Texas-Oklahoma Preview

Though one of the Red River Rivalry combatants has gone on to

win the Big 12 in recent years, neither Texas nor Oklahoma has been

playing much like a champion.

That particularly holds true for the No. 21 Longhorns, who are

coming off a stunning home loss but could rebound by also throwing

the eighth-ranked Sooners’ season off track in the 105th edition of

this showdown Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

“Just saying the words OU around here gets everybody fired up,”

Texas tailback Fozzy Whittaker said. ”We’ll have a chance to

redeem ourselves.”

A victory over their archrival would certainly provide some

redemption for the Longhorns following last Saturday’s 34-12 defeat

to a UCLA team which entered with a 1-2 record. Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big

12) never threatened in the second half and was frequently booed by

the fans in Austin, leaving Mack Brown “embarrassed” after his

worst home loss in 13 seasons as Longhorns coach.

“This isn’t my first fan panic,” Brown said. “The only thing we

can do to get fans to calm down is win.”

While Texas’ national title hopes are now in jeopardy, the

Sooners (4-0, 0-0) will boost theirs with another win Saturday –

and they surely won’t mind if it’s another close one. However, the

close calls they’ve had against inferior opponents have been cause

for concern in Norman. Three of their wins were decided by seven

points or less, including a 31-29 victory last Saturday over

Cincinnati.

“Though I’m not at all pleased in the manner in which we did

win, I still recognize as a team there’s a big difference between

winning by two and losing by one or two,” coach Bob Stoops said.

“I again am positive, I feel good about the team that we are making

the plays necessary to be on the other side of that.”

That wasn’t the case last year, when Oklahoma was 0-4 in games

decided by one score or less. That record included a 16-13 defeat

to the Longhorns, who have won four of the last five meetings.

They went on to claim the Big 12 championship, something the

winner of this game has done four of the past six years – the loser

won the other two titles.

“That just made it more intense, I think, and the fact that

we’ve been in the national hunt – both of us over the years – also

intensified it or at least brought it more attention nationally,”

Stoops said of the rivalry.

Stoops’ defense is a big reason his team has failed to dominate

early this season. The Sooners are giving up a conference-worst

421.3 yards per game and have let some big leads nearly slip away,

giving up 41 fourth-quarter points.

Conversely, Texas’ most worrisome issue is on offense. While

their defense is holding opponents to a league-low 221.8 yards per

game, the Longhorns have failed to crack 400 yards of total offense

in any of their four games and in the last two, they’ve amassed

nine turnovers while averaging 89.0 yards rushing.

“I’m only concerned about the lack of points,” Brown said.

”The rest is all talk. How you get it in the end zone is all that

matters.”

That’s something each team did only once in last year’s meeting,

but Texas held the Sooners to minus-16 yards rushing and padded its

all-time series lead to 59-40-5. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones threw for

250 yards – after the Longhorns knocked out Sam Bradford and

effectively ended his collegiate career – but was intercepted on

his final two drives.

Jones is carrying the Oklahoma offense this year, ranking fifth

nationally with 1,221 passing yards while completing 64.5 percent

of his throws with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s

stepped up while tailback DeMarco Murray has been inconsistent

following a season-opening 208-yard effort against Utah State,

since getting held to 76.0 per game and 3.3 per carry.

The Texas offense has been mediocre in both phases. Garrett

Gilbert has struggled to fill the shoes left by Colt McCoy, ranking

as the second lowest-rated passer in the Big 12 after totaling four

interceptions and two fumbles over the last two games.

“In a game like this, you’re going to need to be able to make

those big plays because it’s the team that creates the most

turnovers, that holds the ball the longest, that controls the clock

that wins this game,” Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis said. “We

may give up some big plays sometimes, but we play hard and we make

plays. That’s what you need in a game like this.”