- When asked about the atmosphere surrounding this game, Hurts said, “I played in the Iron Bowl. I played in big games before. I’ll be all right.”
- Since 1990, quarterbacks playing in their first Red River rivalry game are 2-14-1 against opposing quarterbacks who have started or played big minutes in previous Texas-OU matchups.
- Hurts is 31-2 as a college starter and led Alabama to a national title over Clemson his sophomore season.
Long before he arrived on the Oklahoma campus, Jalen Hurts played in his share of rivalry games.
But this one will be different.
During his stellar career at Alabama, Hurts encountered the hated Auburn Tigers three times — twice as a starter and once as a backup, when he attempted only one pass in the 2018 game, but turned it into a 53-yard touchdown.
Just like Sam Ehlinger, Hurts is a money player. He’s now 31-2 as a starter at Alabama and now Oklahoma, and he led the Crimson Tide to the national championship as a sophomore. He’s as box office as the Joker. He has stood atop the SEC mountaintop and has encountered all manner of blood rivals like Auburn, LSU and Georgia. He’s gone toe-to-toe with Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers in a national title game.
But the Red River rivalry between Texas and OU? Different.
“There is nothing like it in all of college football,” ESPN color commentator and former Sooners defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek said on this week’s On Second Thought podcast. “Nothing like it.”
Recent Red River history suggests it doesn’t hurt to have played in this game before. Since 1990, quarterbacks playing in their first Texas-Oklahoma game are 2-14-1 against opposing quarterbacks who have started or played big minutes in previous years. When reporters asked him about his first Texas-OU start after last week’s win over Kansas, Hurts — who grew up in the Houston area — figuratively pointed to the skins on his already sizable wall.
“I played in the Iron Bowl,” Hurts answered. “I played in big games before. I’ll be all right.”
Point taken. But last I checked, the annual Iron Bowl hatefest between Alabama and Auburn is a home-and-home series, meaning that in every other year, one team gets to sleep in its own town and eat familiar food. Saturday’s game will be played at a neutral site with half of the Cotton Bowl wearing crimson, the other half burnt orange. That 50-50 split is unlike anything he has experienced yet in his college career.
As great as he is, there’s no way to manufacture the atmosphere that envelops that 90-year-old stadium and the cheers and boos of 92,000-plus fans, or the buzz that surrounds this game, nationwide and especially in this part of the country.
“(The rivalry) takes the cake because it’s between interstate rivals,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “The two states in general don’t get long very well. Everything that surrounds the game makes it one of, if not the best, games in college football.”
The purists among us can say that this is a game played on a regulation field and fans can scream all they want and it won’t have much to do with the outcome. But history isn’t in Hurts’ favor. That 2-14-1 statistic includes last year’s game, when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray led a furious fourth-quarter comeback from a 45-24 deficit but still fell short in his first and only Red River Showdown start.
Sam Ehlinger was the winning quarterback that day — we all remember the pleasantries he exchanged with Murray post-game — but he had the advantage of having played in the game as a freshman when he lost to Baker Mayfield, who was playing in his third and final Texas-OU game. Ehlinger has evolved from the swashbuckling freshman looking to hit a home run on every play into one of the most efficient players in the country.
The experience of playing at the Cotton Bowl actually helped groom him into a player who has proven time and time again that he’s built for marquee matchups.
So is Hurts, but this is his first time in Dallas even with the love thrown his way this week by his Saturday counterpart.
“He’s had success everywhere he’s been,” Ehlinger said. “Following his story and understanding what he’s persevered through. Just unbelievable respect for him and what he’s been able to do at the college level.”
There’s a reason the sixth-ranked Sooners have been installed as a 10 1/2 point favorite. They are unbeaten and have been the more dominant team through the first half of the season. I’m picking them to win 38-31 because, just like Texas, they have an elite quarterback. Plus they are the healthier of the two defenses coming in.
Hurts will play well — he has more than 2,000 yards of total offense with 21 touchdowns and counting — but I’m wagering one thought will run through his head when he takes the field and looks up into the stands before kickoff.
This Red River game … it is different.