By now everyone knows the story with the Sooner offensive line. Senior center Ben Habern had to cut his career short due to lingering neck and shoulder injuries. Then, on the first day of fall camp, right guard Tyler Evans tore his ACL. That forced a pair of unexpected starting offensive linemen into the rotation, including left guard Adam Shead and right guard Bronson Irwin. Gabe Ikard shifted from left guard to anchor the O-line at center. The unit was slow to mesh at first but has come together in recent days, helping OU to average 4.1 yards per carry on the ground and 273.2 yards per game through the air. Neither are awe-dropping, and the struggles in protection have been evident. The Sooners have already allowed eight sacks this year.
On what has been an underwhelming defense, the one unit that has held up all season is the defensive line. The Longhorns entered the season with a reputation for having a pair of NFL first-round defensive ends and a deep, talented group of defensive tackles, and that reputation has been confirmed through the first five games. The defensive line sacked Geno Smith four times last week — he entered the game having taken three sacks in the previous four games combined — and generally harassed him all night. Alex Okafor is coming off his best game as a Longhorn. He sacked Smith twice, forcing fumbles and turnovers on both occasions, blocked a field goal and hurried Smith three more times. Meanwhile, all five defensive tackles had at least one tackle for loss. Okafor has six sacks and 12 hurries this year, while Jackson Jeffcoat, who might be the better pro prospect, has nine tackles for loss and four sacks. Each of the top four defensive tackles has at least four tackles in the backfield, with five-star true freshman Malcom Brown starting to emerge with a strong performance last weekend. Simply put, this is the best, and deepest, position group on the Texas team.
The D-end-offensive tackle battle is all that needs to be discussed to justify this one. If the Sooners have been tagged for eight sacks in the first four games against the teams they've faced, how about dealing with Okafor and Jeffcoat? Those two could give the Sooners all kinds of fits if Lane Johnson, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson can't get at least somewhat hold their own. The inside battle is more of a wash with the three Sooners mentioned above squaring off against UT's Desmond Jackson and Chris Whaley. But there's such an advantage with those other two who have combined for 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in five games, including six for Okafor and four for Jeffcoat in the buck position. Jones will be on his back side a lot in this one and the Sooner offense won't get rolling if they can't contain the two ‘Horns playmakers here.
The Oklahoma offensive line has struggled at times, and may be one of the weaker overall units on the Sooner squad. That's not to say that the line is bad, but only that this is a matchup between the best of Texas and the worst of Oklahoma. In that situation, and especially with the Texas line coming off a lights-out performance against a very good West Virginia line, I have to go with the Longhorns here.