Red River Rivalry: 3 Deciding Factors for Sooners and Longhorns
In the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas, it is often said that you can throw out all the records once these two teams hit the field. For the most part that is true. There is enough emotion and motivation involved to get both teams playing at their best.
With that being said, history tells us that the best team usually wins this matchup. With that being the case, it seems logical that most people would pick the Sooners to come out on top.
The beautiful thing about the Red River Rivalry is that it usually tells us how good each team is.
Oklahoma has already faced a tough test in Tallahassee, but the A.P. voters don't necessarily agree. Texas feels like a win at Iowa State was enough to prove they have recovered from a lackluster 2010 season.
The truth is that the winner Saturday in the Cotton Bowl will make a statement to the rest of the nation that they are the real deal. The loser will leave the Texas State Fair with the same status as corny dogs, fried Twinkies and Big Tex: overrated.
Here are three factors that will decide the outcome of the Red River Rivalry in 2011.
Whose Quarterback Gets Dirty?
The Sooners and Longhorns will both come into the game determined to get after the other team's quarterback. The team that protects their passer the best has a great opportunity to win.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones is a Heisman candidate and, when given time, can make a secondary look really bad. Especially now that he has his top two weapons, WR Ryan Broyles and WR Kenny Stills, healthy. WR Trey Franks has also been placed back on the team after a suspension.
Jones has had some trouble with pressure in the past. The one knock on Jones is that if you can get some pressure on him he tends to throw ugly interceptions instead of taking the sack.
The Longhorns are well aware of this after forcing Jones to make a few mistakes last year. Look for Texas to throw the kitchen sink at Jones. The good thing for Oklahoma is that the offensive line has been great at protecting their quarterback this year.
Texas has done some quarterback shuffling this year. Coach Mack Brown will go with a two quarterback system. Case McCoy and David Ash have helped the Longhorns find some offensive success as of late.
Neither have proved their worth in a big game, however, and the Oklahoma defense is a completely different animal from what they saw from Iowa State or BYU. The Sooners will look to take advantage of Texas' lack of experience behind center.
There will be some sacks in this game. That isn't necessarily the stat to keep an eye on. The key stat will be the mistakes made as a result of pressure on the quarterback.
It's a good bet that the team with the least amount of mistakes from their quarterback will win.
Who Has Success in the Running Game?
Since 1998, the team that has the best rushing attack has won the Red River Rivalry. In fact, the last time a team in this rivalry won without winning the rushing battle was in 1997 when the Longhorns won 27-24, even after the Sooners out-rushed the Horns 321-224.
Now, spread offenses have taken over college football. It's not likely that either team will rush for over 300 yards this year. But, the team that can prove to be more balanced may be the team that comes out on top.
The Sooners are gaining some confidence in the running game. RB Dominique Whaley has been a great story as a walk-on. Twice this season he has run for over 100 yards despite splitting the carries with RB Brennan Clay.
Whaley has clearly been the better rusher and it appears that offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has decided to go with the junior as his featured back. Whaley should get the majority of the carries against Texas.
Texas has depended on an improved rushing attack this year. The Longhorns bring in the 25th best rushing attack in the country at 206 yards per game.
To this point, the schedule for Texas has not provided much of a test. RB Malcolm Brown is averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. That will have to continue Saturday against an underrated Oklahoma defense.
RB Foswhitt Whittaker provides the Longhorns with some big play ability. He also allows offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to be creative with his play calling. Whittaker is a real threat out of the Wildcat formation.
For the 14th straight year, the team winning the battle on the ground will leave Dallas with a victory.
Which Defense Will Give Up the Most Big Plays?
The Red River Rivalry is usually a game of momentum. Big plays have turned mortals into icons inside the Cotton Bowl. This year there are plenty of big play candidates on both sides of the ball.
The Sooners are loaded on offense. Broyles is one of the best and fastest receivers in the country, but Stills has actually been the big play guy for Oklahoma this year. Just ask Florida State.
When given any space at all, Whaley is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His ability to catch the ball makes him even more dangerous.
The Horns like to take some risks on defense and will blitz like crazy. Oklahoma has the talent and speed to take advantage of an undisciplined Texas defense.
Texas doesn't have as many play-makers as Oklahoma, but Harsin has made some big play calls against Oklahoma in the past. He is best known by Sooner fans for his dismantling of the Sooners' defense in the Fiesta Bowl while calling plays for Boise State.
Harsin always has some tricks up his sleeve and there is never a better time to show your cards than in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. Bob Stoops will have to stress discipline to his defense. The Sooners are as aggressive on defense as anybody in the nation. The Longhorns, with their misdirection and trick plays, could take advantage of that aggressiveness.