The Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns will meet for the 117th time on Saturday, renewing one of the great rivalries in College Football.
It’s been anything but smooth sailing for either team, however, headed into the Cotton Bowl.
The No. 6-ranked Oklahoma Sooners are still a perfect 5-0, but OU has underwhelmed at every turn, and are looking far from the National Championship contenders they were crowned in the offseason.
On the other side of the Red River, the No. 21-ranked Texas Longhorns got shellacked in Week 2 against the Arkansas Razorbacks, ushering in a quarterback change. But since Casey Thompson took the helm, the Longhorn offense has started to move under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, setting the table for what should be a great battle at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
While Texas’ offense has looked more formidable under Thompson, the real engine in Austin is running back Bijan Robinson.
Through five games this season, Robinson ranks second in the nation in all-purpose yards per game, averaging 163.80.
Robinson is likely the best running back in the country, and he has every tool to shake defenders and break tackles. On top of his gaudy production overall, Robinson also averages 3.74 yards after contact, something which could prove to be a major problem for an Oklahoma defense which struggled a week ago.
In Manhattan against another all-purpose yardage monster in Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn, the Sooner defense allowed Vaughn to rush for 51 yards and rack up another 104 yards in the receiving game.
Texas’ offensive line isn’t anything to write home about, but Sarkisian should have no trouble getting Robinson the ball in space to test the OU linebackers, who have struggled in the passing game all year long.
Over the past three games, the Oklahoma defense has struggled to get off the field, especially in the first half.
They’ll face their stiffest test yet on Saturday, as the Texas offense has been excellent in managing third downs this season.
The Longhorns rank second in the country in third down conversion percentage, moving the chains 55.2 percent of the time this season.
Alex Grinch’s defense has been respectable on third downs this year, ranking 47th in the country, but they’ll have to be excellent to slow the momentum of the Texas offense.
Regardless of if Texas converts on third downs, they won’t fear OU’s fourth down defense either.
The Sooners rank 100th in the country in fourth down defense, and they are tied with Michigan State in having faced the most fourth downs this year (19).
Already this season, Texas is 7-of-11 when going for it on fourth down, and if they cross the 50-yard line, Sarkisian should continue to be aggressive against the Sooners.
Since 2000, the team that has won the turnover battle is 13-6 in the Red River Shootout.
Entering this year’s contest, both teams tout a positive turnover margin for the season (OU is +5, Texas is +3), so something will have to give.
Last week, the Sooners forced once fumble to help stall Kansas State’s first drive, but the secondary dropped two interceptions on drives where the Wildcats ended up putting points on the board.
Come Saturday, the Sooners cannot let Texas off the hook if they put the ball in danger. That becomes even more important considering how few possessions the Oklahoma offense has been handed over the past three weeks in the first half.
If the Sooners have any dreams of getting out in front and trying to create early separation, they’ll have to either get the Longhorns off the field early in drives or force a turnover, because three or four first half possessions for Spencer Rattler and Co. simply won’t cut it inside the Cotton Bowl.
Want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the AllSooners message board community today!
Follow AllSooners on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest OU news.