DALLAS—Texas came into the Red River Rivalry with chaos seeping from every pore of the program and wound up beating No. 10 Oklahoma 24–17 at the Cotton Bowl. It was as much of a disaster for the Sooners as it was a reprieve for Charlie Strong's beleaguered program, and it was further proof that expecting anything in this series is a sure way to feel like you're hallucinating from eating too many fried Snickers by the end.
Here are three thoughts on an outcome few of the 91,546 in attendance expected:
1. Texas can play defense
One of the great reservations about the Strong regime was that the program had hired a defensive coach in a Big 12 that demands offensive expertise just to keep up on a week-to-week basis. Even having a defensive-minded head coach wasn't working particularly well on defense; the Longhorns hadn't allowed fewer than 28 points in a game all year.
But the defense asserted itself Saturday with blitzes from just about everywhere to keep Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield unsettled while owning the line of scrimmage. Texas had four sacks at halftime, and the Sooners didn't notch a non-penalty first down until four and a half minutes were left in the first quarter.
On what might have been the most critical play of the day, the defensive line won out: With the Sooners facing a third-and-14 with 4:24 left, Texas's Poona Ford and Naashon Hughes flattened their blockers and dropped Mayfield for a 17-yard loss.
The Longhorns have their issues, especially with some veterans in the secondary that Oklahoma attacked consistently. And the Sooners made their pushes, as one might expect. But Texas produced its best defensive performance of the year—by far—at exactly the right time.
2. Mayfield tried to whip up some magic, but was undone by those charged with protecting him
Whether it was problems with the offensive line or problems with the quarterback not recognizing the pressures that were coming, Oklahoma's offense was having fits for the better part of Saturday.
Then, down 14, the Sooners junior quarterback began a takeover. He completed five passes and added a nine-yard scramble on a fourth-and-eight to propel Oklahoma to a 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive that cut the Texas lead in half with eight minutes remaining.
But Mayfield had absolutely no chance on that third-and-14 that Oklahoma desperately needed to convert to continue its comeback. He completed 20 of 28 passes but, with Texas piling up six sacks overall, that belied a total lack of rhythm for the day.
3. Save all conclusions about Strong until the end of the year
While the sentiment seems fairly firm that the Texas coach will live to see a third season, any proclamations either way are exceedingly premature. (What if the Longhorns are a 3–9 or 4–8 team at year's end? Would that move anyone off the "he's safe" stance?) Even the win over Oklahoma shouldn't seal his fate because, again, who knows if or when the bottom will fall out?
On Saturday, Texas was motivated and disciplined for the most part and did not beat itself. That’s a very good sign and a nice check-plus for Strong on the day. The idea is to build off that and avoid reverting to bad habits. We'll only be able to judge Texas on that at the end of the season.