Last week's near-win against one of the best teams in the country was a big moment for Texas.
The Longhorns looked at the end zone from just 12 yards away; the winning touchdown was staring right back at them. A blown snap from center and a botched 41-yard field goal attempt made it all disappear.
Now the Longhorns need a win against Oklahoma to keep the dream of a Big 12 championship alive.
The Red River Rivalry means a little more than recent match-ups. The loser is out of the Big 12 championship; the winner gets new life.
The Sooners are good but struggling. Last week's 41-20 win against a poor Texas Tech team allows OU to come into the game with some confidence.
But the Red River Rivalry means a little more than recent match-ups. Both Texas and Oklahoma enter Saturday's game with a loss: Texas to a top 5 West Virginia and OU to a top 6 Kansas State. The loser is out of the Big 12 championship; the winner gets new life.
One quarterback in this game has completed a very pedestrian 63 percent of his passes, thrown for only seven touchdowns and put the ball in his opponents' hands twice. The other quarterback is one of the top in the nation, with a 78 percent completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
Had we suggested before the season started that OU's Landry Jones, a pre-season Heisman candidate, and Texas' David Ash would exchange roles like this, we would have been laughed out of the bar.
But David Ash is the better quarterback today, which is one big reason OU's season is on the brink and why Texas has an excellent opportunity to beat them.
All signs point to a close game
OU's three wins this year came against UTEP, Florida Atlantic and Texas Tech. Not exactly football elite. Besides Kansas State, Texas will be the best team OU has faced, and this is not the same Texas team OU dominated last year.
OU knows something about Texas after watching the last two games. Texas is vulnerable against the run, and OU can flat-out run.
That said, OU knows something about Texas after watching the last two games. Texas is vulnerable against the run, and OU can flat-out run. They are averaging almost 200 yards rushing per game. Texas gave that much up to a second-string running back just last week.
Sure, the Horns were trying to defend against Heisman favorite Geno Smith, but this week they would be silly not to be looking out for Landry Jones' arm. Jones can sling it. He just doesn't have the weapons he used to have catching it.
On defense, OU will come hard trying to stop the Texas running game and force David Ash to throw short passes underneath, easily defended by OU's stout defense.
OU has nine sacks this season, but this team gives as much as it takes. The offensive line has allowed Jones to be sacked eight times. For comparison, Texas has 13 sacks this season, and the O-line has given up only five.
So what to make of all this? Books have been written about the 112-year-old Texas-OU game. It is the most important rivalry on each team's schedule. Victory in this game turns on the smallest of margins. Every play takes on greater importance.
The team that handles it best usually wins. OU is a veteran team, but Texas' young guns have played in this game once before; they should be ready for the pressure.
What to watch for
- Defending the run: The Longhorns must play better against OU's aggressive running game. If they give up more than 200 yards, it will be difficult to win.
- Turnovers: Last week Texas won the turnover battle 2-1 and lost for the first time in 57 games. Still, in this game, with so much emotion, every good and bad thing that happens is magnified by the team, the coaches and the fans. Turnovers kill momentum in the Cotton Bowl.
- Offensive big plays: Texas cannot win a grind-it-out game against OU. The OU defense is the best Texas has faced. Although they must have a balanced attack, as Mack Brown likes to say, without some really big runs and long passes stretching that defense, it will be a long game. Further, Texas must make plays.
- Johnathan Gray: In Malcolm Brown's absence (due to injury), Gray has stepped up and seems to be gaining his footing in the faster, stronger college game. He's going to be really good. If he — or any Texas running back — manages to gain 100 yards, look for the Longhorns to be in the game at the end.
The Texas Longhorns take on the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl Stadium at 11 am CST, Saturday, October 12. Watch the game on ABC.