Strong insecurity adds spice to Red River Rivalry
AUSTIN, Texas -- College football is a winning business and when you're not winning, business is bad. That backdrop makes the timing of the Red River Rivalry between No. 20 Oklahoma and Big 12 archrival Texas a bit tricky for the Longhorns.
Texas coach Charlie Strong, whose team has gone from trending upward to sliding down in the past three weeks thanks to road losses to California and Oklahoma State, went from facing questions about his own job to demoting defensive coordinator Vance Bedford - now in charge of defensive backs - since leaving Stillwater last weekend.
Things could get even worse with the Longhorns in the crosshairs of an improving Oklahoma team on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Sooners are hell-bent on revenge after losing to Texas last season and are back in the saddle after a win on the road against TCU last Saturday.
It doesn't take much to rile up these two teams when they meet each year for their neutral-site showdown on the Texas State Fair Grounds.
But this season, the stakes seem as high as ever for a pair of 2-2 teams who are lost in the wake of hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff due to their multiple losses.
The Longhorns are 5-5 since their win in Dallas last season.
Strong said he thought that game could've been a turning point for the team. It wasn't, as Texas went 5-7 in 2015 and did not go to a bowl game.
"I go back to that game all the time because that could have been a turn right there, because it takes one game to really turn the program," Strong explained. "We are at the point now where we know how to handle it.
Strong hopes a victory this season could shake his team out of its doldrums.
"Last year we jumped out to a good lead and we played good early, just an emotional lead and then the game settled down," Strong said. "But we've just got to go out and just play well and not give up the big play on defense and see if we can move the ball on offense and be solid in the kicking game."
Two straight losses to good but not great teams and surrendering 99 total points therein prompted Strong to demote defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Monday and take over the responsibility for calling defensive plays himself.
Last Saturday's 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State marked the first time in school history that a Texas team allowed 45 or more points in three of the first four games of a season and something had to be done.
"I don't think it's desperate times for desperate measures," Strong said. "I've (coordinated the defense) before and I can see where I can help us. Play calling is a rhythm. You've got to get on rhythm and you try to keep people off balance. Sometimes when (the players) hear a different voice...you're trying to give them a shot of energy."
Through four games, the Longhorns' defense has allowed a total of 153 points and ranks 116th nationally in scoring defense. In losses to California and Oklahoma State the Longhorn defense has surrendered 1,062 yards, including 555 total yards to the Cowboys on Saturday. Texas (2-2, 0-1 in Big 12 play) ranks No. 87 in total defense, 105th in passing yards allowed and dead last with just one turnover gained.
"It's real hard to have fun when you're giving up 50 points (a game)," Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III, Texas' two hammerhead running backs, were injured in last week's loss to Oklahoma State. Foreman (abdominal issue) will be back for OU but Warren (right knee) is out indefinitely.
Oklahoma (2-2, 1-0 in Big 12 play) comes into Saturday's game off a 52-46 victory over No. 21 TCU in Fort Worth, the Sooners' third game (and first win) against ranked teams this season.
Stoops was asked Monday if the role changes at Texas will affect how the Sooners will prepare for Saturday.
"I don't know how much you can totally change, but it's something we've got to be alert to that we'd have to adjust to," Stoops said. "With all we see through the year, our guys are used to seeing a lot."
Oklahoma surged back from a 21-7 deficit via a 35-0 run in a stretch when Stoops said the Sooners played their best football of the season.
"All of the team's units played with urgency and fire and it was a positive start in the Big 12," Stoops said. "There's plenty we have to improve on and going down to play Texas is always a big game and a big challenge for us."
Stoops announced Monday that starting linebacker Tay Evans has been forced to quit football because of continued symptoms from concussions.
And quarterback Baker Mayfield missed practice Monday while he tries to recover from a leg injury he suffered in the first half against TCU. Mayfield returned to the game in the second half with a brace on his leg and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another pair of scores in the victory.
Texas and Oklahoma meet for the 111th time on the gridiron Saturday in the Red River Showdown. The Longhorns own a record of 47-38-4 against the Sooners since the game began at the Cotton Bowl in 1929.
The two teams have split the past 10 meetings.