The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the Texas Longhorns taking on the (20) Oklahoma Sooners. Coverage will begin at 11 A.M. CT on Fox Sports 1 from the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX.
There is only one Saturday in October that combines fried food, a carnival and a football game all in one place. That place ladies and gentleman, is the Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fair. The Cotton Bowl has a unique feel too it, unlike almost any. Yes, some may think it is just some old run down stadium but to many it is a holy grail of college football. What a thing of beauty it is to see the crowd split at the fifty-yard line that has a sea of burnt orange on one side and a wave of crimson on the other. Did I ever mention that these two fan bases absolutely despise one another? After all this is Oklahoma and Texas we are talking about here. Whether or not these two teams are truly contenders, it certainly will not diminish the hatred these two schools have for one another. This game will not only feature the best rivalry that the Big 12 has to offer, but the loser of this game may have to reconsider who will be running their program after the season is finished. There is a lot at stake for both teams here. Everyone knows that old saying that everything is bigger in Texas and it is certainly true when it comes to the pressure of this game.
For Texas, a win here could silence the hostile fans, boosters and just about everything else that is trying to throw Charlie Strong to the curb. There isn’t a seat hotter in all of college football and this is a must win for head coach Charlie Strong.
For Oklahoma, a win here would put them in a prime position to make a Big 12 title run and stay on course. Much like the Texas fan base, some of the Sooner fans are more than willing to get rid of Bob Stoops and a loss would only rattle the cage for some of the Sooner faithful.
There is only one true freshman quarterback starting in the Big 12 and his name is Shane Buechele. Buchele is completing 65.5 % of his passes along with tossing 8 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions on the season. He is averaging 239.7 yards per game through the air as well. For a true freshman quarterback, Shane looks very poised and confident for being so young. He has an excellent touch on his deep balls (when they actually throw one) and has been a bright spot for this offense. I do think however that he may be still a little shaken up after the Cal game. Like any other freshman, there are times were he makes a rookie mistake.
In the backfield that I would normally call a dynamic punch, Texas will have to settle for just one punch in D’Onta Foreman. Foreman is a very tough, physical runner who isn’t shy of contact and leads the Big 12 in rushing averaging 145.3 yards per game. He also is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has scored 5 times on the year. His missing counterpart is RB Chris Warren. Warren got injured in last week’s game vs Oklahoma State with a knee injury. The injury seemed very serious and the word around the program is that he may be out all season long. Freshman Kyle Porter is expected to see an increased role now that Chris Warren is out.
For an offense that loves to run the football, Texas has a few nice playmakers on the outside. The speedy WR John Burt is the home run threat in the passing game. Burt had a great game against the Irish in week 1 but has been very quiet since. Former QB Jerrod Heard is second on the team in terms of receiving yards but most of that was against UTEP. The last three passing targets will be Jake Oliver, Jacorey Warrick and Armanti Foreman. Most of these guys are getting the same amount of receptions so there really is no true dominant receiver in this offense. Together they make up a nice group to compliment the offense overall.
Up front the Longhorns have come a long way since Charlie Strong has taken over. What used to be one of the weakest units on the team has turned some heads in Austin. The starting five will feature LT Connor Williams, LG Patrick Vahe, C Zack Shackelford, RG Kent Perkins and RT Brandon Hodges. The left side has two former freshmen All Americans in Williams and Vahe, while Shackelford at C is a true freshman who is playing like one. Kent Perkins is back in the lineup this week after getting into some off the field trouble and RT Brandon Hodges has played well so far.
Last Week Oklahoma was a bit banged up on defense and it is starting to look the same way for this week.
On the defensive line Oklahoma will use starters DE D.J. Ward, NT Jordan Wade and DE Austin Roberts. NT Jordan Wade is a senior this year and he has certainly played like one. Wade is a true space eater and is looking to disrupt things up the middle. Matt Dimon would be the other starting defensive ends but injuries will keep both of them out for this week so look for DE Austin Roberts and D.J. Ward to get the starts on Saturday.
Leading the way for the linebackers is OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Okoronkwo is renlentless when it comes to rushing the passer tallying 4 sacks. Right now he is the best pass rusher the Sooners have to offer. Alongside him will be ILB Jordan Evans, ILB Eammanuel Beal and OLB/NB Will Johnson. Evans much like Okoronkwo has been stellar thus far while Beal is taking over the now retired Tay Evans at ILB. At OLB/NB will be the versatile Will Johnson.
In the back end is where the Sooners have had some trouble. The two starting CBs are Jordan Thomas and Michiah Quick. Thomas is the best cover corner on the roster while Quick takes over the weakest position on the entire defense. Quick is a former WR turned CB who still has some work to do in coverage. While the corners are a bit shaky the two safeties have played decently overall. Ahmad Thomas is the starting FS while Steven Parker will get the nod at SS.
Texas is going to do all it can to shove the ball down the Sooners throat trying to wear out this Oklahoma defense. Last year they proved to be the more physical team and they will try to match that intensity on offense. If the run game gets going for Texas, I expect Buechele to take a few shots deep to WR John Burt to counter the Sooner defense loading up the box. Also since RB Chris Warren is out the drop off at RB could end up really hurting the Texas offense. Texas has to spread the ball around against a questionable Sooner secondary to fully take advantage of their weak points. It does help Texas that Oklahoma themselves are banged up too, especially up front. Defensively Oklahoma will most likely put 7 to possibly 8 in the box to try and slow down RB D’Onta Foreman. The good news for the Sooners is that Texas RB Chris Warren is out due to injury and behind him is a true freshman RB Kyle Porter. This will help the defense really key in on a banged up D’Onta Foreman.
Driving defenses crazy and making coordinators lose sleep at night is the crafty quarterback Baker Mayfield. Just when you think you have Baker Mayfield contained, he slips right out of the defenses fingertips. Mayfield is a true escape artist when it comes to eluding pressure and if you ask him, he enjoys the pressure. Mayfield is completing 67.8% of his passes while tossing 9 touchdowns and 2 picks on the young season. Every time his team needs him to make a play he seems to always keep the chains moving and does all the right things. Baker was a little bit shaken up last week against TCU but he looks to come back strong for the Texas game.
The backfield is where the Oklahoma offense shines bright. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are the thunder and lightning for the Sooner backfield. Mixon is the quick, elusive back while Perine provides a solid physical presence carrying the football. Both backs have over 40 carries and have combined for 6 touchdowns. Perine is averaging 4.9 yards per carry while Mixon is averaging an eye popping 7.7 yards per carry. If running the football wasn’t enough for Mixon, he has been stellar in the passing game. Mixon is the second on the team in receptions with 12.
The sooners use quite a few receivers on offense but there is no doubt Dede Westbrook is the number one target for Mayfield. Westbrook is averaging 78 receiving yards per game and scored both of his touchdowns last week in Ft. Worth. Next in line is a guy I have been praising all season long, Mark Andrews. Andres is 6’5 who provides a wide catch radius and can be a serious red zone threat. Andrews has taken advantage of defenses this year scoring 4 touchdowns and averaging 54.2 yards a game. The other two Nick Basquine and A.D. Miller have been very lackluster so far and will need to step their game up moving forward.
Up front Oklahoma has changed a few things up but will use starters LT Orlando, LG Jonathan Alvarez, C Erick Wren, RG Dru Samia and RT Bobby Evans. Brown and Alvarez have been excellent on the left side and so has RG Dru Samia. The two new faces are C Erick Wren and RT Bobby Evans who redshirted last year.
There will be a new defensive play caller for the defense as head coach Charlie Strong will take over for the now demoted Vance Bedford. Keep in mind tackling has been an issue for all three levels for this defense.
On the defensive line the Longhorns will use SDE Charles Ominehu, NT Chris Nelson, DT Poona Ford and FOX Breckyn Hager. Omenihu and Hager each have 2 sacks a piece and are the two to watch when it comes to rushing the passer. In the middle will be two pretty good run stuffers that lack some pass rushing skills with Ford and Nelson.
Texas mostly uses two linebackers but there will be times when they use three. MLB Malik Jefferson and WLB Anthony Wheeler are the two main keys at linebacker. Both have a quick burst and love to play downhill when they can. Wheeler is leading the team in tackles while Jefferson is number three on that list. The third man in the mix is SLB Edwin Freeman who has played ok so far on the young season.
I am not sure exactly where to start in this secondary but there will be a few changes in the starting lineup. The new man at NB is the young but talented true freshman Brandon Jones. Jones has the ability to cover a lot of ground in little time. The two starting corners will be Davante Davis and Holton Hill. Davis has been disappointing so far this season and Hill has been in the dog house since the first game. No one around the Texas program knows exactly why Hill was in Strong’s dog house but he has been penciled in as a starter for Saturday. FS Jason Hall has been the one positive for this secondary but he does most of his damage in the run game. The SS position will feature a new face but a familiar name in Kevin Vaccaro. Kevin much like his brother Kenny, is known for dishing out some hard hits.
Oklahoma just like the Texas offense, will try to establish the run game early. Whenever you have the best backfield in the entire conference, you’d better use it to your advantage. Last year in this game offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was scrutinized for the under use of his superior running backs. Riley will try to remember that for this year’s contest and I fully expect him to commit to the run game. I am also very positive that he knows that the Texas secondary is in shambles right now. Look for some deep shots to WR Dede Westbrook and also RB Joe Mixon coming out of the backfield in the passing game. Mixon has been excellent as a receiving threat and will test the Texas linebackers all game long. As for Texas they need to make the Oklahoma offense one dimensional. Try to take away the run game to put all the pressure on Baker Mayfield. Keep in mind, the team that has rushed for more yards in this game has won 15 of the last 17 matchups.
Texas wins if they are able to establish a run game. The Sooners are a banged up front and if Texas is able to get the run game going it will set up the passing game to keep the Oklahoma defense honest. On defense, Texas will need to slow down the two backs for the Sooners.
Oklahoma wins if they can spread the ball around. Oklahoma is at its best when they bring a balanced attack. The Texas secondary has been atrocious and if the Sooners can get the ball in space it could be disastrous for the Longhorns defense with their poor tackling. If Oklahoma can get an early lead, the Longhorns may roll over after all the turmoil this week surrounding their head coach.
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