#13 Oklahoma (3-1) vs. #15 Texas (4-1)
Last week, I picked Georgia and was slapped in the face. I’ve eaten my crow with a side of garlic au gratin mashed potatoes and I’m ready to redeem myself (hopefully). Ninth-ranked LSU against third-ranked South Carolina was certainly deserving of the “Game of the Week,” despite my strong belief that LSU should be ranked lower. However, I went with tradition and picked a game not quite as good in the rankings column, but one that certainly will make up for that in emotions and bitter hatred for one another. Of course, I’m talking about the “Red River Rivalry.”
The series began in 1900 and has grown to be one of the most exciting rivalries in college football, rivaling even “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan, “The Iron Bowl” between Alabama and Auburn, and the Army-Navy game. At least one of the two teams have been ranked in the top-25 for 61 of the last 66 meetings and this year is no different as both teams hold top-15 rankings. Texas holds an all-time record of 59-42-5 over Oklahoma, but many of the wins were before Oklahoma was competitive in football. Since 1945, Texas just holds a two-win lead over Oklahoma 33-31-5.
Oklahoma has been a tale of two worlds. There is the dominating Oklahoma team that crushed undefeated Texas Tech 41-20, led by quarterback Landry Jones, who passed for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 62.5 percent of his passes. The running game, while not great, did rack up 121 yards and was playing against a Texas Tech defense that specialized against the run. On the other side of the spectrum, there is the Oklahoma team that lost 24-19 against Kansas State. Landry Jones threw an interception and lost a fumble, which were two of three extremely costly turnovers in a one-possession game. His one touchdown also was much less than Oklahoma needed from him. Outside of the turnovers, Jones moved the ball well, compiling 298 passing yards, but couldn’t get the ball into the end zone outside of one drive. The running game also failed to reach 100 yards (89 yards), but Dominique Whaley did average 5.6 yards per carry and would have helped more had Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops decided to run him more than nine attempts. Running back Blake Bell also was able to get into the end zone on a three-yard run.
The thing that most people fail to see is that although they aren’t as good as many predicted, the Oklahoma Sooners are still very good. With even one less turnover in that Kansas State game, they would most likely be undefeated right now. Kansas State is also undefeated and ranked sixth in the country. Oklahoma’s loss is much better than Florida State’s or USC’s, both teams that are ranked higher than Oklahoma. Even with the disappointment, Jones has passed for 1,032 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes and moves down the field with ease before stalling in the red zone. A few coaching decisions or a “coming-of-age” by one of the Sooners’ running backs can change that. Oklahoma running back Damien Williams has rushed for 341 yards, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. He is productive, but the numbers do lie a bit because of the ridiculous stats he posted against UTEP and Florida A&M. The Oklahoma scoring defense also ranks 20th in the nation, allowing only 16 points per game. Kansas State scored 35 points or more against all four teams that aren’t Oklahoma. It scored 51 or more points against three of those four teams as well. Oklahoma allowed only 24 points against the Wildcats. Oklahoma remains a threat in the Big-12 race and it would be foolish to write them off already.
Texas isn’t too shabby, either. Texas has been a surprise team, mainly because quarterback David Ash was pretty mediocre last year, passing for four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Also, young inexperienced skill-position players have plagued Texas ever since former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley left. Also, having two young quarterbacks(Ash and Case McCoy) taking part in a dual-quarterback offense wasn’t helping. Well, after a great off-season, Ash has passed for 1,276 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception, becoming the leader of Texas’s offense. The Texas running game has been productive as well with running back Joe Bergeron rushing for 300 yards and nine touchdowns and Malcolm Brown rushing for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Both running backs are averaging over four yards per carry. Altogether, the offense is ranked sixth in the nation, scoring an unbelievable 46.8 points per game. The Longhorns are even better when you consider that their one loss is to fifth-ranked West Virginia, who is led by Heisman front-runner Geno Smith and sports the fifth-ranked scoring offense and second-ranked passing offense.
This was a touch choice for me (they always are!). The bettors in Vegas have Oklahoma winning by three points.
Texas’s biggest weakness is one that has been made obvious for consecutive weeks now. The Longhorns’ defense has been abysmal to say the least, allowing an average of 26.4 points per game (ranked 67th nationally). After allowing 17 points against Wyoming, then pitching a shutout against New Mexico, the burnt orange defense has been scorched (see what I did there?). Against three teams from BCS-eligible conferences, they have given up 31, 36 and 48 points. Texas’s offense bailed them out in two of those games and got wins, but it is simply not sustainable against talented teams with good defenses. Oklahoma is one of those teams. Also, take this last point with a grain of salt because as I say this, West Virginia is proving me wrong. They have a worse defense and are still undefeated, but let’s wait until the end of the season until we give out any trophies.
Oklahoma’s biggest problem is the fact that Landry Jones disappears in most big games (see this post for a detailed analysis on that). Unfortunately, as big games are concerned, Jones does show up when Texas is involved. In three games against Texas, including one against the Colt McCoy-led team in 2009, Jones has passed for 853 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. One touchdown and both interceptions came as a freshman against that 2009 Texas team that went 13-1, losing in the National Championship. This rivalry brings out the best in Jones and he embraces the emotions of it, something Ash may not be experienced enough to do.
I like Texas’s offense. I believe it is good enough to win any game on any day, but their high-scoring, no-defense playing style is not sustainable. Oklahoma has made a living off of shutting down the flashy all-offense teams of the Big-12 for years. The funny thing is that Texas did the same thing along with Oklahoma. Texas coach Mack Brown is usually known for strong defenses with great quarterback pressure. Times are changing, I suppose. I think this will be a close game, but I have to go with what I feel is a more complete team. Boomer Sooner.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own prediction? Let me know in the comments.
GOTW record: 4-2
-Marty F. Nemec