Texas improved to 2-0 in Big 12 play last Saturday after securing a big win in Fort Worth against TCU, but all focus has now shifted to the Red River Rivalry and the 117th meeting between Texas and Oklahoma.
The Sooners enter the game with a 5-0 record but have had some unexpected scares to open the season, including close wins over Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia.
What has caused some head scratching performances from Lincoln Riley's team and what can Texas expect on Saturday afternoon? Let's dive in:
Expectations were sky high for sophomore QB Spencer Rattler after a really good freshman campaign. Rattler entered the season has the favorite for the Heisman trophy and it was widely thought he would be the first QB off the board in the 2022 NFL draft. So what has gone wrong for the Oklahoma QB? Rattler's decision making has taken a step back this year. He is pushing the ball down the field into very tight windows and as a result, Riley is choosing to not call as many downfield shots as previous years. Rattler did have his best game of the season a week ago against Kansas State, completing 22 of 25 passes for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but still tossed an ill-advised interception where he underthrew a WR along the sideline.
Another underlying issue is the Oklahoma offensive line, which is giving Rattler very little protection compared to what we are used to seeing from Bill Bedenbaugh's unit. Despite having 4 senior starters up front, the Sooners have allowed 9 sacks on the season, including 6 the last two games against West Virginia and Kansas State.
The Oklahoma running game has also not been as explosive as in years past. The Sooners only have two scholarship running backs on the roster, Tennessee transfer Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks. Both are averaging over 5.0 yards a carry, but as a team the Sooners are only averaging 155 rushing yards per game, which ranks 75th in the country.
Oklahoma does have plenty of weapons to get the ball to when the passing game is clicking. Marvin Mims leads the team with 264 receiving yards on 14 catches but has yet to find the endzone so far this year. Arkansas transfer Mike Woods and true freshman Mario Williams are tied for the team tied in receptions with 20. Riley also loves to utilize TE Austin Stogner and FB/TE Jeremiah Hall in the passing game. Stogner had a good game against the Longhorns a year ago (6 catches for 56 yards and a TD).
Alex Grinch has a done a really good job of turning around the Oklahoma defense compared to where they were just 3 years ago. This is the most talented defensive unit the Sooners have had in quite a while, and it all starts up front with the defensive line. The Longhorns offensive line will face their toughest test of the season going against Nic Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas coming off the edge. With Denzel Okafor out for the season with a knee injury, Kyle Flood will be counting on Andrej Karic to hold his own while making his first career start at RT.
On the backend, Oklahoma has one of the best safety duos in the conference in Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell, who missed last weeks game but is expected to return on Saturday. Freshman Billy Bowman, who was committed to Texas for over a year before flipping to Oklahoma, starts at nickel and has flashed a ton of a potential.
Overall, Alex Grinch is going to lean heavily on his defensive line to slow down the Texas running game and put the Longhorns into 3rd and long situations where he is able to turn up the heat with the pass rush. Grinch is very aggressive so do not expect Oklahoma to sit on their heels and let the game come to them.
Oklahoma has a few more holes than people would have thought heading into the season, but they are still a top 10 team in the county and should be favored on paper. The biggest question mark is going to be if Texas is able to move the ball through the air offensively. Alex Grinch is going to dedicate almost all of his resources to stopping Bijan Robinson, so the Longhorns will need to connect on some big plays through the air which is something they were not able to do in Fort Worth.
Defensively for Texas, the play of Spencer Rattler is a true wildcard. He appeared to settle into a groove last week against Kansas State but is still prone to costly turnovers. If the Longhorns are able to slow down the Oklahoma rushing attack and force Rattler to beat them down the field with a shaky offensive line, then Texas has a really good chance of emerging victorious.