If you're looking for a key to the game this Saturday, look no further than offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin of Texas. For Texas to win, the Longhorns will have to recommit themselves to playing manball; if they play the Oklahoma Sooners' game, then it will be a long afternoon where they likely end up losers.
Even with David Ash clutching a Week 3 Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Week award, the fact is, the 'Horns are a team that is built to run the football with authority. Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray are tough, hard-nosed bruisers in the backfield. When the Longhorns bear down and decide to kick teams' teeth in, they have a great success rate.
Unfortunately, the gadgetry and cuteness of Harsin's inventive play-calling gets in the way far too often. Multiple shifts that ruin rhythm. Jet sweeps and quick screens that take the ball from the interior of the field, where the Longhorns have an edge, and push it to the perimeter where their opponents want to play.
Oklahoma's defense has improved from a season ago. The addition of Mike Stoops and the loss of both Brent Venables and Willie Martinez created a climate for success in Norman. Stoops is one of the nation's best defensive back coaches, and the Sooners have lived up to that hype. Their backend is sound. They have NFL type guys in the back making plays, comfortable on an island and capable of playing multiple coverages comfortably.
However, the closer you get to the line of scrimmage, the worse Oklahoma's attack gets. Jamarkus McFarland is a quality defensive lineman, but the Sooners front-four generally leaves much to be desired when it comes to stout run defending.
Which is where Texas' identity as a power team comes into play. Oklahoma is comfortable playing on the edge, in fact; it wants the Longhorns to get into a side-to-side game with them. The Sooners just pummeled Texas Tech in a game where horizontal to get vertical play was the name of the game. If they can get Texas and Bryan Harsin to take the same route, they can stay within one game of the Big 12 lead.
Texas has to stick to its guns. Make this game a nasty, bloody, physical fistfight when they have the football and force Oklahoma to beat them on burnt-orange terms. Kansas State, as a football team, remained committed to the power attack and it walked out of Norman with a win. True, Texas doesn't have a Collin Klein, but Klein doesn't have a Joe Bergeron or Johnathan Gray at his disposal.
In short, the run game works for Texas. It is the way to win. It is how Texas has to win. This is not a question of will or can the power attack succeed against Oklahoma. Rather, this is about whether or not Bryan Harsin can stick to the script in order to give his team a victory that it most certainly needs.
We'll find out Saturday afternoon at kickoff. As much as I'd like to say I believe Harsin will stick to running the ball and going all power everything, nothing he's done indicates that he can dial in his focus in that manner.