12:00 PM EST, FOX – Line: Oklahoma -10, Over/Under: 76.5
There are few better ways to kick off a weekend of college football than with one of the sport’s most enduring rivalries, as the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners battle the No. 11 Texas Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. As we reach the midway point of the season, Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 in Big XII) is once again rolling through the competition with frightening ease, outscoring the competition by a staggering 34.4 Points per Game. Arguably the hottest Head Coach commodity in the country, Lincoln Riley has his Offense firing on all cylinders, scoring at least Forty-Five Points in every game thus far, averaging a whopping 53.4 Points (2nd Overall) on 644.2 Total Yards, including 355.4 Yards through the air and another 288.8 Yards on the ground. Leading the charge is Jalen Hurts (75.2%, 1,523 YDS, 14.0 Y/A, 14 TD, 2 INT), whom transferred from Alabama following three successful seasons in Tuscaloosa. However, the emergence of one Tua Tagovailoa ensured that the Senior wouldn’t be reclaiming his job anytime soon, prompting his move to Norman, where he may just end up as the school’s third consecutive Heisman winner. Like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him, Hurts has absolutely flourished within Riley’s prolific, up-tempo attack, with the Quarterback posting career-highs in a slew of categories including Completion Percentage (75.2%), Yards per Game (304.6), Yards per Attempt (14.0), Touchdown Percentage (12.8%), and Passer Rating (231.3), while also rushing for 499 Yards and Seven Touchdowns on a career-best 8.8 Yards per Carry. In fact, if you compare his production, and by extension, the Offense, to his predecessors, you’ll find that the Sooners’ attack has never been so lethal. When we last saw them, Riley’s charges overcame an early deficit on the road at Kansas, in which the Jayhawks led 7-0 late in the First Quarter, before the Oklahoma Onslaught began. The visitors ran off six straight Touchdowns to take a 42-7 advantage midway through the final stanza en route to an easy 45-20 victory, in which they amassed a very balanced 545 Total Yards of Offense, including 277 Yards through the air and another 268 Yards on the ground. Hurst accounted for 284 Yards (228 passing, 56 rushing), Four Touchdowns and an Interception, with a whopping THIRTEEN different players hauling in a Reception, with Receiver, CeeDee Lamb (18 REC, 439 YDS, 24.4 Y/R, 7 TD) catching a pair of passes for Twenty-Five Yards and a score, while Tailback, Trey Sermon (45 CAR 345 YDS, 7.7 Y/C, 4 TD), added Twenty Yards and a Touchdown on Two Catches to accompany his Seventy-One Rushing Yards and a Touchdown. However, the biggest play of the day came courtesy of his teammate in the Backfield, Rhamondrae Stevenson (30 CAR, 320 YDS, 10.7 Y/C, 5 TD), who exploded 109 Yards on just Five Carries, punctuated by a 61-Yard Touchdown early in the fourth frame. After the contest, Riley was fairly critical about his team’s performance, which despite the final score was a bit disjointed. After all, the affair got off to a delayed start following the threat of lightning, and swaths of heavy rain slowed down their buddy momentum on a number of occasions. Furthermore, Hurts tossed his first Interception of the campaign, while what would have been a Touchdown via Punt Return was brought back thanks to a Penalty. In the end, they got the job done, though they certainly looked like a team that may have one eye looking ahead to this matchup with Texas. Could you really blame them though? Oklahoma has won five of their last eight meetings with their bitter rival, though this will be the first time since 2011 in which both teams will take field ranked inside the AP Poll’s Top-11. Of course, they met twice last year, falling 40-45 in the Red River Rivalry showdown before avenging that defeat in the Big XII Championship Game, where they rolled to a 39-27 victory.
Meanwhile, today’s showdown at the Cotton Bowl has a different feel to it primarily because there is a real feeling that this is the best that Texas (4-1, 2-0 in Big XII) has been heading into this hallowed rivalry in a decade. Yes, the Longhorns are in the midst of steering their way out of what has been a particularly rough stretch for one of the country’s true blue bloods, in which they had gone a disappointing 46-42 (.523) between 2010 and 2016. Coincidentally, that’s before the arrival of one Tom Herman, who now in his third year in Austin, appears to have the program out of the doldrums and headed back to the realm of College Football’s elite. While, they’re not quite ready for the Playoff, this is a team that is probably ranked just right. After finishing last year 10-3, punctuated with a victory over Georgia in Sugar Bowl, Texas has gotten off to a 4-1 start, including a perfect 2-0 within conference play. The Offense has been humming under Herman’s playcalling, averaging 41.8 Points per Game (13th Overall) on 485.2 Total Yards, including 308.0 Yards through the air and another 177.2 Yards on the ground. Now a Junior, Sam Ehlinger (69.4%, 1,448 YDS, 8.4 Y/A, 17 TD, 2 INT) appears to have overcome the injuries that plagued him earlier in his career, for the Quarterback has become very comfortable within this scheme, completing a career-high 69.4% of his Passes for 1,448 Yards on 8.4 Yards per attempt, Seventeen Touchdowns and just Two Interceptions. At 6-3, 230 pounds, he’s no stranger to leaving the pocket and making plays on the run, where he’s rushed for 236 Yards and three more scores on Fifty-One Carries. When we last saw him and the Longhorns, Ehlinger persevered through an uneven performance in a 42-31 victory at West Virginia in which the two teams traded blows throughout the First Half, before the visiting side managed to separate themselves in the Second. The Signal-Caller completed 18-of-33 Passes for just 211 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, though barreled into the End Zone on two occasions, including a 23-Yard Touchdown Run late in the final stanza to push the lead to Eighteen Points. Afterwards, he flashed the school’s famous “Hook ‘m Horns” hand gesture to the crowd, gaining payback following last year’s 41-42 defeat at home to the Mountaineers, who scored the go-ahead Touchdown in the game’s waning moments. The Runnings Game was huge on this day, racking up 224 Yards and Four Touchdowns on Forty-Seven Carries, led by Freshman Tailback, Roschon Johnson (55 CAR, 268 YDS, 4.9 Y/C, 1 TD), who exploded for a career-high 121 Yards on Twenty-One Carries. Johnson, a converted Quarterback, received the bulk of the carries after the team’s Starting Tailback, Keaontay Ingram (66 CAR, 313 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 3 TD), left the field following an apparent neck injury early in the contest. Defensively, Texas continued to worry, as a youthful and inexperienced unit, featuring a decimated Secondary forced Four Turnovers, all of which were Interceptions. Sophomore Cornerback, D’Shawn Jamison (10 TKL, 25 TFL, 2 INT) came away with two of them, with his teammates Ayodele Adeoye (13 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 0.5 SK, 1 INT) and B.J. Foster (18 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 1 INT) accounting for the other two. It’s very much been a baptism by fire for this unit, which already began the season with nine new Starters on this side of the football; through five games, the Longhorns have allowed 26.6 Points per Game (67th Overall) on a dismal 441.8 Total Yards, including 325 Yards against the Pass, and another 116.8 Yards versus the Run. Fortunately, the Takeaways have allowed them to compensate for giving up so many yards, forcing Ten Turnovers thus far, nine of which being Interceptions. Indeed, Oklahoma represents the steepest test that this group will likely face this season, and it will be interesting to see if they can rise to the occasion; in their two meetings in 2018, Herman’s troops were eviscerated by the Sooners’ attack, yielding 532 and 508 Total Yards respectively, though they won the Turnover Battle in the first meeting (3-0) before breaking even in the second.