Texas takes on struggling OU in Red River Rivalry

The University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma’s football programs both have their own prosperous histories, glittered with National Championships and Heisman trophies. However, that’s not the only thing that binds these programs together.

They’re also bound hip to hip by pure, unbridled hatred.

The Red River Rivalry started in 1900. Few who observed the game would ever think that it would become the massive spectacle that it has become. In 1912, it was first played in Dallas, where it’s been played for the last 110 years on the second weekend of October, during the Texas State Fair. The State Fair and the game have become almost synonymous, a glorious display of college football and frying anything and everything.

Once again, this Saturday, 90,000 people will pack the Cotton Bowl, half in crimson, and half in burnt orange for the 118th installation of one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

However, the newest installation to this rivalry seems to be an odd one. Oklahoma lost Head Coach Lincoln Riley to Southern California last season, and after scrambling to rebuild during the offseason with new HC Brett Venables, they’ve had a rocky start to the year. On the other end, second year HC Steve Sarkisian is looking to bring the golden hat back to Austin for the first time since 2018. With both squads attempting to recover from rough starts to the season, this will be the first time these teams have met while unranked since 1998.

Texas comes into the game sitting at 3-2 (1-1 in conference play). The Longhorns are led by redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers, but a week 2 shoulder injury during their heartbreaking 20-19 loss against Alabama sidelined him. Hudson Card took over, winning two out of three games during his time starting. Ewers will return for the first time since the Alabama game nearly a month ago for this game.

Oklahoma comes into the game, like Texas, with a 3-2 record (0-2 in conference play). Starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel was knocked out of last Saturday’s shocking 55-24 blowout loss against TCU with a concussion. Despite Davis Beville getting the nod to replace Gabriel during the game last week, the signal caller for the Sooners remains unknown, with Head Coach Brett Venables giving vague answers on who will suit up.

Unfortunately for Oklahoma, quarterback isn’t the only position in question for Saturday.

Injuries have plagued the Sooners this season, with a multitude of players sidelined. Starting defensive back Billy Bowman won’t play. It seems that many more are in question as to whether they’ll suit up in Dallas.

Venables said in a Thursday press conference that some of the injury situations are still “up in the air”, and that “I’m really not going to talk about any of those right now until I have clarity.”

In addition to injury concerns, they just haven’t been good defensively. In their two games of conference play they’ve given up whopping totals of 96 points and 1,117 total yards. Most worryingly, 636 of those yards have come on the ground, at an alarming rate of 9.35 yards per carry. This is shocking for a defense that looked dominant over its first three games, albeit with much weaker competition. 

The competition for Oklahoma’s defense won’t be getting any easier this weekend.

The Longhorns have a gem in running back Bijan Robinson, who has racked up 515 yards and 8 TDs on 88 carries over the first 5 games. Per PFF, Robinson has a whopping 40 missed tackles forced, which outpaces the running backs of any other team in the conference. The Oklahoma defense faces a tall task in containing him and running back Roschon Johnson, who has registered 20 missed tackles forced by the same metric. However, the Horns’ interior O line play has been shaky this season, with inexperience prevalent when games roll on and holes aren’t being opened up for the backfield combo. 

In addition to the Texas run game, Texas sports sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy, who barreled his way onto the national scene last season when he battered the OU defense for 267 yards and two TDs on nine catches. Ultimately, the Horns have one of the most electric offenses in the country, one that will be boosted by a potential Ewers return on Saturday.

On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma seems to fare a lot better. Their offense still has many questions, especially considering their injuries. However, running back Eric Gray has been ingrained in their starting lineup, with 460 yards and three TDs so far. In addition to him, wide receiver Marvin Mims, who torched Texas last year for 136 yards and two TDs, is having a productive season of his own. They face a Texas defense which has had issues during Sarkisian’s tenure with allowing long drives and being tired out by the second half. Texas Tech held the ball for 35:54 when they played Texas, racking up 100 offensive plays in the process, and had five different drives which surpassed four minutes in length.

Overall, it might look like Texas has Oklahoma outmatched. On paper, they do. And one might ask, “why is this relevant then?”

Let me introduce the chaos of the Red River Rivalry.

Over the past decade, Oklahoma has been the premier program in the Big 12 and one of the dominant programs on the national scale. They’ve had multiple Heisman trophy winners, and made the College Football Playoff four times while racking up a whopping six straight Big 12 titles.

On the other hand, Texas has… slumped. After a dominant 2000s, Texas has had an 83-67 record since 2010, and has become frankly the laughing stock of college football with multiple losses to Big 12 bottomfeeder Kansas (who shockingly sits at 5-0 at time of writing). They’re on their 4th coach since 2010, and are floundering in their attempts to return to their national powerhouse status.

Not shockingly, the record in the last 10 years stands at 8-3 Oklahoma (the teams met twice in 2018, once in the Big 12 championship game). However, the chaos around this game remains unmatched in terms of rivalries.

For example, the last eight meetings in the Cotton Bowl have been one score games. In 2015, a Texas team that would wind up going 5-7 shocked a top 10 ranked Oklahoma 24-17. In 2018, potentially the most significant year of this rivalry in the last decade, the teams split the two games they played, with Texas winning a thriller in October, and Oklahoma pulling out a win in the Big 12 title game. In 2020, OU prevailed 53-45 in a four overtime thriller, surviving a 14 point surge which took three minutes that Texas pulled off to force overtime.

The last matchup, however, will hit closest to home for fans.

Texas, who came into the game at 4-1, jumped out to a 28-7 lead and held a 38-20 lead coming into the half. OU chipped away at the lead led by now USC quarterback Caleb Williams, and eventually would win 55-48 on a 33 yard touchdown run with three seconds remaining. Texas will be looking to get revenge for this and three other games, as OU carries a four-game winning streak against Texas into this weekend.

However, Texas is currently in some unfamiliar territory in this rivalry. For the first time since the 2000s, they walk into Dallas favored over OU, the line sitting at seven points in favor of Texas. For the first time since these college athletes were in elementary school, the Red River Rivalry is Texas’s to lose. This puts most of the pressure on Texas, in comparison to years past where OU would come into the game expecting to win.

Overall, there is certainly an interesting atmosphere around the game this year. Both teams have many questions left unanswered, but as we all should know, once the ball is kicked off in the Cotton Bowl, chaos will reign.