The Longhorns and Sooners will square off at 11:00 am on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl for the 117th time in history. The Sooners are ranked in the Top 10 but have struggled in several games this season. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian rolls into his first Red River Rivalry with a 3-game winning streak and a Heisman candidate running back.
Here are four things to keep an eye on that could help Texas leave Dallas with the Golden Hat.
1. Can the Longhorns OL hold their own?
Oklahoma’s best unit on their team may very well be their defensive line. This will also likely be the toughest line Texas will face all season on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, even better than the Razorbacks' that dominated Texas for sixty minutes. Oklahoma linebacker Nick Bonnito vs left tackle Christian Jones will serve as a key matchup that could determine who wins in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Bonnito has a lethal combination of speed and power and Jones has struggled in pass blocking at times this year. This is a matchup in which Steve Sarkisian must give Jones some additional help in the form of a running back or tight end to chip Bonnito. The Longhorns have gotten significantly better play from their offensive line since leaving Fayetteville but this will be a major test.
2. Will Sark have his team ready for his first rumble with the Sooners?
While Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian has coached and played in big rivalry games, this one is just a little different. Saturday's game takes place at a neutral site, and brings a blend of road and home atmosphere into one raucous stadium. In few games can you feel the momentum shift like this one, and Texas must start fast which has been a problem for the Longhorns in past years. Sark is a great offensive mind and he will likely lay all the chips on the table and hold nothing back to try and win this one.
3. Oklahoma will test the Longhorn DB’s... how will they react?
The Texas secondary hasn’t been tested too often this season and when they have been it hasn’t gone particularly well. Texas Tech attacked the corners downfield and had great success in doing so. I was surprised that Gary Patterson and TCU didn’t do the same last week in Fort Worth, especially without starter Josh Thompson. You can bet that Lincoln Riley will test the secondary over and over on Saturday. If they hold their own it could be a long day for an Oklahoma offense that has struggled at times this year. The Sooners haven't had their typical explosive offense but they still have talent in their wide receiver room. Tight end Austin Stogner can present issues in coverage as well and it will be a task for the Longhorns to slow him down as well.
4. Can the Longhorns DL wreck havoc on Oklahoma’s OL?
Oklahoma is known for having elite offensive lineman year after year but this season they look vulnerable. This is an area where Texas should be able to beat Oklahoma in the trenches. Texas has been rotating several defensive linemen in every game to keep players fresh to maximize reps. Spencer Rattler hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this year, largely in part due to the Oklahoma line being subpar. As we saw last year in Dallas when Rattler was benched, if you get to him early he can be rattled. When that happens, bad throws turn into interceptions. Getting pressure will be pivotal in this game for the Longhorns.