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HCS Op-Ed: Charlie Strong’s Inaugural Red River Rivalry

The Texas-Oklahoma Red River Rivalry showdown is one of college footballs most heated rivalries.

Longhorns head man Charlie Strong has coached in his fair share of rivalries. He spent six years in the Florida-Georgia match up, and he has taken part in the Louisville-Kentucky feud. But he has never been a part of something like this.

“The Red River Rivalry is a special rivalry,” Strong said Monday. “We know how big it is.”

But does he?

The rich tradition has been going on for 108 years, this year marking it’s 109.

If he doesn’t know what’s at stake, he’ll find out soon enough.

The atmosphere is like nothing else. With the vision of a 50-50 crowd, a sea of orange on one half and a sea of crimson on the other half, there’s no comparison.  The bus ride through the Texas State Fair to get to the Cotton Bowl only adds to the anticipation of the big event.

Texas has stumbled to a 2-3 record this season – 1-1 in conference play – but they have Oklahoma’s attention. Last year, the Longhorns defeated the favored Sooners. When combined with last week’s potentially season defining loss to TCU, the Sooners are aware and hungry heading into Dallas.

After showing steady improvement following his first start, Longhorns QB Tyrone Swoopes seemed to take a big step backwards in Saturday’s 28-7 loss to No. 7 Baylor. Swoopes had many missed throws and three turnovers. It was only a touchdown in garbage time that allowed the Longhorns to avoid their first home shutout since 1976.

According to ESPN, Texas ranks No. 114 nationally in total offense. Also, Texas’ average of 18.4 points ranks No. 114. But, take away the 38 points in the season opener against North Texas when David Ash was quarterback, and the Longhorns are averaging only 13.2 points per game. Swoopes is ranked No. 97 nationally in the NCAA’s pass efficiency ratings. He has five touchdowns, three interceptions and 734 yards with a 59 percent completion rate. Long story short: he’s has plenty to improve on.

This game has more than just bragging rights on the line for both teams. The Sooners suddenly look vulnerable on defense, having given up 33 points in each of their past two games. Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops must make improvements and adjustments if they’re going to stay in playoff contention.

Now, how Texas can pull of the upset? Texas got it done last year by being the more physical team, making big plays in all three phases and riding the momentum that came from those game changing plays. Once again, stopping the Sooners on third down will be key. Last year Texas held Oklahoma to 2/13 on 3rd downs. If they can force three-and-outs and give the defense more rest, they have a legitimate chance at pulling off a win.

The X-factor for the Horns will be the offensive line. Oklahoma’s front seven is absolutely capable of manhandling Texas up front. The O-line must win the day. But, it’s an inexperienced group. None of the current starters on the offensive line started last year. They must pave the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcom Brown to establish the running game.

The Texas Longhorns are in dire need of their first signature win of the Charlie Strong era. So yes, a victory at the Cotton Bowl is a potentially a season-changer. It will provide confidence for Swoopes and his teammates entering the second half of their schedule. Plus another year of bragging rights wouldn’t hurt.

Welcome to the rivalry, Charlie.


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