Malcolm Roach has been to the State Fair of Texas plenty of times. His father coached at Grambling State, so he’s been to plenty of Grambling-Prairie View A&M games at the Cotton Bowl over the years.
“I used to get the turkey wing,” Roach said.
What did he like about that giant State Fair staple? “How juicy it is,” Roach said, chuckling at the memory.
He’s been to the Cotton Bowl the last three years wearing burnt orange. The Texas senior will make his final trip down that historic tunnel, out onto the field and into Texas-OU history on Saturday as a team captain. Roach will cherish every second.
Memo to every senior on both sides of the Red River: Soak it all in. The boos, the cheers, the middle fingers, the high-fives and Horns Down. As spectators, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the final score. For the participants, it’s an experience of a lifetime.
“One thing I’ve been doing lately, I think I started this last year when I knew my time was winding down. You know, I just take at least like 20 seconds in pregame or after the game and just look around the field,” he added. “Just store it in my memory bank.
“I know this is probably my last run in college, if everything goes as planned. Just take it in, you know, take 20 minutes to yourself to enjoy the moment. These are moments that you can never get back. So, just sit there, you know, just look around and see. I’m really playing in this atmosphere.”
Roach couldn’t play in last year’s game because of a foot injury. He was on the sideline in a protective boot. When Cameron Dicker drilled the game-winning field goal, Roach said he was standing on the bench locked arm and arm with Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
“When he kicked it and it went in, we just ran out, jumped off the bench and started running,” Roach said. “I wasn’t supposed to be running at the moment. We were just running around on the field.”
Running around in a protective boot with a foot injury? “I ain’t feel no pain,” he said. “And I came back in time. So I’m pretty sure it didn’t affect anything.”
Every Texas-OU player has some kind of memory about the Cotton Bowl tunnel. Old-timers remember how wide open it used to be on the OU side of the field. Nowadays, the tunnel has been sanitized in the name of “player safety.”
Screens are raised when players enter and exit the field. Sooners fans are “blocked” from yelling at players, or so it goes theoretically. At some point, pearl-clutching became en vogue as these 18- to 21-year-olds run onto the field.
Oh, but the Longhorns still hear it. It’s a cacophony of boos until you reach midfield. Then, players are bear-hugged emotionally by the UT fandom.
“It’s an unreal experience,” UT senior safety Brandon Jones said. “Just being able to run out and hear the cheers of our fans and the boos of their fans all mixed, it’s something that’s unexplainable. You have to be there for yourself to be able to experience something like that.”
Senior center Zach Shackelford loves it, too.
“It’s a special place to be, a special place to play,” Shackelford said. “This will be my fourth time playing in this environment. I think it’s really important for the young guys to just kind of calm the nerves a little bit and know what they’re getting into.”
Junior right tackle Derek Kerstetter flat-out admitted his first Texas-OU experience “was a little nerve-wracking.”
“You feel excited, you feel so many different emotions,” Kerstetter said. “It’s just really a cool thing being able to walk out that tunnel and just see all the screaming fans going nuts. It’s exciting. You definitely feel a different way that you’ve never really felt before when you come out of the tunnel in this game.”
If Saturday is your first Texas-OU experience as a fan, you’ll be overwhelmed. Don’t buy too many Fair tickets at once for food and beer. Don’t get snookered on the Midway, either. Go see the new car building after the game. Walk through the agricultural barn.
If Saturday is your last Texas-OU experience as a player, you’ll either leave depressed or overjoyed. But cherish all of it.
On to this week’s mailbag …
Q. What does Texas need to do to generate some pass rush and hopefully QB sacks against OU? Only 2 sacks by the DL this year. — Longhorn94
I didn’t think much about this statistic until UT coach Tom Herman referenced it Monday. Texas had no sacks against West Virginia. Yep, none. Herman casually mentioned that Austin Kendall had 4.4 seconds on one particular play to find an open target. That’s just not winning football, regardless of level.
But you are correct; the defensive line has produced only two sacks this season. If Texas had a porous run defense, then this line could be taken to the woodshed. But the Horns are allowing 116.8 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the Big 12. Roach, Keondre Coburn and Ta’Quon Graham are holding the point of attack.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando continues to praise this group in public. He’ll keep doing it, too. Containing OU quarterback Jalen Hurts on the ground is the key this week. Don’t let the league’s third-best rusher run wild in the Cotton Bowl.
Q. Bigger loss… OU’s two tackles or Sterns/Green? — Reagan
OU coach Lincoln Riley said left tackle Erik Swenson and right tackle Adrian Ealy are “highly questionable” for this game. They are not expected to play. Offensive tackles don’t grow on trees, so I would assume those are two big losses. Fifth-year senior R.J. Proctor (6-4, 328) is listed as the starter at left tackle. Junior Finley Felix (6-5, 305) is listed as Ealy’s backup at right tackle on the depth chart.
Based on what the Longhorns did against the Mountaineers, one has to believe that Orlando and Herman feel good about the secondary. Texas had four interceptions, and three of those came from the back end. D’Shawn Jamison had two himself, including an acrobatic one that reached No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays.
It really helped getting B.J. Foster back. He was all over the place. Safety DeMarvion Overshown was expected to practice this week. Herman will shed light on Overshown’s playing status after Thursday’s practice.
Q. Is the B.J. Foster quote true that was directed toward Jalen Hurts? — GoldCoastVlogs
I was there for Foster’s entire seven-minute interview session on Tuesday. On Hurts, Foster said, “He’s been running very good. We’ve seen a couple of nice runs that he’s made, a couple nice passes. But we’ve also seen some bad things, too. Pretty sure they’re going to fix before the game.”
Foster was asked how OU’s offense is different with Hurts than with Kyler Murray last year.
“Jalen Hurts is obviously much bigger,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t like to slide, so he’s going to engage contact with you. Kyler Murray, you don’t what he’s going to do — slide or run past you. It’s just hard to sack Kyler Murray. But with Jalen Hurts, you just have to play solid defense, and we’ll be good.
“We’ve got to limit them to one thing only,” he added. “We’ve got to stop the run and force them to throw. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t run the ball and throw the ball.”
Foster is well-known as a hard hitter. So he’d prefer if Hurts didn’t slide. “He’s not dumb,” he said. “He’s going to have to slide or it’s not going to be good for him.”
Q. When you find the six-coupon beer stand, how many is too many? — Dustin, staff writer at Orangebloods.com
As a professional Texas-OU observer, Dustin, I should be asking you where the six-coupon beer stand is. I’m told by those who know it’s located somewhere near the back of the Midway. Beer purchases at the indoor food court are eight Fair coupons. And beer purchased at the Fletcher’s corny dog stand are 10. Each coupon is worth $0.50. They do not expire, either.
Q. Beer prices are varied throughout the fair. Direct Sooners to the higher priced vendors, please. — Benjamin
Is that just because you prefer shorter lines for your convenience, Ben?
Q. Any word of the Birds of the World show returning to the Fair? — Armstrong Simms
So I did some digging on this, because I actually know what you are talking about. Apparently, the Steve Martin show was on a six-year break. I believe it’s called World of Birds, if you want to Google it. You can find more information about the showtimes here.
Q. What is the best fried food item I can eat at the State Fair? Asking for a friend… — Dominic
For me, it will forever be a Fletcher’s corny dog. Two please, with a beer. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. Morning, noon and night. Oh, but not when I’m working Texas-OU (in case the boss is reading this).
I went looking for this year’s new food items and wound up just laughing. Some of this stuff just sounds ridiculous. There’s something called the “Deep Fried Chicken Cordon Bleu Stuffed Waffles.” That features a chipotle kicker that promises to “blow your mind!”
There’s also deep fried potato salad, a cotton candy burrito, a loaded baked potato funnel cake and the PB&J bacon pickle dog. I literally busted out laughing at the idea of a fully loaded baked potato put on top of a funnel cake.
Look at this! There’s something called the Big Red Chicken Bread. The description has a bunch of words followed by this mouth-watering, must-read information — “a savory fried chicken wing resting in the middle of the doughnut.”
Want to find all this greatness on the fairgrounds? Here’s the website with all the map information.
Q. To anyone who’s been to the State Fair of Texas, did y’all try the deep fried bacon cheeseburger? I’m still shocked I’m alive after that. — Liam
Next year, I expect they’ll have plant-based fried hamburgers. You know, for the environment.
Q. Why so much Texas trash talk this year? Seems more than usual. — John
It’s certainly raising eyebrows, but not necessarily red flags. We want these players to be honest, right? They are a confident bunch. Personally, I can’t stand all the sanitized comments we get all the time. Did anyone watch Hurts’ press conference with OU reporters this week? Geez, talk about a robot. There’s no way he’s like that away from reporters.
Of course, we’ve all been guilty of tweeting out some hot sports opinions from players at times. That eventually comes back to bite them hours later from coaches and publicists who are furious. I’m trying to take a different approach here lately. Keep the hot quotes for stories and keep them off social media.
Q. Why wasn’t the West Virginia defender No. 56 called for targeting? Look at how Cosmi’s head snaps back when he hits No. 56. What am I missing? — John
Actually, John, you may be on to something there. Defensive lineman Darius Stills comes in and tries to hammer Cosmi, who is crossing the goal line. Cosmi hit the deck, to be sure. But the big man was feeling absolutely no pain at that exact moment. Review officials upstairs are supposed to review every play, and they could certainly have stopped the game if they felt it was targeting.
One funny moment after the game will stick with me probably forever. Cosmi was leaning up against the wall in the stadium tunnel, and I looked at him and said, “Hey, one target, one touchdown.” He literally busted out laughing so hard, like a little kid. He was giggling like crazy. Ha! Makes me laugh now just thinking about it. Good for him.