The Longhorns have had Oct. 6 circled on their calendars since last October, when the Sooners dominated them in the Cotton Bowl on route to their seventh national championship.
Texas Head Coach Mack Brown says the Longhorns will field a better football team this time around then the one that took the field last October.
The fourth-year head coach also said part of that has to do with expectations and part of it has to do with experience.
Brown said last year before the Stanford and Oklahoma games that his team wasn't as good as the preseason publications and prognosticators indicated. He thought that the players had let it go too their heads and that was the reason for a disappointing start.
"They've got to earn what they get and in some cases we haven't earned the recognition that we've got. We were rated way too highly last year in preseason and I didn't like it," said Brown.
"We were rated by people who hadn't seen us practice and some who hadn't seen us play. When I said we weren't as good as people think we were, they just said he's being a coach. Until we got beat and then they said he's a dumb coach."
Brown says last years 63-14 debacle in the Cotton Bowl, a game in which the Texas coach claims his Longhorn team overlooked the Sooners, was the awakening his program needed to get back on the right track they were slowly heading away from.
"What it did for us is it made us go back and regroup," said Brown. "We were not a good football team the first five games last year. We were a soft football team. We had played some good games on defense, but not consistent. We were very inconsistent on offense. We were playing two quarterbacks. We didn't have a running game at all going into this game last year. We only ran the ball in the second half against Oklahoma State consistently. And we felt like our kicking game was just okay."
The first thing Brown did after last years Red River Shootout was scrap the two-quarterback system and name sophomore Chris Simms, son of former New York Giant great Phil Simms, the starter over the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year a season before in Major Applewhite.
Since that move, the Longhorns have shown improvement winning 10 of their last 11 games, with the only loss a 35-30 heartbreaker at the hands of Oregon in the Holiday Bowl.
In the offseason Brown squelched any rumors of a quarterback controversy between Simms and Applewhite, naming Simms the starter prior to spring practice.
Texas quarterback Chris Simms has completed 75 of 122 passes for 884 yards so far this season. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Simms has responded so far this season. Running a Longhorn offense that possesses what ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper calls possibly the greatest receiving corp in the history of College Football, Simms has managed to put up some pretty good numbers.
The six-foot-five junior hasn't been outstanding this season or even live up to the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate press clippings that were bestowed upon him. But what he has quietly done is improve his overall game and manage to lead the Horns to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1983.
"The difference between this year and last year is that we are confident that our offense will get the job done," said Simms, who only completed 11 of 23 passes for 63 yards, and had one interception returned for a touchdown last year against OU.
"It was like we were in two different worlds last year. Last year is over and done with and I am looking forward to this week."
Simms has completed 75-of-129 passes in four games this season for 884 yards. And perhaps the biggest change in Simms' game so far this season is his ability to avoid making the big mistake. Simms struggled last year throwing as many interceptions as touchdown passes, but this year has been a different story.
Through four games this season the New Jersey native has completed 58 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdown passes against only two interceptions.
"Chris is more consistent and this time last year Chris hadn't played very much," said Brown.
"Chris' confidence has grown and so has his decision making. He feels better about certain situations because he has more experience."
The Longhorns offense returns eight starters from last years team that averaged 34.4 points per game. This year the Texas offense is averaging 45 points per game and is doing so while trying to establish a dominant running game.
"We were really good on offense our first year here," said Brown. "We had eight senior offensive linemen. The only thing that was missing was at quarterback. We had a good senior and sophomore receivers in Kwame Cavil and Wayne McGarrity. Ricky (Williams) gained 2,000 yards rushing, but that year we averaged 250 yards a game rushing and 250 yards a game passing."
"Since that time we've been an inconsistent offense in my estimation," continued Brown. "There have been games where we've had great games, but there have also been games when we couldn't run the ball."
One of those games was last year against Oklahoma. The Sooners dominated the line of scrimmage and the Longhorns only managed seven yards on the ground on 17 carries.
"The running game is crucial to being a balanced offense and eventually winning games. It will only make us that much more dangerous. If we pass the ball 40-50 times a game, then the defense can get into a routine, so we need to keep a good balance and do what we need to do to win the ballgame," said Brown.
"Early in the season New Mexico State lined nine up on the line of scrimmage and instead of throwing it every play we decided to work on our running game. We didn't look as pretty in that game and the North Carolina game as we wanted to in some cases, but we wanted to line up and be physical and run the ball."
Establishing the run early has been a major focus for Texas this year, and if the first four games are any indication, that focus is paying off.
The Longhorns are averaging 183 yards per game on the ground and have found a go-to-guy to hand the ball to in Ivan Williams.
Williams, who also has the pleasure of running behind a huge offensive line that returns four starters led by 6-6, 339-pound All-American candidate Mike Williams, has emerged from being the teams No. 3 tailback on the depth chart to start the season.
The 6-1, 239-pound sophomore from Cleveland, Texas gives the Longhorns a combination of size and speed they haven't had at the tailback spot since another Williams, named Ricky.
Williams is averaging just under 100 yards per game on the ground and has carried the ball 70 times for 394 yards (5.6 yards per carry) in the Longhorns first four games.
"Ivan Williams has made about 68 percent of his yards after contact. We like the fact that he's hard to tackle as the game goes on," said Brown.
Another name to watch for is Cedric Benson. Benson was rated the top high school running back in the State of Texas last year and gives the Horns a speedy breakaway threat to contrast Williams' power style. Benson is the Horns second-leading rusher with 186 yards on 44 carries.
When Texas goes to the air they have a dynamic trio of sophomore receivers to throw too led by Roy Williams. Williams is as chiseled and athletically gifted athlete as you'll see in college football, and maybe even in all of football for that matter.
UT sophomore receiver Roy Williams is the Horns big-play threat. Williams has caught 23 passes for 251 yards this season. (AP Photo/Jim Sigmon)
Williams is UT's go-to receiver and has been virtually since the day he stepped on campus last year. The strapping 6-5, 201-pound athlete leads the Longhorns in receptions (23) and receiving yards (255).
Not to be overlooked as major threats among UT's wideouts are super sophsB.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas. Johnson is the Longhorns second-best receiver statistically with 17 catches for 251 yards, while Thomas is fourth in receptions (6) and yards receiving (88).
All three of the Longhorns terrific trio are tall, strong and fast. All three were also true freshman playing in their first OU-Texas game a year ago and Brown says they have had time to mature over the past year.
"Those freshmen receivers are growing up some and they're more consistent than they were last year with some playing time," said Brown.
"We are a new team this year and they are a new team, so we are going to make it a new game," said receiver B. J. Johnson. "They have one of the best secondaries in the country and they have a lot of size and speed. We are going to have to pick it up a notch, run our routes hard and block well. It is going to be a great challenge and I am looking forward to it. I think our offense is peaking at the right time."
Not to be forgotten amongst Texas' talented receivers is sophomore tight end Bo Scaife. Scaife, a native of Denver, Colo., is the Longhorns third-leading receiver with 11 catches for 127 yards.
Defensively, Texas returns eight starters from last years squad and has welcomed the addition of linebacker Derrick Johnson.
Just as the Sooners struck gold with true freshman Tommie Harris at defensive tackle, Texas has found a gold mine in the true freshman linebacker from Waco.
Johnson, who picked Texas over Oklahoma last year, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time last week and had a career-high 13 tackles against Texas Tech. He is the Longhorns leading tackler, and that's saying something with the returning talent on this Texas defense.
Through four games this season, Johnson has made 37 tackles (26 solo), leads the team in tackles-for-loss (7) and is second in sacks (3).
Not to be overshadowed by Johnson on the Texas linebacking unit are Everick Rawls and D.D. Lewis. Rawls and Lewis are tied third on the team in tackles with 23 apiece.
Perhaps the strength of UT's defense is in the secondary. Texas returns three of four starters in the defensive backfield from last year and the replacement at safety, Ahmed Brooks, is second on the team in tackles.
The best player on the Texas defense is senior cornerback Quentin Jammer. Jammer is a consensus preseason first-team All-American selection and sure-fire first round NFL draft pick, who is counted on to shut down the man he is covering during every game. Jammer is sixth on the team in tackles (18), has one interception and leads the team in passes break-ups with nine.
"I am glad this game is finally here," said Jammer who was part of the UT secondary that got lit up for 275 passing yards by OU quarterback Josh Heupel.
"We have a lot more speed on the field to defend all of the different things that the Oklahoma offense does this year. We have four cornerbacks in the secondary, which gives us a lot more speed to defend different stuff. It will be hard to throw deep and run the little crossing routes on us."
Starting alongside Jammer at the other corner junior Rod Babers. Babes is fifth on the team in tackles (21) and second in pass break-ups with eight.
If Texas has a weakness on defense it is on the defensive line. UT's shortcomings on the defensive line have nothing to do with talent, rather with size. But that may not prove to be much of a factor this week going up against Oklahoma's finesse, shot-passing game.
The Longhorns defensive line is built around speed, speed and more speed. The UT defense was overmatched a year ago by OU's offensive line that paved the way for seven rushing touchdowns, but the Longhorns have still elected to build their defense around speed.
Marcus Tubbs has been a pleasant surprise at defensive tackle, replacing the once thought to be un-replaceable Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. Tubbs is the teams sack leader (3.5) and at 6-4, 290-pounds he is almost as physically imposing as Hampton was a year ago.
On the ends is where the Longhorns attack you with their speed on the defensive line from two former linebackers in Corey Redding and Kalen Thornton. Both are incredible athletes coming off the edge and have the ability to drop back into pass coverage and match up with a tight end or running back
The big question on special teams heading into the season was how would Texas replace kicker Kris Stockton. So far this season freshman Dusty Mangum has answered the call hitting 7-of-9 field goal attempts and 19-of-20 extra points attempts. However, Mangum hasn't had to make a pressure kick in in a big game and the question still remains to be seen if he can do it under when the bright lights are on.
"Our football team is much improved since our game with them last year," said Brown. "We feel like this will a real good gauge for us this weekend too see how much we have improved. We're excited about the game. It will be a tremendous challenge. We've stayed fairly healthy so far this year. We've gotten better each week, but we know this will by far be the toughest contest we've had since we played them last year."
"This game is a start for both teams," said Brown. "This is going to be a great game. It's going to be a hard fight, but we both better regroup Saturday night win or lose and get ready for next week because this season, especially with a championship game, is really long and really hard."
Texas leads the all-time head-to-head series with Oklahoma by a 53-35-5 mark. The Sooners' 63-14 victory last year was the widest margin in the history of the series. Oklahoma will be gunning for their first back-to-back victory over Texas since the 1987 and 1988 seasons.
Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops is 1-1 all-time against Texas and 24-5 overall in just two seasons. Texas Head Coach Mack Brown is in his fourth season at Texas and holds a 2-1 record against the Sooners, and is 1-1 vs. Stoops. Brown is 31-11 at Texas and 117-85 in his 17 years as a head coach. Stoops is also 7-0 against top 10 teams.
Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 in both the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press Top 25 Polls. Texas is No. 5 in both polls.
Oklahoma enters Saturday's Red River Shootout boasting the nation's longest winning streak of 17 games and has a 16-game home winning streak. The 17-game winning streak is the longest since Oklahoma put a 20-game streak together in the 1986 and 1987 seasons.