Sooner psychology: Is the post-Texas let down really real?

Sooner psychology: Is the post-Texas let down really real?

For as long as Oklahoma has held its annual Cotton Bowl date with Texas, Sooner fans have pondered the Red River hangover. But does the post-Texas letdown truly exist?

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Oct 19, 2023, 6:00am CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Oct 19, 2023, 6:00am CDT

NORMAN —  For as long as Oklahoma has held its annual Cotton Bowl date with Texas, Sooner fans have pondered the Red River hangover.

The question, nearly 120 years into the history of the rivalry, stands: is the proverbial post-Texas letdown really real? 

The latest data point in that answer arrives Saturday when sixth-ranked OU returns to Owen Field to host UCF (11 a.m., ABC), 14 days after downing the Longhorns on Oct. 7. 

On the power of Dillon Gabriel’s game-winning touchdown throw to Nic Anderson, the Sooners shot up the national rankings and launched into the bye with a place in the College Football Playoff conversation. Now, OU (6-0) hits the second half of its schedule facing greater expectations than at any point in Brent Venables’ 22 months in charge. 

But about that notion of a post-Texas letdown that’s hung over OU coaches from Barry Switzer to Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley and now Venables? 

“In the end, that game had its place and then it was over and then you had to win the next one,” said Stoops. “It’s something I think the media makes more of than anybody.”

‘It’s very true when coaches say we’re onto the next game’

The post-Texas letdown is a fallacy, Stoops believes. The numbers support his thesis. 

The concept of the letdown rests on assumption that the mental, physical and emotional toll of OU-Texas carries over into the next gameweek. While most of the nation’s biggest rivalry games — think Michigan-Ohio State or Auburn-Alabama — take place at the end of the season, the Sooners and Longhorns meet almost exclusively in early to mid-October.

Only five times in the last 76 years, including this fall, has OU gone on a bye after playing Texas.

Yet since Bud Wilkinson took over the program in 1947, OU is 62-11-3 in the game directly following the annual meeting with Texas. No Sooners coach over that stretch has fared better in those contests than Stoops, who went 17-1 after facing the Longhorns. Since 1999, OU is 22-1 post-Texas, outscoring their opponents by 25.5 points per game. 

Perhaps Venables and his staff had a challenge on their hands refocusing the Sooners after their 34-30 win over Texas. It certainly didn’t sound like it from OU camp. 

Stoops never found rejuvenating his players post-Texas to be an issue.

“At Oklahoma, just beating Texas doesn’t cut it,” said Stoops, an investor in and creator with the Sellout Crowd network. “Everybody says that but they’re wrong. They’re exaggerating. Just beat Texas, nothing else matters. Yes it does. They want to be Big 12 champs and compete for a national championship. You’re not going to do that by just beating Texas.”

Not every OU coach over the last 75 years handled the come down from Texas quite as successfully.

Wilkinson came away from his post-Red River games with 14 wins, two ties and a loss. Gomer Jones went 1-1 in such games with a 15-14 loss at Kansas in 1964. Jim Mackenzie beat Kansas in his only try after facing the Longhorns two years later. Chuck Fairbanks logged a post-Texas record of 5-1 from 1967-72.

Switzer went heavy on the rivalry before the game. His teams weren’t always perfect after it. 

All told, Switzer went 15-1 post-Texas with his only loss coming to Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes in 1985. However, the mythology around the post-Texas letdown was born after some of the finest teams in program history that emerged under Switzer’s watch got tested after Red River. 

The Sooners took a 13-6 defeat to Texas in 1977, then squeaked past Missouri on the road the following week. A year later, they followed a 21-point win at the Cotton Bowl with a one-point win at Kansas. OU didn’t beat Texas in 1983 or 1984 and won their subsequent games those two years by a combined margin of three points. 

Those are the kind of drop-offs Venables is keen to make sure his Sooners avoid in 2023. 

“Mismanaged success is a very normal thing when you are in these positions. Keeping two hands on the wheel, white-knuckle grip with both hands is something that we’re focused on,” he said during the bye week. “I’m counting on the leaders on this team to stay hungry, driven, humble, willing to show up every day and work their butts off and try to get better.”

No one struggled more post-Texas than Gary Gibbs, who turned in a 1-4-1 record in those games; Howard Schnellenger and John Blake combined for a record of 2-2 from 1995-1998.

Between eight coaches from 1947-1998, OU suffered 10 losses after a regular season matchup with the Longhorns. If any hints of a Texas-letdown lingered, they were quashed when Stoops arrived in 1999.

Only once since then, in a 31-30 loss to a 14th-ranked Kansas State team under Stoops in 2014, have the Sooners dropped a post-Texas game.

“It’s very true when coaches say we’re onto the next game,” Stoops said. “When you’re the one that has to do it, that is exactly what you do.”

The celebration factor

If the perception of the post-Texas letdown is so strong, how come the reality pales in comparison to it? 

Washington’s class famously went 4-0 against the Longhorns during his time at OU from 1972-75. 

Things were different back then, though. Unlike today, the winning team didn’t walk away with a Golden Hat. The celebrations the Sooners enjoyed in 2023 presumably looked much different from the postgame scene after OU dominated Texas, 52-13, in 1973.

“You win and you get to come back next year and defend yourself,” Washington said. 

Maybe that’s what allowed the teams Washington played for to move from OU-Texas as seamlessly as the College Football Hall of Famer now remembers.

“We had the kind of guys that were mature and fantastic players,” Washington explained. “We had great players on our team. And we felt that we had a job to do. This is why we came here; to make sure we won as many football games as we could. Including Texas.”

The celebrations may have differed on either side of the 50 years separating Washington’s Sooners and this year’s team. Yet they seem to carry similar approaches in wading through the post-Texas waters.

OU players have beaten the drum on the notion that their job is nowhere near finished since beating Texas this fall, a reflection of the message they’ve received from their head coach.

Two days after dropping the Longhorns, left tackle Walter Rouse was back to talking about going 1-0 every week. Safety Key Lawrence had already moved on to Week 8 preparation. Tight end Austin Stogner was thinking of the ways the Sooners would have to be better if they land a Big 12 title game rematch with the Longhorns. 

“We always felt the pressure of trying to continue the level of play,” Washington said. “That’s one thing. You might figure you can slack off a bit because you beat Texas and you don’t have to do as much this week. Well, no can do. That wasn’t part of our chemistry.” 

Seldom over the last quarter century has a post-Texas letdown burned OU. In 2023, they’re saying and doing all the right things. Saturday will offer confirmation of whether these Sooners are immune, too.

One thing this OU team has on most that came before it? The post-Texas bye week that only four other teams in program history in 1999, 2010, 2018 and 2020 got to enjoy, as well.

The post-Texas letdown may be a farce. A midseason bye after Red River is likely to leave a much greater mark in 2023. 

“It always helps in the middle of the year after a big one,” Stoops said. “Catch your breath. Rest up a little more and a little extra time on your next opponent. All of it is to their advantage.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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