On Oct. 9, Lincoln Riley will have a new challenge awaiting him in the Cotton Bowl.
The Oklahoma Sooners will meet the Texas Longhorns, and Riley has outlasted his first Texas opponent after the ‘Horns jettisoned Tom Herman in favor of Alabama’s Steve Sarkisian.
Though they’re under new leadership, the same questions about the Longhorns will remain.
Can the crew from the 40 Acres block Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto and the rest of the OU defense? And will Texas have a bonafide difference maker leading their offense as they transition out of the Sam Ehlinger era?
The Longhorns gave little hope in spring football that their issues along the offensive line would be fixed by the fall. Struggling against the defense all day in the Orange-White spring scrimmage, replacing left tackle Sam Cosmi hasn’t quite gone to plan.
Andrej Karic and Christian Jones’ battle will wage on into the fall at left tackle, Texas will have to rely on the strength of returning four other lineman with experience as a starter across the front.
But that in itself may be a bad thing, as those same starters struggled to provide Ehlinger much protection last season.
Oklahoma Sooners 2021 Schedule
- Sept. 4: at Tulane Green Wave
- Sept. 11: vs. Western Carolina Catamounts
- Sept. 18: vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Sept. 25: vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
- Oct. 2: at Kansas State Wildcats
- Oct. 9: vs. Texas Longhorns
- Oct. 16: vs. TCU Horned Frogs
- Oct. 23: at Kansas Jayhawks
- Oct. 30: vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
- Nov. 13: at Baylor Bears
- Nov. 20: vs. Iowa State Cyclones
- Nov. 27: at Oklahoma State Cowboys
And the Longhorns will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, as the spring battle between Casey Thompson and Hudson Card is far from finished. While both have flashed big arms and great athleticism at times, both quarterbacks have also been prone to make back-breaking mistakes at crucial times.
Thankfully for Sarkisian, running back Bijan Robinson looks to be well on his way to living up to his recruiting hype.
The Tucson, AZ, product rushed for 703 yards and four touchdowns on 86 carries a year ago, averaging an impressive 8.2 yards per carry. Add in Roschon Johnson and Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson, and the Longhorns appear to be set at running back.
Last year’s leading receiver Joshua Moore also returns for the 2021 campaign after hauling in 30 catches for 472 yards and nine scores last year.
Jake Smith, Texas’ third leading wide receiver, also returns and former 4-star pass catcher Troy Omeire should return to the lineup healthy to provide great wide receiver depth on paper.
Former Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski arrived in Austin with much more talent and the ability to make an impact from the jump.
Alfred Collins returns to the defensive line after a solid freshman campaign where he totaled 22 tackles and a quarterback sack.
But Kwiatkowski will have to replace his most productive pass rusher in Joseph Ossai after he was take in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Filling the leadership void will be linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. Finishing second on the team in tackles last year, Overshown also added a sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles to his 2020 output. Though he spent the spring recovering from an offseason shoulder operation, he is expected to be back and ready to lead the Texas defense by the summer.
Though Caden Sterns left school to head to the next level, Texas still returns B.J. Foster and D’Shawn Jamison, just having to fill the free safety spot and one corner.
The Longhorns should have to lean on their defense while they get off the ground on the other side of the football, but things inside the Cotton Bowl never seem to go to plan.
Just a year ago, Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler had to take some time to observe the action from the bench after a pair of costly turnovers before returning to lead his team to a quadruple overtime victory.
Time will only tell what special brand of chaos awaits in the 2021 Red River Rivalry.