(Editor’s note: Sellout Crowd’s coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com))
DALLAS — I’ve done enough throat clearing this week. Let’s talk Oklahoma-Texas.
What’s at stake?
Hmm … OU heading into the bye week 6-0? A place atop the Big 12 standings? A foothold in the College Football Playoff conversation? Rectifying last fall’s 49-0 beatdown? Red River momentum heading into the SEC? A win that would indisputably rank as Brent Venables’ biggest in the easily the most important game of his head coaching career to date?
Whatever transpires after 11 a.m. Saturday at Cotton Bowl will have heavy bearing on the back half of the 12th-ranked Sooners’ 2023 season.
In the medium term, the game matters in the context of OU’s perpetual slugfest with Texas and as a potential boost for the Sooners on their way out of the Big 12.
From the 10,000-foot view, it’s a temperature check for where OU stands 22 months into Venables’ tenure, less than a year before the Sooners bolt for the SEC.
Three things that intrigue me
Dillon Gabriel’s Red River: It’s been mentioned plenty this week but there’s no understating the value of Dillon Gabriel.
Concussed in Week 5 at TCU last fall, Gabriel was on the sidelines when the Longhorns went up 28-0 before halftime in the 2022 edition of this game. He retreated to the box with the coordinators in the second half, watching the final 30 minutes bleed on a 49-0 loss in which the Sooners completed nine passes for 39 yards.
This year he makes his Red River debut against the third-ranked Longhorns (5-0) playing the best football of his college career at the right time for OU. Against Texas, he’ll meet a defense tallying 2.6 sacks per game and giving up 196.2 yards per game through the air (37th nationally).
Venables’ advice for the quarterback in his first Cotton Bowl start?
“Don’t try to force the issue,” he said. “Let the game come to you.”
If Gabriel is nervous, he didn’t show it this week.
Did he ever watch OU-Texas growing up?
“I knew about it, Gabriel said. “I was too busy sitting at Aloha Stadium watching Colt Brennan sling it. But I definitely had a clue.”
A true test for the defense: Pointing out who the Sooners have played does not discredit what they’ve accomplished. It simply provides context to OU’s blazing start that has the program ranked fourth in points allowed.
So … here’s where the offenses the Sooners have faced in Weeks 1-5 rank nationally in total offense and scoring:
- Arkansas State – 118th
- SMU – 14th
- Tulsa: 46th
- Cincinnati: 81st
- Iowa State: 83rd
- Arkansas State – 85th
- SMU – 12th
- Tulsa – 49th
- Cincinnati – 59
- Iowa State: 113th
On Saturday, OU runs into a Texas offense that ranks 17th and 30th, respectively, in those categories with threats unlike the kind the Sooners have seen thus far.
It is October and Quinn Ewers has a bit of trick-or-treat to his game. Still, he’s the most talented quarterback OU has faced in 2023.
Jonathan Brooks, who ran all over Kansas in Week 5, will present a test for the Sooners’ front-seven, especially the linebackers.
Pass catchers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell, Jordan Whittington and Ja’Tavion Sanders will stretch a secondary that’s been impressive in the early part of the season.
We’ll know a lot more about where this defense stands by mid-afternoon Saturday.
A shot for Venables and Roof: It might take Gabriel outperforming Ewers to vault the Sooners past Texas. Ditto for Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof vs Steve Sarkisian.
Save for a potential Red River rematch in the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 2, there’s no game down the line OU needs to save its fastball for. This is a week for Venables and Roof to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Longhorns and take some shots.
Venables has had success in this game before, of course. He was reminded this week of the last time both teams met as undefeateds in 2011. The Sooners bottled Texas with Venables calling the defense that day and won 55-17.
“We scored three defensive touchdowns,” he recalled. “…It was a beautiful day.”
Something from the opposing locker room
Sarkisian said Thursday that tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders is “good to go” after injury doubts left his availability in question for Saturday. The third-year tight end has averaged 21.4 yards per reception this fall.
Cornerback Ryan Watts is a game-time decision, per Sarkisian. The senior defensive back has played more snaps than all but two Texas defenders in 2023.
Something I’ll be watching
Who comes second in the Sooners’ running back rotation?
Marcus Major appears likely to get his third consecutive start in the OU backfield. But in a game that’s historically produced breakout performers, it’s worth considering who might break through in what has been a quiet Sooners run game to this point.
Is the speedy Gavin Sawchuk the answer? Could walkon Tawee Walker explode? Is Jovanate Barnes healthy enough to make a difference?
Those are good questions. We know for certain that running the football matters in this game.
Only 23 of the last 25 meetings between the teams have gone to the team that won the rushing battle.
Best thing I saw this week
One-time Red River legend Caleb Williams weighed in on the rivalry game Thursday afternoon with shoutouts to Sooners Jalil Farooq, Danny Stutsman and Woodi Washington.
That’s a nice touch from the former Sooner and 2023 Heisman Trophy winner.
Another former Oklahoma quarterback will actually be present in Dallas Saturday. ESPN announced Baker Mayfield as the guest game picker for College GameDay in Week 6 on Thursday.
I don’t do game predictions … so, I’ll take the Sooners to keep it within a touchdown.
As of Friday morning, the Sooners are 5.5-point underdogs in their 119th meetings with Texas. I think they’ll cover that spread and make this a four-quarter game at the very least.
OU may well go ahead and find win No. 6 Saturday. If not, however, a close defeat against a potentially CFP-bound Texas team would represent marked progress from last year’s 49-point drubbing.
Let’s see how it goes down at the Cotton Bowl Saturday.