Oklahoma-Texas showdown to affect Big 12, playoff races
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the few people who won’t make a big deal about Saturday’s showdown with Texas.
This whole big game business is nothing new to Hurts. As Alabama’s quarterback, he played in three national championship games and the annual Iron Bowl against Auburn. The graduate transfer sees Saturday’s opponent as simply the next one.
“It’s all external factors,” he said. “Nobody’s going to change the way I think about something, what I tell my teammates or how we’re going to approach it. We’re going to continue to approach it by trying to go 1-0 every week.”
Everyone else is fired up over a game that will affect the Big 12 and College Football Playoff races. The sixth-ranked Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) and 11th-ranked Longhorns (4-1, 2-0) probably can’t afford a loss in Dallas if they want a shot at a national title.
Even without all the added stakes, this is a game that always gets circled on the calendar.
“What I am not is not one to downplay a rivalry game,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “To ignore the implications, I think, is naive as a coach and is make-believe. I also will say that my thrill in terms of a Saturday is not limited to rivalry games either. But I have a great appreciation for the opponent, what it means to this university.”
The game also will likely affect the Heisman Trophy race since Hurts is among the likely contenders and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger could push his way into the conversation.
Texas won last year’s regular-season matchup , but Oklahoma won the rematch 39-27 in the Big 12 title game.
Longhorns left tackle Sam Cosmi said Texas has unfinished business with the Sooners. And though Oklahoma enters the game ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense, the Longhorns believe they have the answers.
“They have a really explosive offense and are a really good team overall. I won’t take that away from them,” Cosmi said. “But I don’t think they’ve played anyone like us.”
Hurts leads all quarterbacks nationally with 99.8 yards rushing per game. Texas defensive back B.J. Foster said keys to stopping Oklahoma include forcing Hurts to throw — and getting a lick on him when he tries to run.
“From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t like to slide, so he’s going to engage contact with you,” Foster said. “He’s not dumb. He’s going to have to slide, or it’s not going to be good for him.”
Oklahoma averages 288.4 yards rushing per game, while Texas allows just 116.8.
“We’re sound on the run game. He’s going to have to pass the ball,” Foster said.
Texas might not want Hurts to pass — the Longhorns are allowing 325 yards per game through the air.
Texas has been using them the last two games. A double-pitch pass to tight end Cade Brewer led to a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Then Texas unveiled a cross-field lateral to Cosmi, who rumbled for a touchdown at West Virginia. Both were critical second-half scores. Texas also used a receiver pass for a touchdown against the Sooners last year. Ehlinger said all three scoring plays were put in the week of the game.
“We don’t like kicking field goals in the red zone,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “So we are going to pull out all the stops to score touchdowns down there.”
Texas senior wide receiver John Burt has certainly seen his share of games in this border rivalry — Saturday will be his sixth time playing against the Sooners. Burt played against the Sooners twice last season, but because he played in only four games he was able to redshirt for 2018. He led the team in catches as a freshman, but his playing time has been reduced each year since as he pursued a track career. His touchdown catch last week against West Virginia was his first since 2017.
DICKER THE KICKER
Texas sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker became an internet meme last season when television cameras showed him giving a teammate a head nod and a wink before kicking the game-winning field against the Sooners. Dicker has made four of six field goal attempts this season but missed his only one last week at West Virginia. He booted a career-long 57-yarder earlier this season against Rice.
Ehlinger has had issues with both of Oklahoma’s past two quarterbacks, Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. He said he has nothing but admiration for Hurts: “Following his story and understanding what he’s persevered through, unbelievable respect for him and what he’s been able to do at the college level. I extremely excited to get out there Saturday and compete against him because he’s such a respectable guy.”
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