There's a lot more drama than normal leading into this year's Red River Rivalry game between the Sooners and Longhorns. Oklahoma is looking to reestablish their position as the top dog in the conference after experience a bit of a drop off over the last couple of years. A 5-0 start has OU thinking conference championship but, as usual, the Longhorns are standing in the way.
Texas is either looking to save Mack Brown's job or see him get fired, depending on which side of the fence you're on, and expectations are as low as they've been in a long while heading into this game. A 1-2 start to the season had the Longhorns reeling but a defensive coaching change and a favorable early conference schedule has the Longhorns riding a two-game winning streak as they head to Dallas.
Case McCoy has taken over as quarterback due to an injury to David Ash and has performed admirably. He's completed 60% of his passes for 574 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He's in charge of a Texas passing attack that averaged 266.8 yards per game, which ranks them 42nd nationally.
McCoy can be best described as a game manager who isn't tasked with making the critical play but rather protect the ball and make sound decisions. Arm strength and accuracy are issues with him on the deep ball which means the Sooners will possibly press underneath and force McCoy into multiple reads.
"We have to keep him (McCoy) off balance with what we are trying to do and give them some different looks. Those are all important elements of every game plan and it will be very critical again Saturday to try and create some confusion with him." - Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops
Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been the two favorite targets for the Texas quarterbacks. Shipley's 27 receptions is one better than Davis who leads the team with four touchdown receptions. The duo, along with Kendall Sanders, are averaging over ten yards per reception and are all capable of making things happen with the ball in their hands.
The Longhorn rushing attack is powered by sophomore Jonathan Gray who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. His best game came against Kansas State when he ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. The injury to Ash took a little away from the Texas running game as he is second on the team in carries and yards but that won't diminish the potential of what Gray can do against a Sooner defense has has had some struggles against the run this season.
Upfront the Texas offensive line has helped pave the way to a team average of 5.0 yards per carry. They have the size and power to open up running lanes but have also been overpowered at times this year. They've also seen their quarterbacks sacked a combined total of nine times in five games.
The x-factor for Oklahoma in facing the Texas offense on Saturday is what, if anything, the Longhorns plan on doing with freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. A duel threat talent from Whitewright, TX, Swoopes has the athleticism and speed to change a game plan if he can handle the pressure of the rivalry and atmosphere. Co-offensive coordinator Darrell Wyatt said that he believes Swoopes is ready to play.
On the defensive side of the ball the Longhorns rank 77th nationally in points allowed with an average of 28.4 per game. Their major struggle has come against the rush where they are dead last in the Big XII with opponents averaging 248.4 yards per game on the ground. Much of that can be attributed to the 550 rushing yards that BYU produced against them but even in the three games since the departure of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the Longhorns are still giving up an average of 196 yards on the ground.
Texas is much better against the pass which would lead us to believe that Oklahoma will use play-action to try to set up their passing game. The Longhorns are fourth in the conference against the pass with opposing quarterbacks connecting on 59.2% of their attempts for an average of 217 yards per game. The question we have to ask here is how much has opponent run success led to the defensive passing stats? The opponent completion percentage is the third highest in the conference (Iowa State and Kansas State are worse) and just five of the sixteen touchdowns scored against Texas this season have come through the air. The Longhorns have in turn nabbed three interceptions.
They say in rivalries like this that you have to throw everything out the window and that has proven itself true over the 107 year history to the Red River Shootout. However, its hard not to look at the current state of the Texas football program and not be confident. Be warned though, its when you're the most confident that disaster often strikes.