Who: Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma Sooners
When: Saturday, Oct 13 at Noon EDT
Where: Cotton Bowl (Dallas, TX)
Line: Oklahoma by 3
This game historically has a habit of determining who will emerge as the Big 12 champion at season's end, though this year's matchup will likely eliminate one of these teams from contention in just their third conference game. Both Texas and Oklahoma have dropped early Big 12 games, and a second loss for either squad would likely spell doom as neither Kansas State nor West Virginia seem likely to drop two games this season.
Here is the complete game preview for 2012's decisive Red River Rivalry.
QB: David Ash, SO
RB: Joe Bergeron, SO or Johnathan Gray, FR
WR: Mike Davis, JR
WR: Jaxon Shipley, SO
WR: Marquise Goodwin, SR
TE: D.J. Grant, SR or Greg Daniels, SO
RT: Josh Cochran, SO
RG: Mason Walters, JR
C: Dom Espinosa, SO
LG: Trey Hopkins, JR
LT: Donald Hawkins, JR
DE: Jackson Jeffcoat, JR
NT: Desmond Jackson, SO
DT: Chris Whaley, JR
DE: Alex Okafor, SR
OLB: Demarco Cobbs
MLB: Steve Edmond
OLB: Jordan Hicks, JR or Kendall Thompson, SO
CB: Quandre Diggs, SO
FS: Kenny Vaccaro, SR
SS: Mykkele Thompson, SO
CB: Carrington Byndom, JR
QB: Landry Jones, SR
RB: Damien Williams, JR
FB: Trey Millard, JR
WR: Kenny Stills, JR
WR: Justin Brown, SR
WR: Trey Metoyer, FR
RT: Daryl Williams, SO
RG: Bronson Irwin, JR
C: Gabe Ikard, JR
LG: Adam Shead, SO
LT: Lane Johnson, SR
DE: Chuka Ndulue, SO
DT: Casey Walker, SR
DT: Jamarkus McFarland, SR
DE: David King, SR
OLB: Corey Nelson, JR
MLB: Tom Wort, JR
N: Gabe Lynn, JR
CB: Aaron Colvin, JR
SS: Javon Harris, SR
FS: Tony Jefferson, JR
CB: Demontre Hurst, SR
Thus far in 2012, the Texas Longhorns have been exactly the opposite of what they were expected to be with an overachieving offense that is sixth in the nation in scoring and a drastically underachieving defense that is 64th in the nation in scoring defense.
After having given up 48 points in a loss to West Virginia, and 207 yards to a backup running back, it is time to accept the reality that the Texas defense is just not that good. That is not to say that it cannot be a good defense, but it is just not getting it done right now, and a big reason is that it simply cannot stop the run.
The absence of stud junior linebacker Jordan Hicks probably has a lot to with it, but Texas' inability to stop the run is starting to become a serious problem and most likely cost it the win against West Virginia. And it almost cost it the previous game against Oklahoma State in which Joseph Randle ran for 199 yards.
Luckily for the defense, the offense has been able to pick up slack thanks to the nation's third-most efficient passer, David Ash. The sophomore Ash has been spectacular to start the season in completing nearly 78 percent of his passes for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns. But what has been the impressive part of Ash's emergence has been his confidence, which was put on full display when he led his Longhorns on a game-winning drive in Stillwater against Oklahoma State.
Ash has gotten plenty of help on the way as several Texas players have emerged to make this one of the more complete offenses in the country. Texas has top-tier speed in guys like Daje Johnson, D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin, and receivers Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have each gotten off to fast starts this season.
Sprinkle in a running game that has put up 1,135 yards with 4.9-yard average, and one cannot help but wonder how good this team would be if the defensive talent on this team played up to its potential.
The 2012 season has not started out the way the Sooners have grown accustomed to under Bob Stoops, but a blowout win over a conference foe seems to have given this team some life.
The Sooners were facing an uphill battle before the season even started with multiple offseason suspensions, and losing two senior starters along the offensive line in Ben Habern and Tyler Evans. Then they opened the season with an unimpressive win over UTEP and were then handled two games later by Kansas State in Norman.
Aside from the rare home loss to the Wildcats, the most troubling part of Oklahoma's shaky start was the unimpressive play of Landry Jones. The senior quarterback put the NFL on hold for another year in order to take a final shot at both the Heisman Trophy and national championship, both of which seeming high unlikely at this point.
But, after being written off by fans and experts alike across the country, the Sooners found their groove against Texas Tech in dismantling the Red Raiders 41-20 courtesy of the defense forcing three turnovers and Damien Williams' delivery of yet another impressive game at running back.
The jury is still very much out on this Oklahoma team. It lost to the only legitimate competition it has played in Kansas State, but kept it close despite surrendering a fumble recovery for a touchdown. The defense has not been dominant, but is still giving up less than 20 points per contest. And down two starters and all, the offensive line has done a great job in run-blocking for 5.7-yard average while keeping Jones relatively clean.
As we have found out a lot about Texas from its two conference games, so too will we found out exactly the type of team Bob Stoops has after this ever-important showdown in Dallas.
RB Johnathan Gray
With Malcolm Brown likely out, or at least hampered, by an ankle injury and Joe Bergeron struggling to pick up yardage between the 20s, freshman Johnathan Gray will be depended upon to create big plays in the running game.
Ever since the sophomore Brown was knocked out the Oklahoma State game, the freshman Gray has been on a tear. Over the past two games, the shifty young back has picked up 155 yards on the ground on 26 carries, good for nearly a six yards per carry average. And he has been doing it in multiple ways and out of multiple formations.
Gray is already emerging as the Longhorns' most complete back. He can run inside or out, out of the backfield or from the Wildhorn, and has the speed to break loose for the big play. And his stature and quickness make it easy for him to disappear behind his blockers and explode out before the defense knows where he is.
The Longhorns will need Gray's versatility if they want to win this game and expect him to deliver. Look for the top recruit to have his first 100-yard game, score his first touchdown and emerge as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, something neither Joe Bergeron nor Brown have been able to do.
CB Quandre Diggs
Historically, Oklahoma's Landry Jones has struggled when he cannot get the ball to his favorite receiver. This season junior Kenny Stills has emerged to fill that role, meaning it will be up to sophomore corner Quandre Diggs to make things difficult for him.
In just his second season, Diggs has already begun to establish himself as one of the conference's best corners. Diggs is currently tied for the conference lead with three picks, and even Heiman-favorite Geno Smith avoided throwing at the young ball hawk.
Diggs will undoubtedly be covering OU's leading receiver Kenny Stills for much of Saturday's game, as he was charged with covering Tavon Austin against WVU. Oklahoma has better running backs than the one that torched the Texas defense last weekend, meaning Diggs will have to man up on Stills so the safeties can focus on stopping the run.
RB Damien Williams
Facing a vicious pass rush and a prolific ground game, Oklahoma running back Damien Williams will need to take advantage of a porous Texas run defense to keep the 'Horns from dominating the time of possession.
Through four games, the Longhorns have averaged almost seven more minutes of possession than their opponents thanks to a well-balanced offensive attack. But that offensive attack takes time to put points on the board and is not backed by a defense that has proven it can stop opponents from giving the Longhorns a taste of their own medicine.
This is where Williams comes in. The JUCO transfer has thus far averaged 7.8 yards per carry and has already run for almost 350 yards. He has had a tougher go of it these last couple of games, but he has also been up against two of the better rushing defenses.
If Williams does not get it going, the Sooners could be in serious trouble. Already thin on the offensive line, the Sooners seem likely to lose backup Nick Kasitasi for the rest of the season which is bad news considering Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor already have 10 sacks between them.
Williams and his ability to pick up yards on the ground will slow this Texas pass rush and allow quarterback Landry Jones to work the play-action pass down the field.
S Javon Harris
As both a run-stopper and playmaker in the secondary, senior safety Javon Harris will need to make his presence felt Saturday against the Longhorns.
The Texas offense does a little of everything, and everything they do, they do well. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin uses everything from jet sweeps to the Wildcat to wide receiver passes, always looking to take the defense off guard.
Harris is the leader of this defense and, as a senior, needs to use his experience to keep his teammates on their toes. Harris also needs to be careful in trying to force turnovers, as Texas quarterback David Ash is not going to just throw the game away like he has in the past.
Harris needs to continue making plays against both the pass and run, but his value in this game stems from his leadership.
Pressure Landry Jones
Same as last week's contest against West Virginia and their quarterback Geno Smith, the Texas pass rush needs to get in Landry Jones' face early and often in order to avenge last season's 55-17 blowout.
Landry Jones has been sacked eight times this season, and five of those sacks came in OU's two closest games in the win over UTEP and the loss to Kansas State. Yes, the Sooners handily pulled away from the Miners in the second half, but the score was tied 7-7 at halftime after the UTEP pass rush got to Jones three times.
And considering how depleted the Sooners are up front, bookends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor should be licking their chops. Last week they got to Geno Smith three times, forcing two fumbles with one being recovered by Jeffcoat in the end zone.
If these two can do to Jones what they did to Smith, Texas has a great shot at winning this game.
Stop the Run
This could be too much to ask unless Jordan Hicks returns from his hip injury, but Texas has to stop the run if it wants to beat Oklahoma.
Texas did not lose to West Virginia because Geno Smith and his receivers were too good. In fact, Smith and all of his receivers were held under their season averages by a Texas secondary that really stepped up.
No, Texas lost that game because it could not stop the run and should have lost the Oklahoma State game for the same reason. If the Longhorns allow the Oklahoma offensive line to punch big holes for Damien Williams and Dominque Whaley, it is going to be a long day for Texas fans and players alike.
Stick With What Works
During last weekend's loss against the Mountaineers, the Longhorns got away from what was working for them on offense and ended up missing out on a golden opportunity to put the game away late. They cannot make the same mistake this week against the Sooners.
The Longhorns had success getting Daje Johnson out in space in the first half, then he did not touch the ball the rest of the game. D.J. Monroe has scored three touchdowns in the red zone this season, but did not get an offensive touch the entire game. The Longhorn tight ends produced back-to-back receptions of 20 yards or more to close the first half, and then were absent from the offensive game plan throughout the second half.
For whatever reason, Texas got away from what was working on offense in the second half and became almost predictable on that side of the ball. The reason for this is unknown, but the Longhorns have weapons at every offensive possession and need to use each one of them if they want to knock off the Sooners.
Do Not Turn the Ball Over
In all likelihood, Landry Jones is going to get hit a lot in this game from all angles. He has to keep his head in the game when this is happening and not give the ball to the other team.
For the past four years, the team that has won the turnover battle in this game has come out on top. With Oklahoma's offensive line looking thin this season Jones could be in for a rough game, and he has a tendency to throw the ball away when he gets hit.
Jones cannot let himself get rattled by the pressure that the Longhorns will bring and just accept when a play is dead, then move on. Otherwise Texas' defensive linemen will do to Jones what they did to Geno Smith a week ago, and we all know how close that was.
Keep Track of Who is on the Field
The Longhorns have one of the most deceptively explosive offenses in the country this season, utilizing numerous personnel packages and formations to get their big-play threats in space. The Sooners need to keep track of when these big-play guys are on the field and keep them from gashing the defense for big plays.
The Longhorns currently have three guys on offense that have 4.3 speed: D.J. Monroe, Marquise Goodwin and freshman Daje Johnson. Each has broken a touchdown for 45 yards or more, with both Monroe and Goodwin contributing in the return game.
Texas got away from giving these guys the ball in the second half against West Virginia, but do not expect them to do that for a second week in a row. The Sooners need to ready and cognizant of when these guys are on the field or Texas could put up points in a hurry.
Hicks' return is the X-factor in this game
This is partially because I believe Jordan Hicks returns to stabilize the struggling Texas defense, but I like the Longhorns in this game.
The first reason is because there is more to like about this defense than what we have seen, and the loss masked a lot of what Texas accomplished against West Virginia. The Longhorns have found something in safety Mykkele Thompson, who had nine tackles against the Mountaineers and was finishing plays on which Adrian Phillips was whiffing. The Longhorns also did a very good job keeping elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in front of them, with Austin's 40-yard score being the only easy touchdown these two put on the board.
I also believe the offensive attack that the Longhorns boast is too diverse for the Sooners to contain. Expect a lot of Widlhorn snaps, more Daje Johnson, more D.J. Monroe and a better utilization of the tight ends in the passing game. Also expect Johnathan Gray to get a majority of the snaps, an opportunity that he will turn into his coming out party.
I was tempted to pick the Sooners in this game, but I do not like that offensive line's chances against the Texas defensive line. Jeffcoat and Okafor get most of the attention, but defensive tackles like Desmond Jackson and Chris Whaley have also gotten into the backfield with increased regularity. And freshman tackle Malcom Brown is starting to emerge as well.
Mainly, Hicks' return totally changes the landscape of this defense and its inability to stop the run. It is no coincidence that Ole Miss' Jeff Scott picked up all but 22 of his 95 rushing yards after Hicks left with his injury. And that left side that Joseph Randle tore up against the 'Horns is usually where Hicks is patrolling.
The Texas defense still has its problems with tackling and overall ability to play as a cohesive unit, but Hicks' absence is the primary reason behind their inability to stop the run. His return gives Texas the advantage in this game.
But should Hicks not return, my pick is the Sooners by at least a touchdown.