(AP) – Oklahoma’s strong start might look even better if the Sooners weren’t among the nation’s most penalized teams.
A little yellow laundry is nothing compared to the growing number of red flags surrounding Texas.
The 110th edition of the Red River Showdown appears to be one of the most lopsided as 10th-ranked Oklahoma heads into Saturday’s meeting looking to remain undefeated while sending the spiraling Longhorns to a fourth consecutive loss.
Oklahoma ranks third nationally in penalty yards per game (94) and sixth in penalties per contest (9.5), including 12 for 134 yards in last weekend’s 44-24 win over then-No. 23 West Virginia.
Ahead of an emotional matchup with Texas, the 10th-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) want to focus on smarter play. Coach Bob Stoops said he can talk about it all he wants, but it’s up to the players to decide how they will play.
”I’m not playing,” he said. ”I’m not the one out there making those penalties. They know what’s right and wrong, and if they choose to do it wrong, that’s on them. It’s bad football.”
The excessive penalties are about the only aspect of Oklahoma’s early play that fits that description, though with two turnovers apiece in all four wins, Stoops may disagree. But the Sooners are 12th in the nation in total offense (521.8 yards per game) and tied for 10th in scoring (42.0 points), and are four touchdown passes shy of their total of 17 from a year ago.
"I don’t want to use the word ‘pleasing’, but it’s what we expected," offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. "It’s what you have to do. I think it shows how much they’ve taken the risk. They’ve accepted our coaching from Day One. … We’ve coached those guys really, really hard and they haven’t backed down from it. They’ve responded. … As good as they want to be, we can’t rely on one guy."
The one guy who’s stood out is quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has thrown for 13 TDs and run for four more while averaging 10.24 yards per pass attempt in his first four games with the Sooners.
This won’t be Mayfield’s first experience playing against Texas, however. The Austin native spent 2013 at Texas Tech before transferring and threw for 237 yards and an interception in a 41-16 loss with the Red Raiders back then.
"Yeah, it’s always a game you want to play in as a little kid and now it’s finally here," Mayfield said. "Preparation starts now. Even with how they’re playing right now, you can’t go in there and take them lightly. That’s how rivalry games are. We’re going to go in there and give it our best shot."
The Longhorns (1-4, 0-2) are off to their worst start in 60 years, and it’s hard to find a blue-blood program at a lower point than Texas following its 50-7 loss to then-No. 4 TCU last Saturday.
In addition to the on-field woes, Charlie Strong’s players on Monday publicly exposed a rift between some of the team’s veterans and a talented group of freshmen that have forced their way onto the depth chart with scant success on the field.
”People need to grow up and take things more seriously. A lot of people aren’t preparing,” said junior safety Dylan Haines, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last season. ”They just want to go out and play the game on Saturday. They don’t want to put in the work on (the other days).”
Freshman defensive end Charles Omenihu apparently didn’t like this kind of chatter and swiftly responded on Twitter.
”Lol,” said a tweet from Omenihu’s account, which seconds later added, ”People get in front of the cameras and just talk they heads off. Always remember think before you speak.”
Several older players tried to diminish talk of a split locker room, but even they ended up reinforcing the message that some of their teammates haven’t been putting in the work need to succeed.
”Sometimes people have to suck it up and understand where it’s coming from,” junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway said.
None of the older players identified any teammates and no freshmen came to the media availability. The Longhorns had 13 freshmen in the two-deep lineup against TCU, including starting quarterback Jerrod Heard and six linebackers and defensive backs. Whether it’s a lack of talent or inexperience showing, there are clear issues – particularly with the defense, which is allowing 507.2 yards per game to rank 119th in the nation.
The Longhorns were already dealing with the embarrassment of freshman defensive back Kris Boyd tweeting from the locker room during halftime of Saturday’s blowout loss. He retweeted what amounted to an invitation from an apparent supporter of Texas A&M, a rival the Longhorns don’t play anymore. The tweet read, ”Whenever ya’ll (sic) are ready to transfer … we’re ready. (hash)Gig’em.” Boyd later said he apologized and insisted he is ”100 percent committed” to the Longhorns.
Asked if the Sooners had a policy regarding cell phones, Stoops joked he didn’t have one until this week. Growing more serious, he said he expects players to use common sense with social media.
”If you want to tell everyone you are at the grocery store picking up Twinkies, have at it,” he said. ”But if you are telling them what’s happening in our building, now it’s a problem and you won’t be using it (social media) then if you can’t do it the right way.”
The Sooners have averaged 39.4 points in winning four of the last five in the series.