Three Things Texas and Oklahoma Must Do to Win the Red River Rivalry
Oklahoma is the clear favorite to win its fourth straight Red River Rivalry Saturday against Texas. The main storyline is whether Longhorns coach Mack Brown will be around next year if he loses another game to OU.
Still, Texas shouldn't be completely discarded if it can do a few important things against the Sooners. On that note, what does OU need to do to beat Texas?
Here are the three things each side needs to do to win on Saturday.
Three things Texas must do to beat Oklahoma:
1. Run the daggum ball
This isn't the first time we here at the Big 12 blog have harped on Texas to run the ball. It's the Longhorns' best safety net, yet it oddly took a backseat in UT's 31-30 win over Iowa State in Week 6. Instead, coaches put the ball in the hands of senior backup quarterback Case McCoy, who threw 45 times.
All while running backs Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron averaged seven yards a rush. It didn't make any sense. Before Iowa State, Texas was 1-6 when McCoy threw over 16 passes in a game.
Expect Texas to get back to the run against Oklahoma, especially with linebacker Corey Nelson sidelined with a partially torn pectoral muscle. Nelson was particularly effective in run defense, so this is an opportunity for UT to run right at his replacement, freshman Dominique Alexander and junior Aaron Franklin.
Running the ball effectively and having wide receiver Daje Johnson back from injury will allow offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to open up his playbook and get more creative. Texas is going to need a big play or two to have a chance to win.
2. Force at least two turnovers
Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell hasn't thrown an interception this season, but the Red River Rivalry sure would be a good time for the 'Horns to break that streak. Or, maybe Texas forces a couple of fumbles. Either way, Greg Robinson's defense has to find a way to take the football away at least twice.
Texas tackled significantly better against Kansas State in Week 4, an issue dating back to last season, but took a step or two backward against Iowa State. Oklahoma is among the best rushing teams in the Big 12 with 246 yards a game, so it's imperative that the Longhorns not only tackle well, but keep OU from finishing drives by taking the ball away.
Of course, Texas has to convert those turnovers into points while winning the turnover battle. The 'Horns are currently plus-six in turnover margin, so they've shown they can win there.
3. Tighten up in red-zone defense
The Sooners have had 23 red-zone trips this season, but they've been able to punch it in for a touchdown only 11 times. Meanwhile, Texas has allowed opponents to convert red-zone trips into touchdowns about 62 percent of the time.
This plays into the second point about turnovers in the sense that Texas needs to stop Oklahoma from finishing drives.
"Texas has been playing good, sound defense," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "They've forced opponents to move the ball all the way down the field."
Three things Oklahoma must do to beat Texas:
1. Run the daggum ball (part deux)
Oklahoma has been able to ice two games—against West Virginia and TCU—by running the ball in the fourth quarter.
The two instances yielded different results. Against the Mountaineers, the Sooners ran down the clock by leaning heavily on running back Brennan Clay. Against the Frogs, Clay darted 76 yards for a touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to give OU a 10-point lead.
Though Bell has helped spring the passing game, OU loves to run the ball and it does so quite effectively despite only having six rushing touchdowns on the season. The ability to wear down opponents is a good thing for Oklahoma to have in its back pocket. Expect them to continue to do that against Texas.
2. Throw in some designed quarterback runs for Bell and Trevor Knight
Texas has struggled against mobile quarterbacks for the most part this season. The one time it didn't, against Kansas State, it was because Daniel Sams didn't even attempt a pass to present it as a threat.
It'll be a different story with Oklahoma and it will be interesting to see if both Bell and Trevor Knight are used. Knight is mobile in a shiftier way and can make defenders miss. Bell is mobile in the way that a stampeding elephant is mobile. But both bring something extra to the run game.
"Blake Bell can run," Brown said Monday. "Landry Jones wasn't going to run on you, but Bell can run and throw."
Using both with Knight as a complimentary quarterback has worked so far. Not sure why OU would stop against Texas.
3. Get pressure on Case McCoy early and often
Oklahoma has speed on the defensive side of the ball. It needs to use it to get Case McCoy out of the pocket and uncomfortable. McCoy doesn't have a ton of arm strength when he steps into throws, so he's certainly not going to have any more when he's throwing on the run.
"I like the discipline and speed we've been playing with," Stoops said. "We've been getting great pressure on the quarterback. We've been playing great run defense. We'll need to do all those things against Texas this week."
If Oklahoma can force Texas into obvious passing situations, it can line up a blitz and force McCoy to try and beat it with his arm. That's a matchup OU would win just about every time.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand via the Big 12 coaches teleconference.
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