This had to be the most abnormal Texas-OU week in Texas-OU history. That’s how it felt on this side of the Red River, anyway.
Oklahoma was practically an afterthought during UT coach Charlie Strong’s weekly 30-minute press conference on Monday. He was busy answering questions about the team’s 1-4 start and whether he can right the ship. Players were busy bickering with each other on Twitter.
Quarterback Jerrod Heard cooled things down on Tuesday by laughing it off. “I’m about to get their phones and delete their Twitter,” the freshman said.
The Texas athletic department hasn’t sold all of its tickets for Saturday’s game, and to top things off, Bevo won’t make the trip due to a “life-threatening condition.”
Why should the 10th-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12) take the Longhorns seriously? Given the unpredictable nature of this series, Texas probably comes out swinging on Saturday despite being 17-point underdogs.
“Why should OU take us serious? Because we’re Texas,” defensive tackle Paul Boyette said. “We haven’t lost the brand. That’s not going to change.”
Still, if the younger players don’t know to stay off Twitter, how do they know about this rivalry?
The vast majority of today’s players have probably never heard of Peter Gardere or Stonie Clark. Do they know who “Superman” was in 2001? Do they realize what it meant when Vince Young stopped OU’s five-game winning streak in 2005?
UT play-caller Jay Norvell, who spent the last seven seasons at OU before getting fired in the offseason, was amped up after Tuesday’s practice. This game has been on his radar for months.
“The team that outhits the other team and doesn’t turn it over wins this game,” Norvell said, at times with his voice rising. “It’s a pretty simple formula. That’s what our kids gotta do. They’ve got to go out and play, go out and hit, lay it on the field and protect the football.”
The veterans spent the week trying to relay that same message. Coaches and players have always said this is one of the fastest games you’ll ever play. This game, for whatever reason, has an NFL pace. Every opportunity matters.
“You come to Texas to play big games. This is one of those big games,” Boyette said. “It’s the Red River Rivalry. If you’re from Texas growing up, you know about Texas-Oklahoma. You know about the rivalry we have. You know about the wins, the losses, the everything.”
Heard wasn’t the only Longhorn trying to ring-fence and extinguish the social media wildfire this week. Sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman said, “Anything that’s said can be resolved with just having a conversation with one another.”
The running game clicked last week against TCU after the Frogs stormed to a 30-0 lead. Texas started leaning on Foreman to eat up yards and clock. Norvell can’t afford to wait around this week, though.
Texas will be short-handed offensively as receiver Daje Johnson (concussion) and right tackle Kent Perkins (knee) are either limited or out, respectively. That means another week with either Marcus Hutchins, Tristan Nickelson or Elijah Rodriguez on the offensive line.
The Horns need to find a spark, be it through a defensive score or special teams play. Defensive tackle Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception return sparked Texas in 2013. The Sooners, ranked 12th , were solid favorites that year, too. But Whaley’s play changed everything.
Quarterback Case McCoy hit Marcus Johnson for a 59-yard score. Then Johnson ripped off an electric 85-yard punt return. McCoy’s over-the-shoulder throw to Mike Davis for a 38-yard touchdown sealed the 36-20 upset win. That victory fueled UT’s six-game winning streak that season.
So yes, one big victory can turn things around.
“It’s all about preparing and letting the young players know, because they’ve never played in an environment like this,” UT senior center Taylor Doyle said. “This game is that unique.”
Doyle played alongside Baker Mayfield when the two grew up at Lake Travis. Mayfield is one of the most unique quarterbacks in the Big 12. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and run for four. UT defensive coordinator Vance Bedford compared him to Brett Favre in terms of mobility.
Mayfield and first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley have reinvigorated OU’s offense, much to coach Bob Stoops’ relief. He’s been on the hot seat lately, too. Stoops needs to secure a big victory to show Sooners faithful the team’s 4-0 start is no mirage.
Stoops is 10-6 against Texas during his tenure, and four of those wins have come by 35 points or more. He considers the Longhorns dangerous despite their record.
“Their four losses are to four ranked teams,” Stoops said. “It was pointed out to me those four teams are 19-1.”
Saturday marks a prime opportunity for Texas to spring an upset.
Heard, making his first start on the Cotton Bowl stage, said he’s attended two Texas-OU games. He loved the atmosphere in 2013, when UT won and the high school senior was itching to sign his scholarship papers.
Heard said McCoy threw that “deep bomb to Mike Davis, and the crowd erupted. That was unreal. When I think back on that, that’s what I want to get to do and relive that moment.”