Red River Rivalry Loses Some Of Its Luster; None Of Its Blood-lust.
Unless you are blinded by your fan hood, it's easy to see that Oklahoma and Texas have lost a step this year.
For OU, they are who we thought they would be; a team that has had struggles replacing the offensive line and receivers they lost last year.
Mix in a few big injuries to their best offensive players; and a couple of tough foes away from home; and the Sooners' last hope to make the BCS is to win the conference championship for a fourth straight year.
Although Sam Bradford looked good in his return, a few things are evident; one is his arm strength has improved immensely and his receivers are surprised by how fast the ball is getting to them. They dropped eleven balls on Saturday against Baylor- three were in the end zone and a few others could have led to TD passes.
The Sooners QB still managed to throw for 389 yards, but was frustrated by drops all game long. The signature Bradford smile was replaced by head shakes and head burying way too often.
The Sooners' offensive struggles in the red zone are a major concern.
They have had way too many first and goals inside the five that haven't turned into touchdowns. It hasn't just been the good teams either; they have struggled to cross the goal line running the ball against every team this season.
While overall, the Sooners' rushing defensive numbers look good, in both of their losses this season, they have allowed a running back to run all over them. The only reason they are ranked third in run defense is they barely allowed any running yards against Idaho State, Tulsa and Baylor.
This tells you that the Sooners can be run on, but only if you have a good back and a good line. This may not bode well for Texas as they have had struggles establishing the run against anyone this year. Also, their top two backs are listed day-to-day and may not start against the Sooners on Saturday.
For Texas, their struggles do not have such tangible reasons.
On paper, there appears to be no logical reason why they would struggle against teams like Colorado, Wyoming and a Texas Tech team that lost more on offensive production than ever before under Mike Leach.
The one question mark they had going into the season, the defensive line, is playing much better than expected.
None the less, Texas has seemingly gone somewhat south this season as well. The good news is in two of the three close games- they dominated the second half and in the third- they made the plays down the stretch.
Colt McCoy has looked uncomfortable in the first half of almost every game despite having one of the easiest early season schedules of any team in the top 25. While it is likely McCoy turns it around, it is worth noting that he has never put two good seasons together in a row in his college career.
A stellar freshman season- was followed by a poor sophomore one- then a junior year that lead him to second in the Heisman voting. A bad senior season would be the next logical step in that pattern, but I don't see it happening.
Colt McCoy is too good to let that happen. A step back from last year is possible, but a overall bad season is out of the question. However, with his early play, it seems he may need to have a wake-up call before he turns this season around.
Let Longhorn fans hope that wake-up call is not a loss.
Without major improvement from McCoy and the Longhorns offense, Texas does not get through the Big 12 with out a loss.
Texas has struggled to run the ball and find themselves being forced to go to a finesse passing attack, instead of a power running game to close out games.
Anyone who has watched the BCS the past few years can tell you what happens to finesse offenses when they get stacked up against top SEC defenses. Plus, the long delays between regular season and bowl games affects passing teams more than running units.
If Texas fancies itself a championship contender, they need to establish the run and it needs to start this week against Oklahoma.
As for the blood-lust, there is one true way to know it is their under the surface. No one on any team has said anything to give the other team bulletin board material. A silence that is deafening to anyone who knows the history of this rivalry.
The coaches have obviously made it a point of emphasis for the teams not to give any bulletin board-worthy statements to the media.
Not that there could be any more, enough was said last year with the three-way tie.
A thousand quotes couldn't match the fuel that having negative banners flown over your stadium; or getting snubbed for the championship game by a team that you beat and have the same record as.
You could let the players talk all week long in a locked room with the lights turned out and it would not ratchet up how much they want to beat one another on Saturday.
Some say that the intensity of the Red River Rivalry could never be turned up, but trust me this year it has. The fans of both teams have never wanted a win more than they do this season, and if the fans want it, you can rest assured the coaches and players want it even more.
Vegas and the AP offered the first things that could be considered bulletin board material this year, with the first released spread giving Texas only a point and a half over Oklahoma. Extremely low for a second-ranked team over a two-loss team at a neutral site near halfway through the season.
Even with Bradford's return, Oklahoma has shown enough issues to see this as more of a lack of respect for Texas than a vote of confidence for Oklahoma. Expect the spread to rise as more money goes Texas' way than Oklahoma; and Vegas adjust the spread accordingly.
Also note that Texas has only met the spread in one game this season and has fell way short on multiple occasions.
The AP poll also provided Texas with an insult dropping them behind Alabama this week. But this is only a minor annoyance.
The AP poll made itself irrelevant a few years back by asking it be excluded from the BCS process; and add that Florida and Alabama are on a crash course with one another again this season; and it certainly shows a lack of national respect for Texas' accomplishments thus far in the season.
Look for this game to be an easy win by one of the two teams, though I honestly could not tell you which is more likely since both teams have shown major flaws.
But games never live up to the hype and this is easily the most-hyped regular season game in years.
If the game is close, expect it to be ugly with both teams exposing one another's flaws and not a huge shootout like last year.
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