Enough about the “Horns Down.” No more worrying about whether Breckyn Hager thinks “OU still sucks.” Who cares if Sam Ehlinger disrespected Kyler Murray at the Cotton Bowl in October? It doesn’t matter.
“Man, look here,” UT defensive end Charles Omenihu said this week. “When we play that game, ain’t nothing they say on that podium, it’s not going to matter. You can call it disrespect. I think it’s comedy.”
Lock-and-load for Texas-Oklahoma II.
Omenihu said the fifth-ranked Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) can handle things their way. The 14th-ranked Longhorns (9-3, 7-2) will handle things their way, too. At 11 a.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium, the two meet for the Big 12 championship, a first in a long, heated rivalry that dates back to 1900.
“Whatever happens is what’s supposed to happen,” Omenihu said. “So you let them pads do the clacking, you feel me?”
Count Texas receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey as one who’s glad this rematch is being played 21 miles west of their traditional Red River rivalry stomping ground in Fair Park. He played in Arlington multiple times back at Southlake Carroll High School.
“It gets real under those lights,” Humphrey said. “You step on the field, magical things happen. People turn into different things. Like monsters. It’s going to be real fun.”
LJ’s right about that. This is going to be a blast.
If Oklahoma wins, Lincoln Riley’s crew is likely to move up to fourth in the final College Football Playoff rankings and jump into the national semifinals. Murray, OU’s electric quarterback from Allen, is considered by many to be a solid Heisman Trophy finalist.
Texas is playing with house money at this point. Few expected the Longhorns would win nine regular-season games, much less make it to the championship game in coach Tom Herman’s second season.
That’s why UT players laughed at being a 7 1/2-point underdog. They just don’t care. And really, why should they? Texas already beat OU once this season as a 7 1/2-point dog. The Horns had a 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter and held on for a 48-45 win.
The environment at the Cotton Bowl is somewhat predictable. OU fans sit on the south end, hovering over the stadium tunnel. Texas fans occupy the north end. The two sections are split at the 50-yard line in a clear separation of burnt orange and crimson.
There’s no telling what the environment will be like Saturday. Both teams were allotted 7,000 tickets from the Big 12 office. Those were doled out as UT and OU officials saw fit. AT&T Stadium can hold 100,000, if you include standing-room only tickets on the concourse. Cheers and boos will be coming from all directions.
“It’s like two neighborhoods getting together and wanting to fight,” UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “You just kind of stay out of the way. They’re in kind of their own element. Forget about scheme. These two guys are battling it out, and let ’em go.”
Emotions aside, there are some critical differences this time around.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger ran wild in the Cotton Bowl, scoring three touchdowns on the ground and throwing two more. That was before he suffered a sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder. The injury, which happened one week later, bothered him throughout November.
UT coaches may think twice before calling all those quarterback power plays that has made Ehlinger so effective. “All I can tell you is there’s no ‘next game’ right now. Whatever we gotta do,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
The Sooner Schooner couldn’t drag Ehlinger off that field. Here’s a sophomore that grew up living and breathing all things burnt orange. To bury UT’s rival twice in one year, ruin their season and win the Big 12 championship would be a delicious trifecta.
“I’ll have to worry about him being too amped,” Beck said. “Eventually, we’ll have that talk.”
Ehlinger seemed downright giddy about the Longhorns being underdogs this week. “When we play our best, it’s really hard to stop us,” he said.
As for playing for the Big 12 title, Ehlinger said, “I think this is what the standard should be for the University of Texas football program moving forward.”
In four years as a head coach, Herman is 13-1 against the spread as an underdog and 11-5 against Top-25 ranked foes. His teams always play well when knocked back on their heels. He’s now 2-1 against OU, which includes a win over the third-ranked Sooners as the head coach at Houston in 2016.
Don’t expect the Longhorns to be overconfident, though.
“I think that’s the least of our worries, is being too cocky,” UT safety Caden Sterns said. “Coming into this game, we know we’re underdogs. Everyone’s got us picked to lose. We just gotta go to work.”
Containing Murray is vital to UT’s chances of success. He’s got the nation’s second-best passer rating (206.77) and triggers an offense averaging 50.3 points per game. “He’s definitely the fastest quarterback I’ve faced,” UT defensive tackle Chris Nelson said.
Ehlinger said Tuesday that he couldn’t remember what he said to Murray after the game back on Oct. 6. Video and audio captured by KEYE-TV shows him telling Murray to “Take the loss.” That’s probably why Murray declined to comment this week when asked if he respected Ehlinger’s game.
“I guess ol’ boy doesn’t like losing,” Omenihu said. “But he lost. So, it is what it is.”
The Sooners have allowed at least 40 points in each of the last four games. That’s no big deal with Murray at the controls, though, as each of OU’s games in November were knock-down drag-outs.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to be a defensive coordinator in this league,” UT tight end Andrew Beck said.
Texas enters Arlington with the league’s second-best run defense and third-best unit overall. It’s got Omenihu — just named the Big 12’s defensive lineman of the year — along with linebacker Gary Johnson and safety Brandon Jones.
It ain’t the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes, as former OU coach Barry Switzer famously said. And it’s Texas-OU.
“Big-time games,” senior left guard Patrick Vahe said. “That’s exactly why I signed up for Texas.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.