By Phil Rodriguez
Fall is here, and so too is the annual Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. The Sooners will be looking to avenge last year’s upset loss to Charlie Strong’s Longhorns, where they allowed 313 rushing yards while failing to rush for much of anything themselves.
This year, however, the problem for the Sooners could be their passing defense. Mike Stoops’ defensive unit has allowed an abysmal 298.5 passing yards per game so far this season, good for 116th out of 128 teams in the FBS. The Sooners have also allowed 13 touchdown passes while forcing only one turnover through the passing game.
The Sooners will also be without three defensive starters against the Longhorns: defensive end Matt Dimon, cornerback William Johnson, and disruptive defensive tackle Charles Walker will all miss the matchup in Dallas. Walker especially will be missed, as he’s been arguably the biggest defensive playmaker for the Sooners so far this season. Though he’s failed to record a sack so far this season, he has two tackles for a loss, and his four passes defended rank 2nd in the Big 12 out of all defenders.
Texas has shown signs of offensive brilliance this year, and have used the two-quarterback system to some fruition. True freshman Shane Buechele has overachieved mightily as the Longhorns’ main starter, completing 65.5% of his passes while throwing for almost 1000 yards and eight touchdowns. Running quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, meanwhile, has contributed 112 yards with five touchdowns on the ground, tying him for the lead for most rushing touchdowns on the team with D’onta Foreman.
Buechele loves to spread the ball around, as he has five receivers with 13 or 14 catches all hovering around the 150-yard mark. Since he feels so comfortable spreading the ball around, this will make it difficult for the Sooners to key on any one playmaking receiver. This ability to keep the ball moving with a varied passing attack and a strong running attack could end up giving the Sooners a huge headache on defense.
Oklahoma will need everything they can out of linebackers Jordan Evans and Emmanuel Beal, as well as safeties Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomas. These four will be central to stuffing the run when Swoopes enters the game in his wildcat-esque formation. Parker and Thomas will also be especially crucial to stopping the long pass that has been the knife in the back against so many Mike Stoops-led defensive units. There is no doubt that the Longhorns will try the long pass, as they had success with several bombs against Notre Dame earlier in the year. When they do, the two safeties, as well as cornerback Jordan Thomas, must be prepared to drop deep to defend it.
Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield will be looking for his first win against Texas, as he lost 41-16 to the ‘Horns in Austin in 2013 as a Texas Tech player before taking over as the Sooners’ starter las season. Running back Samaje Perine will be hoping the game will go similarly to his 2014 freshman debut when he ran for 62 yards and a touchdown as the Sooners won 31-26. He’ll hope to he can match his average yards per carry from 2014 as well, as his current season’s 4.9 pales in comparison to that season’s 6.5 marks.
Overall it would seem the Sooners are the better team, despite their injuries, but we all know anything can happen in what some have described as the biggest college football rivalry in the United States.