#10 Oklahoma vs. #15 Texas (in Dallas at Cotton Bowl)
- Game Time: 11:00
- TV: ABC
- Sirius Channel: 117 (TX) 91 (OU)
- The Spread: Oklahoma -3
So here we are again. The State Fair of Texas. The Cotton Bowl. It's Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 south division title and a spot in the Big 12 title game.
That's been the script for this game nearly every season going back to the Big 12's formation in 1996.
The only problem is that it's now 2012. There are no divisions. There is no title game to worry about. Neither team is the defending Big 12 champion. There are two new kids on the block in the conference and one of those, West Virginia, is sitting atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas State. Both of the Big 12 leaders are there because they beat Oklahoma and Texas on their home fields (KSU over OU, and WV over Texas).
That doesn't mean there isn't still a whole lot at stake when the long time rivals meet on Saturday. Whoever comes out on the short end of the stick will have two conferences losses and while it wouldn't be the proverbial nail in the coffin just yet for their title hopes, it will make the climb that much steeper and possibly even insurmountable.
Texas heads to Dallas on the heels of a 48-45 loss to the aforementioned Mountaineers.
The biggest difference with this year's Longhorn team versus the last two seasons has been the switcheroo pulled by the normally stout Texas defense and a now semi-respectable Texas offense. That once dependable Texas defense has enough holes in it this year that it would likely make a pin cushion envious. The Longhorns have given up 1,036 yards and 84 points in their two Big 12 games this season.
Against West Virginia, Texas actually did an admirable job of at least slowing down quarterback Geno Smith with the exception of four fourth down conversions when UT couldn't get off the field. Their biggest problems came about because UT simply couldn't stop the run.
Texas currently ranks 9th in the Big 12 in rush defense ahead of only Kansas, and 7th in total defense overall.
"I don't think anyone in this building ever said this would be one of our best defenses ever. All of the outside entities said that and I constantly said that we're young down the middle. I thought it would be a defense that would struggle some but get better, but I never thought this would be one of our best defenses ever," Mack Brown said on the weekly Big 12 teleconference.
"They are getting better, it's hard to believe when you play Oklahoma State and you play West Virginia, two of the top three offenses in the country that you're getting better. But we did make improvements this week."
Oklahoma's offense hasn't been the juggernaut that West Virginia's has to this point, but they're still a team capable of putting up big points if Texas doesn't tighten a few screws during practice this week.
Quarterback Landry Jones, for all the criticism he's taken this season, has still managed to put up better than average numbers completing 63.3 of his passes with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Sooners ground game hasn't been great this year, but that doesn't mean it's not something the Texas defense can forget about on Saturday considering the success West Virginia had running the ball. Damien Williams, Dom Whaley, and even Roy Finch are plenty capable of racking up yards given the chance.
The biggest question mark for Oklahoma on Saturday will be the play of the offensive line which has struggled at times in the first four games. The Sooners are down yet another lineman after Nila Kasitati was lost for the season with an ACL tear against Texas Tech. Kasitati had been the top backup for an offensive line already missing Ben Habern and Tyler Evans.
Texas, Keys to the Game:
1. Get pressure on Landry Jones. The strength of the Texas defense is the play of ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The duo came up with three of UT's four sacks against West Virginia. Landry Jones still hasn't looked comfortable when the pocket starts collapsing and if Texas can continually keep the senior from setting his feet, their chances of leaving Dallas with a win are good.
2. David Ash needs to make plays in the passing game. Ash's improvement this year is evident, but he's yet to play against a secondary as talented as the one he'll see on Saturday. The Sooner secondary completely shut down a very good Texas Tech offense in the second half this past weekend while picking off Seth Doege three times. They'll be out to do the same on Saturday and Ash will need to be sharp to avoid any game changing plays that killed Texas in their 55-17 loss to OU a season ago (OU's defense scored three times against UT last season).
3. Win the kicking game. In a game that should be as close as this one, a missed field goal can be the difference between winning and losing. Texas has struggled in the kicking game thus far and the return of Anthony Fera helps, but he did miss a momentum killing field goal last weekend in the fourth quarter against West Virginia. They need to be perfect in this category on Saturday.
Oklahoma, Keys to the Game:
1. Keep the heat off of Landry Jones. Just as Texas' keys to the game involves putting pressure on Jones, OU's biggest key is keeping their quarterback off the Cotton Bowl turf as much as possible. Texas has talked all week about making Jones "uncomfortable" and it'll be up to OU's offensive line's job to make sure it doesn't happen.
2. How about a running game? The Sooner rushing attack hasn't been great to this point and that needs to change on Saturday. West Virginia rushed for 25 yards on 25 carries against Maryland, but then turned around and saw Andrew Buie gash the Texas defense for 207 yards.
The Sooners might not need a 200 yard rusher to win, but they need to be able to attack a Texas defense at its weakest point which is up the middle as Brown alluded to above. If Oklahoma's ground game gets going, the Sooners win. Without it, Texas can pin their ears back and get after Jones and OU will struggle to move the ball consistently as a result.
3. Start fast. Does this OU team have a fragile psyche? While it might be a stretch to say that, if the Sooners struggle early, they'll need to keep thoughts of their lackluster early season performances from creeping into their heads. The best medicine for OU on Saturday would be a couple early scores matched with forcing some early three-and-outs from Texas.
Matchup of the Game:
Oklahoma offensive line vs. Texas front four. It was talked about in the keys to the game, but it's worth mentioning yet again. The task is really simple. If the Sooners' offensive line can give Jones time to throw in the passing game and open a few holes running the ball, Oklahoma wins. If not, it could be a long day for OU. Saying it is one thing, actually doing it is another thing entirely. Who wins this battle stays in the Big 12 title race.
In a game between two evenly matched teams, defense wins. Sure, that's a little bit of a misnomer in the Big 12, but it won't be on Saturday.
Who has the better defense here? That would be Oklahoma.
The Sooners played by far their best game of the season against Texas Tech and will look for that to continue on Saturday. Ash has been better this year, yes, but what's he going to do when OU locks down the Texas wide receivers?
Bryan Harsin will likely put a few tricks out of the bag on Saturday which will help, not to mention Texas will have some success running the ball. That being said, it still comes down to Ash making plays down the field. Advantage OU.
Jones won't have a banner day, but he'll do enough to keep the chains moving. The Sooners win making it three in a row over Texas. Oklahoma 28 Texas 24.