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RED RIVER RIVALRY: Sooners look to get back on track with a win in Dallas

Ray Dozier / Red Dirt Report
The Cotton Bowl Stadium is hosting the Red River Rivalry for the 89th time on Saturday.
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DALLAS – As the Oklahoma Sooners enter into the 112th edition of the Red River Showdown Saturday (2:30 p.m. ESPN), the real identity of this football team is, to quote Winston Churchill, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

No. 12 Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) stunned a very good Ohio State team in Columbus then struggled against Tulane, Baylor and Iowa State—three teams that, honestly, aren’t good football teams. The Sooners managed to beat Tulane (56-14) after a 14-14 first quarter tie. The defense struggled early in that game but held off the Green Wave in the final three periods.

OU took a 14-0 lead against Baylor but had to hold off the Bears to win by eight points. Oklahoma led Iowa State by two touchdowns last week, but let off the gas and the Cyclones upset the then-No. 3 Sooners, 38-31, in Norman. That loss was one of the most embarrassing in Oklahoma football history.

Even the offense looked pathetic for most of last Saturday’s loss. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had trouble finding open receivers as ISU shifted eight men to defend the passing lanes.

The Bears and Cyclones both had inexperienced quarterbacks who looked like Heisman Trophy candidates when they went up against the Sooners.  Baylor’s Zach Smith completed 33 of 50 for 463 yards and 4 TDs. ISU’s Kyle Kempt was 18 of 24 for 343 yards and 3 TDs. And, neither quarterback threw an interception against OU.

This week, Texas coach Tom Herman is likely to throw an inexperienced quarterback in the fray in the Cotton Bowl. Herman hasn’t committed to his choice of starter, but freshman Sam Ehlinger has been better than sophomore Shane Buchele.

Buchele has a better completion percentage (68% to 56.4%), but Ehlinger had a superb performance in the Steers’ 40-34 double-overtime victory over Kansas State on the road. On the opening play of Saturday’s game, Ehlinger threw an interception, but he settled down and connected on 30 of 50 for 380 yards and a couple of scores. He also ran for 107 yards.

The K-State victory extended Texas’ winning streak to two (both conference games), and the (3-2, 2-0) Longhorns appear to be improving each week after an embarrassing 51-41 loss to Maryland in Austin to kick off the season. They bounced back with a 56-0 win over San Jose State and took then No. 4 USC to two overtimes before dropping a 27-24 decision. And, the Horns defeated Iowa State, 17-7, two weeks ago in Ames.

So, Texas played Iowa State better than Oklahoma—means nothing in this rivalry and stats say nothing either. Seventeen times, the lower ranked (or unranked team) has pulled off the upset in the 72 years of polling where at least one team was ranked.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of this year’s numbers.

The Sooners lead the nation in total offense with 587 yards per game. Texas is 33rd with 464. OU has rolled up an average of 44.6 points (6th) per game, and the Horns have scored an average of 35.6 (35th).

Both teams are close defensively. Oklahoma has allowed 23.2 points (45th) and 356 yards (44th) per outing. The Steers have given up 23.8 points (50th) and 354.2 yards (42nd) per game.

Running the ball is key to a victory. Nearly every year in the crazy rivalry, the team that runs for more yards wins the game. This year, OU has rushed an average of 202.6 yards (36th) and Texas 175.8 (59th). Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams are the leading cogs to the Sooners running wheel. Sermon has run for 380 yards and 3 TDs, while Adams is one yard behind his teammate with one score. Adams is averaging 10.6 yards per carry, while Sermon gets 6.2 per tote.

Chris Warren III is the leader for the Longhorns with 270 yards (5.5 per carry) and 5 TDs. Ehlinger is second with 165 yards.

The Sooners appear to have the edge in the running game, but how does each team fare against the ground attack? The Steers have allowed 105.2 yards (17th) per game and Oklahoma 123.6 (32nd).

Linebacker Malik Jefferson leads the Steers with 43 tackles and five stops for losses. Safety DeShon Elliott has five interceptions, and the team has a total of eight.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has yet to throw a pick this year. He still leads the country with a 214.1 passer rating (100 of 134 for 1,635 yards with 15 TDs and no interceptions). Mayfield completed 24 of 33 against the Cyclones for 306 yards, but several of his passes missed the mark. Other times he was scrambling for his life.

Mark Andrews and CeeDee Lamb are the Sooners’ top two receivers, but Lamb is questionable after hurting his shoulder last weekend. Andrews has 19 catches for 355 yards and 2 TDs while Lamb has 17 for 307 and 4 scores.

OU’s defense hasn’t been physical since the Ohio State victory—many missed tackles last week. The D needs to be aggressive. Linebackers Obogonnia Okoronkwo and Caleb Kelly need to be turned loose and blitz Ehlinger, not dropping in pass coverage. Obo is second on the team with 31 tackles, including 9 behind the line and 5 sacks.

Look for the Longhorns to lineup their receiver Collin Johnson against Jordan Thomas who has blown many covers recently. Baylor and Iowa State exposed him. Johnson and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps each have 25 receptions this year—Johnson for 485 yards and a touchdown; Hemphill-Mapps for 261 and no score.

Texas has the special teams edge. Punter Michael Dickson’s 46.7 average is 4.5 yards better than OU’s Austin Siebert. Siebert and UT’s Joshua Rowland have been perfect on their PATs, but not good on field goals—Siebert: 2 of 4; Rowland: 4 of 9.

Oklahoma has not produced any threat on punt returns, but the Horns have. Hemphill-Mapps is average 32.5 yards per return with one touchdown. He has only four returns and isn’t ranked by the NCAA, which requires a minimum of 1.2 returns per game.

Mayfield must show that he’s the team leader by being patient and limiting mistakes. Receivers must find the open field and make catches. The Sooners O-line must win the battle in the trenches as it did against Ohio State. Texas has a good defensive line.

Oklahoma bounced back from losses the past two years and ran the table to consecutive Big 12 titles. The Sooners lost to Texas in 2015 and won seven straight before losing to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. After dropping two of the first three games a year ago, OU went 10-0 including a Sugar Bowl win over Auburn.

Just like those last two seasons, I look for the Sooners to come out fighting for their lives again Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. If not, head coach Lincoln Riley might be donning a dunce cap after looking like a genius for beating the Buckeyes back in Week 2.


Fast Facts

*UT is the home team this year and every odd-numbered year.

*UT leads the series 61-45-5; 50-42-4 in Dallas.

*OU is favored by 8.

*OU has won 10 of 15 games when ranked and Texas is unranked.

*Riley’s coaching record: 4-1 (.800); 1-1 vs. Big 12 opponents.

*Herman’s coaching record: 25-6 (.806) overall; at UT: 3-2; 2-0 vs. Big 12 foes; 6-1 vs. ranked opponents.

*OU is 10-5-1 in games played on October 14.

*UT is 8-4-1 in games played on October 14.

*Both teams have met on October 14 nine times and the series is even at 4-4-1.

*OU coaches are 4-12-2 in their debut vs. UT.

*UT coaches are 15-6-2 in their debut vs. OU.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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