wins since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, but Texas leads the series overall 58-40-5.
Despite fairly weak resumes, national sentiment still says these are two of the best teams in the country and everyone is just waiting for them to prove it.
Texas QB Colt McCoy was the runner-up in the Heisman race last year, finishing ahead of 2007 winner Tim Tebow of Florida. But McCoy's numbers are off as he ranks 22nd in pass efficiency after entering this game in 2008 at No. 4 on that list. He has 10 TD passes, but has also thrown 6 INT's. Still, he leads the nation in completion percentage at 73.4% and is averaging 282 yards per game.
McCoy also isn't running as much - he has just 58 yards on the ground and 1 TD. The leading rushers are junior Vondrell McGee (258 yards, 2 TD's) and freshman Tre' Newton (203 yards, 3 TD's). Both are questionable, however, for Saturday's game. Sophomores Jeremy Hills and Foswhitt Whittaker are next on the depth chart with 119 yards between them on just 8 carries. 255-pound sophomore Cody Johnson is the short-yardage specialist with 5 TD's, including 4 scores from 1 yard out.
In Bradford's minimal action for Oklahoma, he has completed 58% of his passes for 484 yards, 2 TD's and 0 INT's. In Bradford's absence, redshirt freshman Landry Jones completed 60% of his passes for 861 yards, 10 TD's, and 3 INT's. Most of Landry's better numbers were produced in a 45-0 rout of Tulsa in which he threw for 336 yards and 6 TD's.
Oklahoma still has De Marco Murray and Chris Brown in the backfield. Each ran for over 1,000 yards last season but were held to just 35 yards and 14 carries by the Texas defense.
Speaking of defense, these are the top two teams in total defense in the Big 12 with Texas 1st and Oklahoma 2nd.
Get up early to enjoy this one. Kick-off is at 11 a.m. central time, 12 noon eastern, and will be broadcast nationally on ABC.