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Oklahoma heads into the Cotton Bowl with the momentum, but we all know things can change very quickly once you get inside the fairgrounds.
There are a lot of Oklahoma fans within Sooner Nation who probably don't go into games, let alone the Red River Shootout, imagining what could go wrong.
I am not one of those fans.
That is essentially where this series of posts was spawned from, well that and the all too many instances that have occurred which now dictate the use of Big Game Bob air quotes. It's no secret that Oklahoma and Stoops have come up short in some big spots and with Saturday having the feel of a de-facto Big 12 elimination game, it's safe to say this year's Red River Shootout qualifies as a big spot.
To that point, here are several things OU fans will not once to see once we kick this thing off for the 107th time.
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. There is no shame in admitting Texas has an elite pair of defensive ends. And there is no shame in Josh Heupel, James Patton, or Bruce Kittle admitting max protect is our best friend on Saturday. Protecting Landry Jones is priority one in every game, obviously, it's just so happens to be of life-or-death type importance in Dallas. If Texas can get pressure with just their front four, it's going to be a really long day for our Sooners.
However, if Oklahoma can protect Landry the Texas secondary has proved to be extremely vulnerable. Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, and Sterling Shepard matchup very well against the UT defensive backs. And that's not even taking into account a guy like Trey Metoyer or the recently emerged Durron Neal and Lacoltan Bester or the even more recently made available option of Jalen Saunders.
Josh Heupel and Landry Jones have a lot of toys to play with Saturday, speaking of that . . .
Don't Fall In Love With The Pass. We know Heupel has a problem with this. It's a problem we all want to believe he's working to improve upon and we actually saw some progress last week against Texas Tech. Admittedly, not enough to satisfy many of us but progress none the less.
Why this falls in the 'Can't Happen' category, even with Texas' issues in the secondary, is because of just how poorly the Longhorns have defended the run. They've been horrible, no matter how deep some might dig to find an advanced metric that says something to the contrary.
They've got issues, we can argue as to how serious they may or may not be, but they've got issues. The only question is whether or not Heupel is going to try and exploit them. Damien Williams, Dom Whaley, Trey Millard, Brennan Clay, possibly even Roy Finch are his tools to do so and if he's wise, he'll use them early and often. There will be plays to be made in the pass game to be sure, but if ever there was a Saturday for the run to set up the pass it's this coming Saturday in Dallas. My ideal box score would have no more than 40 pass attempts next to Landry Jones' name.
Horns Gone Wild. This one is pretty simple. I don't really expect Oklahoma to totally shut down the Texas running game, but I also do not necessarily think that has to happen for them to win. I think they need to slow it down and at a minimum limit their success to avoid David Ash extended time to throw and perhaps more importantly to take away their play-action opportunities.
Ash and Texas have had considerable success with a variety of different throws off play-action and the one time beleaguered signal caller seems to have found a rhythm, to say the least. Everything Texas is expected to do Saturday will feed off the run game, whether that's in the more tradition sense, or with the jet sweeps they love so much, or with the newly developed Wildcat with stud true freshman Jonathan Gray.
The point is they won't lack for options, so the more Oklahoma can take away the greater their chances of success.
Don't Just Dismiss David Ash. This one is more for the OU fans than it is for Oklahoma. After what Ash has done through this first part of the season, Mike Stoops is not likely to look past the UT quarterback. OU fans however seem to be reluctant to give Ash his due and while it's understandable in certain respects, if you casually dismiss just how much he's improved since last year you're either blind or in a serious state of denial.
Yes, he sucked last year. And yes, he still plays for Texas. But that does not mean he is still the same player. Far from it in fact if the early results are any indication. The simple fact is he's a threat very few OU fans expected they'd have to worry about on October 13th, 2012. That alone changes things pretty dramatically from an Oklahoma fan's perspective.
Protect That Football. Turnovers typically play a significant role in most games and this one is no exception. You only need to look back to last year's contest and just how monumental a role turnovers played in that game. Oklahoma is not likely to score multiple defensive touchdowns, though we'd be just fine with it, but they shouldn't have to in order to win. What they do need to do however is avoid turning the ball over to a struggling, but still incredibly talented defense.
Unless this is your first Red River Shootout, you're already well aware of just how big a momentum swing turnovers can play in this game. It's a cliche, but like so many things it's a cliche for a reason. Because it's true.
If Oklahoma loses the run game and/or the turnover battle, the chances of bringing that Golden Hat back home where it rightfully belongs for a third straight year decreases significantly.