After a season full of suspense and close games, the Oklahoma Sooners get a shot at a fourth-straight Big 12 title this Saturday against the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma (11-1) heads into this one after a dramatic win in Morgantown while Texas (9-3) is riding a three-game winning streak. In the first in-season rematch between the teams in over 100 years, the stakes could not be higher. If Texas wins, they will be able to claim their first Big 12 title since 2009 and cap off their season in the Sugar Bowl. For Oklahoma, a shot at the College Football Playoff is on the line (assuming Alabama takes care of business against Georgia).
Date: Saturday, Dec. 1
Time & TV: 11 a.m. CT on ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -7.5
Also, make sure to check out our preview podcast with Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation. NOTE: As usual, there’s a bit of NSFW language.
Over the last couple of seasons, Oklahoma has followed a similar pattern: lose a game in September or October only to go on a roll for the rest of the season. These early losses seem to light a fire under the team and get them to play inspired football for the rest of the way. In the 2015 and 2017 seasons, October losses galvanized the Sooners and led to CFP runs. Hopefully, their October loss to Texas this year will lead to another CFP berth like in 2015 and 2017. The difference this year is that Kyler Murray & Co. get another shot at Texas after losing earlier in the season. In that 48-45 loss, Oklahoma came out flat and Murray had two key turnovers that turned the tide of the game in favor of Texas. Of course, the defense’s poor performance led to the firing of Mike Stoops.
Since the Oklahoma players have had that loss on their minds since October, it will be interesting to see how they play with a chance at revenge against the Longhorns. I know Kyler Murray wants to make sure to take care of the ball this time around. On top of that, the Oklahoma defense was flat-out embarrassed by Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense in the Red River Rivalry game in October. They were pushed around the entire game and simply failed to compete on a lot of plays. Against West Virginia, however, the Sooner defense let up plenty of points and big plays but played hard the entire game. The Oklahoma corners battled against the WVU receivers and the Oklahoma defensive front was able to force two crucial turnovers. The Oklahoma defense needs to continue to fight against Texas. They will give up plenty of points, but they need to at least make Texas work for their scores and create a turnover or two. I expect the Oklahoma defense to put forward a much more spirited effort on Saturday against the Texas offense.
Just like in the West Virginia game last Friday, the turnover battle will be crucial against Texas in the Big 12 Championship. Led by defensive guru Todd Orlando, the Texas defense is tied for 22nd in the FBS in turnover margin.
When it comes to taking care of the football, few quarterbacks in the country do as well as Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, who has only thrown four interceptions. However, Kansas was able to pick off two of his passes and had opportunities to pick even more. Opportunities for momentum-swinging interceptions will likely present themselves, it it will be important for OU’s DBs to capitalize.
On top of the Oklahoma DBs making some plays, the Sooners also need Kyler Murray to be responsible with the ball. Murray has only thrown seven interceptions on the season, but four have come in the Sooners’ last four games. For Oklahoma to win on Saturday, Murray will need to clean that up a bit. He also needs to focus ball security — he had a critical fumble against West Virginia last week and a critical fumble in the Sooners’ loss to Texas earlier in the season. While I fully acknowledge that Kyler Murray is the best player in college football right now, his margin for error is low because of the sorry state of the Oklahoma defense. If Texas forces Murray into a turnover or two, it could spell trouble for Oklahoma and their CFP hopes. Hopefully Sam Ehilnger will make the mistakes rather than Kyler Murray this Saturday.
3rd/4th down Defense
Although Texas and Oklahoma have very different teams and play different styles of football, they are both very similar when it comes to third-down defense. Texas ranks 102nd in the FBS in 3rd down conversion defense while Oklahoma ranks 108th! This shows that even though Texas leads the Sooners in most defensive statistical categories by a wide margin, they are on par with Oklahoma in terms of 3rd down defense. Both Todd Orlando and Ruffin McNeill are sure to be harping on their defenses getting off the field in this one.
While third down stops will be critical for Oklahoma, they know full well that they won’t be out of the wood on fourth down. As bad as the Oklahoma defense has been when it comes to stopping third downs, they are even worse when it comes to stopping fourth downs. The Sooners are near the bottom of the entire FBS (112th) with a fourth-down conversion rate of 65%. Going against a guy like Sam Ehlinger only makes the task more daunting, as he did plenty of damage against OU in October.
This will be of the utmost importance against a Tom Herman-coached Texas team that will be playing as the underdog. Even though Texas wants to win the Big 12 and advance to the Sugar Bowl, they do not have to worry about a CFP berth, they will go for it on fourth down in the right spots on Saturday. The Sooner defense needs to set the tone early by getting either third- or fourth-down stops against Texas to build a lead in this one.
As much these teams have on the line in this one, I think it goes all the way down to the wire. Oklahoma will get a key turnover down the stretch to gain momentum and escape Arlington with a win. Hopefully, they will be able to leave town and prepare for a return trip in a few weeks later in the CFP.
Oklahoma 51, Texas 45