Position breakdown: Texas

Longhorns bring a tough defense to the Red River Showdown

If TCU’s front line gave Oklahoma fits, then Texas should have a field day.

The Horned Frogs have a reliable front group, but Texas’ is as disruptive as they come.

And after losing last week and being beaten pretty badly for most of the season, the Longhorns won’t be friendly in the Red River Showdown this Saturday.

“When we go down there this week we'll see a team that'll be very motivated and ready to play and you watch them, they still have a lot of really good football players all over the field,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

Up front is where Texas’ players are best players, though.

Defensive ends Malcolm Brown, who leads the Big 12 in tackles for loss, and Shiro Davis are relentless, recording a combined six sacks. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has three sacks this season and linebacker Steve Edmond, who also has 10.6 tackles per game, has 3.5 sacks.

“They’re big, strong, physical in their front seven, especially in their front four,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s another huge test, and it will be a physical ballgame.”

Oklahoma’s pass rush is comparable with 9.5 sacks from its top three players.

The Sooners defensive line won’t be able to stop the Texas defensive line. That’ll be on the offensive line, which averaged less than four yards per carry against TCU.

That is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:

Quarterback: Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight hasn’t been good, but Texas sophomore Tyrone Swoopes has been even worse since being forced into action after the mid-season retirement of David Ash, after multiple concussions. Both are in the bottom third of the league in passing efficiency, but lucky for Oklahoma, Swoopes is in last.

Running backs: Samaje Perine is still the top running back in the Big 12, having scored seven touchdowns during the past two games. If Keith Ford is able to return, Oklahoma has the better stable, by far. Without him, Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown represent a talent duo. It’s just not good enough.

Wide receivers: When is one actually greater than two? When Sterling Shepard is counted as the one. Shepard, who is second in the Big 12 in receiving yards, has outplayed Texas’ duo of John Harris and Jaxon Shipley, but he will need more help. He hasn’t found a complete running partner despite Durron Neal’s late emergence. Neal has three games with 70 or more yards, but Texas has found better consistency.

Tight end: Texas’ tight ends are a definite feature in the offense, with M.J. McFarland catching two touchdowns – both from inside the 10-yard line. Blake Bell has worked more and more into the Oklahoma offense, catching one touchdown pass in five games, but every time he seems poised for a splash, something knocks him off course. McFarland is also the second option at tight end for Texas.

Offensive line: With the way the unit played against TCU, the Sooners’ offensive line left plenty to be desired. Meanwhile, Texas is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has given up 10 sacks. Oklahoma is better but isn’t as invincible as it once was.

Defensive line: One game doesn’t tear down a non-conference worth of great play. But a match up against Texas can change that. Longhorns’ defensive end Malcolm Brown, who leads the Big 12 with 7.5 tackles for loss and has 3.5 sacks, might be the best player on the field. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has 3.5 sacks and Shiro Davis has 2.5 for Texas.

Linebackers: Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks are both averaging 10 tackles per game. They are two of only three players in the conference with at least that many. Edmond also has 3.5 sacks, as many as Eric Striker – Oklahoma’s leading sack man. From a play-making and game-changing standpoint, Texas is just better.

Secondary: While most teams have been forced to throw against Oklahoma and the Sooners faced West Virginia, the top passing offense in the Big 12 by far, there’s still one major telling stat. Texas is first in pass defense. Oklahoma is last. And both teams have nine interceptions. Advantage: Texas.

Special teams: Alex Ross was neutralized against TCU by the Horned Frogs simply kicking away from him. Jed Barnett took himself out of the game by not kicking it in bounds. Texas holds the advantage with Jaxon Shipley returning punts.

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