This might be a cliché, but throw all the records, rankings, and predictions out the window during OU-Texas weekend, because anything can happen. During my time at OU, I was lucky enough to see Oklahoma go 3-1 against Texas. The lone loss during my time in Norman came back in 2009 when the Oklahoma Sooners fell in a 16-13 defensive battle in which Sam Bradford re-injured his shoulder. That 2009 Texas Longhorns team made it all the way to the BCS Championship against Alabama and was led by Colt McCoy and a high-powered offense. In contrast, the Oklahoma team that year turned in a strong defensive season but struggled offensively with frosh QB Landry Jones en route a disappointing 8-5 season.
In a way, this game has a similar feel to the 2009 game, but this time it’s a scrappy Texas defense against a high-powered Oklahoma offense. It’s also a matchup between ranked teams for the first time since 2012, when Oklahoma spanked Texas, 63-21.
Date: Saturday October 6th
Time & TV: 11:00AM CT on FOX
Spread: Oklahoma -7.5
Lincoln Riley vs. Todd Orlando
Out of all the defensive coordinators out there, Todd Orlando seems to be one of the best at giving Lincoln Riley a bit of trouble. In their first matchup in 2016, Orlando helped Houston upset Oklahoma in a season opener that still gives Sooner fans (myself included) nightmares. In that matchup as the Houston Defensive Coordinator, Orlando limited Baker Mayfield and co. to a measly 23 points — although much of that can e attributed to the OU defense’s inability to get off the field.
Orlando followed this up with another impressive defensive coaching effort in the 2017 Red River Rivalry game. While Oklahoma was able to gain plenty of yards, nothing came easy. Orlando and Texas held Oklahoma’s offense to only 29 points — making them the only ones to hold OU below 30 last season.
The interesting thing about Orlando vs. Riley matchups so far has been that Riley’s offenses have come out strong early only to fade in the second half. This goes to show that while Riley may have the superior game plan to start the game, Orlando does a great job of making adjustments. The coverages seem to tighten as the game goes on for Orlando’s units, which is rare for any defense. Orlando also does a great job disguising coverages, dialing up blitzes, putting in stunts, and just changing schemes and formations to make the opposing offense uncomfortable.
While both coaches will come out with solid game plans for Saturday, it will be interesting to see who makes the key halftime adjustments in this one. Orlando has had the upper hand in that department so far, but here’s to hoping that Riley can make the necessary moves in this one and hang half-a-hundred on Texas.
Sam Ehlinger running the football
Last year against Oklahoma, true freshman QB Sam Ehlinger was able to gash the Oklahoma defense to the tune of 110 yards rushing on 22 carries. Although Ehlinger’s longest run was only 18 yards, he was able to take off and run to move the sticks on several occasions against the Sooners. This prevented the Sooners from getting off the field on key third and fourth downs, which kept Texas in the game.
To slow down Ehlinger on the ground, guys like Mark Jackson, Ryan Jones, Ronnie Perkins, Amani Bledsoe, Kenneth Murray, Caleb Kelly and Curtis Bolton will need to keep an eye on Ehinger on the edge. They will also need to make sure to wrap him up in the backfield with the help of the guys on the interior of the line. I don’t think Ehlinger is explosive enough to justify using a linebacker as a spy, but his ability to run should not be overlooked. If Oklahoma is able to neutralize the threat he poses as a runner, it will bode well for OU.
Oklahoma Pass Rush
Despite an underwhelming defensive performance against Baylor, a silver lining in the game was the pass rush. The Oklahoma front was able to generate a consistent pass rush all day against Baylor, registering six sacks and six QB hurries. Two guys that were especially impressive were Mark Jackson and Ronnie Perkins — Jackson had one sack while Perkins had two in his debut as a starter. Both guys have showcased the ability to get pressure off the edge and make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.
For the Oklahoma defense to slow down Ehlinger and the big Texas wide receivers, they will need to consistently get pressure on the quarterback. They will need to do this through exotic stunts, blitzes, and simply winning matchups. Mike Stoops also shouldn't be afraid to bring linebackers Curtis Bolton, Kenneth Murray and (perhaps) Caleb Kelly on blitzes. All three guys have proven to be skilled at getting to the QB and should be utilized as much as possible to help boost the defense overall. QB pressure makes everything easier for the corners and safeties on the back end. Pressure should also lead to more turnovers. A forced fumble or an interception could turn the tide in a game like this.
Texas Secondary vs. Oklahoma receivers
Despite not having a particularly strong front seven, Texas boasts an extremely fast and athletic secondary. Spearheading the Texas secondary is senior CB Kris Boyd, who already has nine passes defended and eight pass breakups on the year. Supplementing Boyd at corner are fellow seniors Davante Davis and P.J. Locke. For safety help, these corners can rely on freshman standout safety Caden Sterns and junior safety Brandon Jones. Both safeties tackle well and have great ball skills. If Kyler Murray isn't careful with the football, he could easily get picked off by this ball-hawking Texas secondary.
To counter the strong secondary, star receivers Hollywood Brown and Ceedee Lamb need to be at the top of their game come Saturday. No secondary has shown the ability to slow down the Lamb/Brown combo so far in 2018, so we will see if Texas can be the first one. Murray will also need to put pressure on the secondary by extending the plays if nothing is open downfield. This will in turn lead to the Texas safeties watching Murray on the ground more than they should because of his running ability. This will truly be strength vs strength matchup in terms of position groups on Saturday.
The Poise of Kyler Murray
For Oklahoma to win this game, Kyler Murray will need to keep his composure in an emotional environment. In Baker Mayfield’s first OU-Texas game, he at times seemed to let the stage get the best of him and didn't play up to his potential (although his line certainly didn’t do him favors that day). I hope he same thing doesn't happen to Kyler. If he can keep his poise and continue to do what he’s doing, Oklahoma should be in good shape. If he throws an early interception in this one, it will be interesting to see exactly how he responds.
I see Oklahoma getting off to a hot start and then cooling down in the second half. Look for Tre Brown to get his first pick of the season in this one. He played really well overall against Baylor and could take the starting corner job from either Motley or Norwood any day now. I still think OU will give up some big plays, but the good guys will hold on to win.
Prediction- Oklahoma 42, Texas 32